‘Frightening Albert’, Phil Illingworth at WW Gallery

After having stripped the walls of the new WW Gallery in Hatton Garden of old woodchip, painting them bright white and cutting through the original grime, I felt invested enough to be curious about the inaugural exhibition. When Jotta asked if somebody would interview Phil Illingworth about his exciting body of work, ‘Frightening Albert’, I didn’t hesitate to accept.

This month the WW Gallery finally made the move from Hackney Downs to their new space in the glittering-midst of Hatton Garden’s jewellers. The inaugural exhibition, ‘Frightening Albert’, is a solo show of work by artist, Phil Illingworth, taking inspiration from the notorious Watson experiments of the 1920s which explored stimulus and response.

Chiara Williams and Debra Wilson, Directors of the gallery, wanted to open their new space “with a solo show which would present one strong vision.”  Their instinctive way of working, programming and curating meant that although they believed they would be showing an exceptional body of work, it was only during installation when seeing many of the works for the first time, that Williams and Wilson realised their faith had paid off: “‘Frightening Albert’ seems to embody, aesthetically and conceptually, what WW is all about.” In an attempt to pin-down this affinity, Williams & Wilson describe the show as “both bold and subtle, audacious without being pretentious, subversive and witty, visually and viscerally engaging, and above all superbly crafted.” It is evident that, along with the playful “pinch of Dada” and the generous “dollop of Surrealism”, ‘Frightening Albert’ shares its essence with WW.

Francesca Brooks: WW have spoken of the “exciting shift” in your practice over the past couples of years. In what way is ‘Frightening Albert’ different to your previous work?

Phil Illingworth: I tend to work on a specific concept, see it through to completion, and then move onto another. The origins of this project are fundamentally different to my usual practice. From very early on, I saw this as not just as a group of works, but an entire new body of work, something I could really enjoy exploring with for a long time. I believe it has enormous potential which is symbiotic with the rest of my practice.

FB: What has led you to create work in this new way?

PI: I began with a very simple premise: the idea of painting in three dimensions. One of the original principles was that the works should be as spontaneous and intuitive as I could make them; importantly, each painting should have no signifiers other than the work itself. Another was the potential of using colour and material from absolutely any source I chose. It was all about experimentation. The process led to the realisation of what I see as a personal lexicon of materials, raw ideas, and visual syntax. I gave myself ‘permission’ to use this vocabulary to express other concepts, and from that point on I knew that my practice had expanded enormously.

FB: Can you explain the idea of stimulus and response which underpins this body of work?

PI: During the development of the works I invited a small group of blind and visually-impaired people to come and experience a few of the more tactile pieces. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was hoping to learn something from it. One of the clearest outcomes is that normal-sighted people tend to make automatic comparisons – “that looks like so-and-so”. I wanted to highlight that we should try to look with more open eyes.

FB: The works in the show often have provocative titles which seem to be a part of the humour, or make a significant allusion. Can you explain their significance?

PI: The title can be a pointer towards my intention, and often another layer of meaning. In some of these particular works I have intended the title to be an element of the work, like scale or colour. What I hope is that the viewer will continue to think about the work afterwards.

FB: ‘Frightening Albert’ is an incredibly visceral and tactile exhibition filled with surprising materials, did these works begin with an interest in the materials or start with the conceptual?

PI: They almost always arrive simultaneously, or at least in parallel. The material itself is rarely the starting point. Usually I source the material to satisfy the concept – perhaps that is why there are often surprising results. I find real excitement in experimenting in this way – I often find myself laughing in the studio when I start to bring everything together!

Here are some photographs I took of the show, and should have posted a long time ago.

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With the green-house windows filtering blue, this white and meditative corner of the exhibition happens to my favourite part.

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