In The World Of Phlegm
Here is Phlegm working through the small hours of the damp, dark January night to complete his installation entitled The Bestiary, which opens today at the Howard Griffin Gallery, 189 Shoreditch High St. Last week, Contributing Photographer Simon Mooney & I braved the downpour to go along and offer our encouragement.
A street artist who became known for huge murals painted inside derelict factories in Salford and Rotherham, Phlegm has transformed the gallery beyond all recognition for his debut show. Since the middle of December, he has been at work lining the walls with an assortment of scrap timber, creating an irregular interior space that resembles a cave or the nest of some mythic creature. This is the lair of Phlegm.
At first you enter a maze of partitions, painted with specimen jars containing animals, as if you were approaching the private museum of some obsessive collector, greedily snaffling up every species in the natural world. Beyond, you find yourself in a large chamber with a sequence of large monochrome compositions painted in plaster relief upon the walls. You think of the prehistoric artists who painted the caves of Lascaux and you think of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights and you think of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are - and Phlegm’s work is a little of all these things, and something more.
In Phlegm’s imaginative world, nature is an ambivalent force, brutal and violent, and burgeoning with sinister hybrids and aliens. To your right, an epic chase of animals hunting is scattered across the first wall, followed by a scene of the collection of eggs by semi-human creatures with stick-like limbs dressed in primitive Fair Isle shifts. At the rear, another creature crouches warily, carrying its young upon its back, while on the right a vessel is being loaded with specimens, just as we saw upon the shelves where we came in.
There is an exciting tension between the rough timber cladding, coated with plaster relief, and the finely hatched lines applied with an aerosol by Phlegm upon the surface, that pull the entire vision into focus, as if the whole thing were a mirage or nightmare hallucination conjured out of scrap. Yet Phlegm also exhibits a playful sensibility that underscores the comic book violence with a poignant levity, and the vitality of his work is irresistible.
A softly-spoken Northerner, with dark eyes, pale skin and locks down to his waist, Phlegm began as an illustrator – drawing elaborately detailed ink illustrations of his own private mythology and publishing them in zines, before transferring them onto walls at a vast scale. Like Roa, he has now become part of a global circuit of street artists, executing commissions in Canada, Norway, Sri Lanka, USA and elsewhere. This is Phlegm’s first gallery show and his first sculpture, and it is a breathtaking, wondrous thing to divert you in this grim season of the year.
Photographs (except first picture) copyright © Simon Mooney
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