Los Angeles

Jay Phillips


It seems like it’s always the simple words that take up several column inches in the dictionary, so numerous are the shadings of their meaning. “Field” is one such word, with, according to my Webster’s, 38 lines of type explaining 19 variations on the theme. Quite a useful word and, to get to the matter at hand, quite appropriate in many of its senses to discussing JAY PHILLIPS’ paintings.

Bright, neon enamels, sometimes embedded with light-catching glitter flecks, are poured, brushed and sprayed onto small fields of aluminum. The metal is gently curved so as to be freestanding, or it is cut, bent and rippled so as to be hung on the wall. Aluminum, unlike canvas or paper, presents a nonporous surface on which the paint sits, so every ooze of paint leaves its trace under the next layer. The activity of making these works is embedded in the geography of the painting. (Field 1: an area or division of an activity.) Phillips works from sketches, but the completed metal shield usually bears scant resemblance to them. The painted areas create their own interior drawing, as the drying paint shrinks and curdles or refuses to mix with the other paint. Shapes within the field evolve the shape of the field itself, with ragged, cut edges echoing interior forms. (Field 2: a space on which something is drawn, such as the whole surface of a shield.) Despite their initial nonfigurative appearance, the paintings evoke landscape. The central shape in Pink Strip Dresser is a shrub form, and in Nocturne: Santa Monica Boulevard jagged palm fronds emerge from the bustle of tangled color. (Field 3: an open land area.) Most of the paintings shown give the sensation of passing through night-lit Hollywood streets, at once garishly beautiful and amusing, and somewhat ominous. The dreamy romanticism associated with a night scene becomes wryly aggressive in Phillips’ paintings. (Field 4: a region or space within which lines of force are active.) Forms are dispersed throughout the painting—even centralized shapes pointing, fingerlike, to other shapes—forcing the eye to continually scan the scene. Day-glo colors add to the turmoil. (Field 5: the area that the scanning element covers in one sweep.)

Uniting these elements into a “field theory,” (with a total disregard of the conception of color field painting) we can again quote Webster: the concept that, within the space in the vicinity of a particle, there exists a field containing energy and momentum, and that this field interacts with neighboring particles and their fields. So it is with Jay Phillips’ paintings and with the landscapes from which they come.

Christopher Knight