Phantastic World Of Phigment: Down The Pop Art Rabbit Hole.
Phigment is the alter ego of British artist/illustrator James Harris.
Hailing from London, I chose the Phigment name in the early 2000s (long before it was nicked by the Californian wine makers!) to refer to ‘figment of the imagination’… but spelled in a way that for me conjured up the Sixties trend for changing the spelling of everyday words to make them more unique… bands like The Byrds and Frijid Pink did it. Or it could be the title of one of the trippy underground ‘comix’ of the era, which had characters with brilliant names like Phineas T. Phreak!
I also preferred the idea of an artist alias. Not because it’s a big secret who I am – I’m not exactly the Scarlet Pimpernel (or ‘Banksy’ as I think he’s now known). But I do think people are too obsessed with plastering their face all over the internet, when with me it’s all about the art. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a normal human being – I engage and have little rants on Facebook about non-art stuff – especially after one absinth and hand sanitiser cocktail too many. But you’ll never catch me posting selfies or anything too personal about my life. I suppose it’s a kind of token statement in our Age of Narcissism. Mates tag me of course; my ugly mug’s out there – but I can’t fathom why anybody would need to see it 17 times a day in order to enjoy my art!
I did the art and design college bit – but really the best training you can get is absorbing as much of what stimulates you as humanly possible, and seeing what comes out the other side! Certain generations were luckier than others with the stuff we grew up with on TV, for instance. Mr Benn, Jamie and the Magic Torch, Trap Door, Roobarb and Custard…these were pretty trippy shows to be helping shape your formative years!
As a young kid I had a video of The Yellow Submarine taped off the telly (think it was actually a Betamax – that’s showing my age a bit!) I didn’t even know who the Beatles really were, but exploring Pepperland with them forever shaped my creative personality more than any college!
I went through a phase – like most people when getting into the mod scene – where I was obsessed with all the usual iconography. Quadrophenia, scooters, the Small Faces etc – plus the Britpop manifestations of mod that were around at the time. And I still love it all – it’ll always be an important part of me. But there does come a point – and I think the constant oversaturation of mod imagery on social media has a lot to do with it – when for your own sanity you need to take a step back from all the clichés and realise that every single piece of art doesn’t necessarily have to include Union Jacks and Jimmy and Steph. Even if there will always be a place for that amazing cultural heritage.
Of course, my work is very much inspired and influenced by the best of British culture, from Monty Python and Yellow Submarine to The Beano and 2000AD. But as with the Style Council, I very much identify as an Internationalist, taking influences like a magpie from everywhere.
In my mind, that’s being a Modernist in the proper sense. Not bound by national, cultural or time boundaries. It just so happens that a lot of the aesthetic that floats my boat is from that ‘Golden Age’ of popular culture from the 60s and 70s. But the reason that era was so exciting in the first place was exactly because it was complete open season on inspiration. Victorian fairground art and military tunics, contemporary advertising, surrealism, Art Nouveu, the Space Race and sci-fi, Eastern design and philosophy, Jamaican, American and European culture… it all went into a massive melting pot. I mean in 1969, Deep Purple’s album cover was a section of Hieronymus Bosch’s ‘The Garden Of Earthly Delights’ from the 15th Century! That was as far out as anything around at the time! The music, the art, the fashion all informed and influenced each other. It’s obviously no coincidence that people were walking around in paisley gear at the same time as bands like the Beatles were incorporating sitars and other Asiatic sounds into their music. In the same way, I find it impossible to separate art, music and film into nicely contained little pigeonholes.
The difference is, our Twenty First Century vantage point just means I’ve an even bigger pot to plunder! You don’t have to stop at 1973!
There’s a list of individual visual artists who I’ve been inspired by:
Terry Gilliam, Heinz ‘Yellow Submarine’ Edelmann, Alan Aldridge, Peter Blake, Keiichi Tanaami, Jan Lenica, Hieronymus Bosch, Ralph Bakshi, Salvador Dalí… even the backgrounds to the old Pink Panther cartoons, by artists such as Richard Thomas. Then there’s the Archigram group, who were ‘The Beatles’ or ‘Monty Pythons’ of pop architecture and design. The list goes on and on.
But my work is also inspired by my travels, by films, advertising – inspiration can often come to you from a song lyric or even a line in a novel. My collages are a mix of my own photos, vintage ephemera, there are no limits – my studio’s like an Aladdin’s cave; piles of vintage books, comics, magazines – you’ll find a cigar advert from a 1967 edition of Punch right beside a plastic toy I got from a Christmas cracker in the Eighties. So when I’m creating a piece, I’m confident that its uniqueness will be greatly helped by the fact I didn’t just grab some pictures from Google Images.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some highly talented people.
Bands/artists such as The Electric Stars, The Sonic Jewels, Henry’s Funeral Shoe and Darling BOY…and to demonstrate how I’m not limited within any one ‘scene’, I’ve also enjoyed a couple of collaborations with highly talented underground rapper, Chiu.
I’ve done artwork for March Of The Mods, recently been published in underground alternative comic ‘Gadzooks’. There are also some exciting projects in the pipeline, such as an imminent ‘SOHO SCARVES X PHIGMENT’ capsule collection with the sharpest men’s accessories label on the scene. Love their gear, so I’m really looking forward to that being released!
I’m obsessed by music – but never had the patience or commitment to learn an instrument. My way of getting my work onto record shelves and into people’s phones is by creating the artwork to accompany the music instead! It’s probably the type of illustration I enjoy the most.
We all grew up associating a certain image with a certain record – the artwork wrapped around the music is as ingrained in your psyche as the music itself. This is why I find it a shame when musicians underestimate the importance of this aspect of their releases. Do you necessarily want that immortal design to be a slightly pixelated collection of clip art, pulled off the internet by your mate’s nephew – or do you want it to be a unique, bespoke piece of artwork that will be representing your music – in whatever format – for as long as music exists?
Mods Of Your Generation 2021, All Rights Reserved. No part of this interview may be reproduced without the permission of the authors and Mods Of Your Generation. Image/Artwork ©️ Phigment and their respective owners. No copyright infringement intended.