4th February - 5th March 2023
Flatland Projects, Unit 7, Beeching Road Studios, Beeching Road, Bexhill on Sea,TN39 3LJ
“I’m interested in the rhythm of painting, the way it can speak of things which are sometimes quite hard to verbalise and the way it helps me think through a lot of the ethics and politics of support and care that I encounter through the work that I do”.
Painting serves as a welcoming host within The Spinners, bringing together the diverse components of artmaking, music and creative support work that make up Richard Phoenix’s practice. Each has a seat at the table, complementing and feeding one another—generating an infectiously warm and joyful atmosphere for those encountering the show.
Phoenix grew up with an adoration for art. Encouraged by a great art teacher, he was drawn to the portraits of Rembrandt and Lucien Freud and was struck by the 1997 Saatchi show Sensation. Punk was his principal focus to begin with, playing in various bands from the age of 16. Eventually this led him to creative support work, facilitating workshops for young people with learning disabilities and autistic people, taking the skills he’d learned through being in punk and DIY bands to support other people to then make music. What surfaces between all these shifts is Phoenix’s eagerness to collectively create.
The works presented within The Spinners undoubtedly reflect this collective spirit. The large calico sheets suspended in the gallery came into being over the course of three sessions with The Glyne Gap Faculty, which supports young people with learning disabilities at Bexhill College. Working with Glyne Gap’s students, Phoenix was encouraged and supported by their staff to really unleash a sense of creativity without restrictions, inspiriting both Phoenix and the students to let loose and paint as they wished.
A similar feeling of release, or abandonment pulses through the paintings. Figures dance, laugh and leap through the gallery. Produced with oil and charcoal on linen, Phoenix’s graphic, cartoony painterly style playfully undermines the art historical weight of these materials, carving out space for fresh and sincere encounters within this age-old, classical remit. The cut outs further this feeling of revelry, boogieing in the air via hot pink bungee. Whilst below, the drums actively invite music into the space, urging percussion from visitors. In all directions there’s fun to be had.
What grounds these works and serves as the show’s title, is a 1657 painting by Diego Velázquez, The Spinners. Depicting the Fable of Arachne, where a mortal weaver challenges the goddess Athena, Velázquez’s painting also depicts the spinners crafting the thread for Athena and Arachne. These craftspeople are not bathed in light like the weavers, but without them the action in the background cannot take place. Instigating questions around hierarchy, community and the value of creative relationships, the painting serves as a generative framework for Phoenix to navigate the tangents of care, access and collectivity which ripple through his work. As an ode to communal artmaking, in between time and background machinations, The Spinners cultivates such an upbeat cosmology of heartfelt encounters at Flatland Projects.