Mr. Phil Goss

THE PLAYFUL WORK of Bristol-born artist Phil Goss draws inspiration from the libraries of literature, creating pieces that incorporate lyricism, figuration and abstraction. His works mediate between the concrete and conceptual, allowing the viewer to ground themselves in familiar London locations whilst getting lost in a fictitious narrative.


Phil studied English Literature BA, at Edinburgh University, and Visual Communication MA, at the Royal College of Art in 2013. He has shown at the V&A Museum, Evelyn Yard, Aldeburgh Look out Tower, Geddes Gallery and London Design Festival; designed prints for Paul Smith and Alex Eagle, and has produced bespoke interiors for Blacks and Fix126; and is currently the Director of the Centre for Recent Drawing.

Before your career as an artist you studied English Literature at Edinburgh University, how do you think this influenced your storytelling? 


It’s always the image that is important for me. I come from reading a lot, and wanting to convey an image that represents something else, something that’s not just abstract, but something that is always trying to refer to something else. Which is basically what literature does with language, it uses language to tell a story of something. I like to do that with lines and drawing…. although I might just be saying total bullshit. 

Your work grounds itself in familiar places, a pub, a park, London’s canals—do you start with reality and then distort it? Or vice versa?


When I was younger a lot of ideas came straight out of my imagination, but I always thought it lacked that little bit of grit and realism. As I got older, to give things a localised and realistic feel, I made an effort to draw from life as much as possible; drawing the everyday, drawing anything at all, just to try and establish my own language. 


Quite often I have to draw something before I realise it’s a good subject; it’s not so easy to look at something and immediately think “well that’s a great thing to draw! I’ll go and draw that!”, instead I find it much better to try and draw all the time, and then afterwards going “ahh that actually suits what I’m trying to do”, or, “...the medium I’m using”, and then you build up some vocabulary of subjects.

You’ve collaborated with many artists, some of which use different mediums. How do you find a way of working that complements each other’s process and style? 


One of the collaborative projects I’ve worked on, The Hotel Room, came from my friendship with Jamie Jenkinson. I’m a semi-representational drawer, and he’s an abstract video artist so there’s so much space between us to work within, whereas if we were both drawers we’d always be locking horns. I think there are similarities in our work. We’re both interested in creating stuff continuously; always making, always looking, always interested in taking stuff from now and the everyday, interested in pattern and how they can abstract. But the thing that I like, storytelling in pictures and narrative, that’s totally polar opposite of what Jamie’s about; his work is more abstract than that.


I think when anything is good, it’s shifted through mediums. It becomes a drawing, then a print, then a video, then back to a drawing; each time it becomes more intriguing to look at.

With The Hotel Room, do you think the 3D space it created offered a different experience than a 2D drawing series?


Yeah, I was really conscious of that. I got this sudden urge, I can’t remember where it came from, to instead of making that framed rectangular world for you to look into, we actually wanted the viewer to be in the world; in fact the drawing actually takes over the world they’re in. That’s what inspired the designed wallpaper. 


I really like artists like Keith Haring, where if you give them a pen they can just go all over - just let them loose and you’ll get something elaborate. I love a drawing that is it’s own little thing and you can put it in a frame, but I also think a drawer should be able to make pattern, make print.

Coming from an architecture background, we’re told not to use wallpaper or decoration in renders to cover the raw material. Do you think that there’s space for this kind of art, pattern and print, in the modern setting? 


I think it’s good to engage the viewer, to disrupt the normal context of a gallery. They can be so dry. Just walking with your hands behind your back, going *dun* *dun* *dun*, ticking pieces off. I think anything that disrupts that, having objects or sculptures with the drawings; anything that livens it up is a good thing. 


It’s not right for every space, but I think people relate to pattern and print, and always have, it’s something humans respond to naturally. There’s an Indian fabric store on Golborne Road in Notting Hill, I found it a few years ago and I got such a massive buzz off all the fabrics and prints there. I never got that kind of buzz from going to see a gallery show. I wanted to feel the texture, to turn it over and look at all of it. 

A lot of your work revolves around J.G.Ballard’s The Drowned World and his semi-fictitious science fiction creations. What is it about Ballard that you draw inspiration from?


The fact that it’s this sort of science fiction world set up in the future, but it’s still in London, is something that I was trying to do with my work. I was trying to approach stuff that I was seeing everyday but give it an angle or a twist where you're not 100% sure what you're looking at. And that’s what he does, he puts London through a filter of a sort of swampy jungle


He talks a lot about the world being a theatre set, but where it doesn't take much for all of that to fall apart. I did a lot of drawing in bars and pubs, while always thinking about the ideas that come from his books - mostly how characters slowly lose their minds.


I’ve gotten so much out of that book: it inspired my two exhibitions, Alligators in the Hall and The Drowned World; all this body of work, and an upcoming collaboration with Folk which is based on that too. 

Can you tell us more about this collaboration? And anything else you’re working on?


The collaboration with Folk is based on the novel 'The Drowned World' by Ballard. It explores a future where solar radiation from a scorching red sun has caused the ice caps to melt and temperatures to soar, leaving cities submerged in beautiful yet haunting lagoons – devoid of human life.


My brother, Nick Goss, and myself have produced a series of artworks, inspired by Ballard’s book illustrating these themes. Folk have created print based garments derived from these artworks in an exclusive capsule collection. The launch is the 6th July at their store on Redchurch Street. There will be the clothes, paintings and drawings all shown together as a single installation.


I’m also collaborating with Paul Smith, designing bespoke fabrics for two armchairs which will go into one of their stores. The designs are screen-printed patterns with elements of drawing—some figurative and some abstract—worked into the design. The form of the chair gives an unexpected way for the viewer to experience the drawing, where they can walk around it and react with it.

–Images courtesy of Phil Goss. To see more of their work, click here.