The arts are more than ever needing innovation, new income streams and new sustainable models to ensure a stable future. I talk with artist Philip Colbert, a man at the forefront of digital art.
Born in Scotland and living and working in London, Colbert is often referred to as the “godson of Andy Warhol”. Colbert has created a global following for his cartoon lobster persona and his masterful hyper pop history paintings. His work powerfully explores the patterns of contemporary digital culture and its relationship to a deeper art historical dialogue. This new digital exhibition, Losteropolis explores what is possible in our current times and how we can view this exhibition from our phones on our sofas through the use of robots.
What is Losteropolis and how do we travel there?
It’s my digital art world, the home of my lobster persona, on the Decentraland metaverse platform in the District of Vegas City [click here to visit].
You have said “I became an artist when I became a lobster” and “The lobster is my materialistic alter ego”. What do you mean by that?
The lobster is my alter ego in a free and abstract sense, a contemporary protagonist of surrealism, and a symbol of creative freedom. Yet I also use my persona to explore the new artistic possibilities and complexities of the productified aesthetics of our time, the production of a creative self, the mass production of individualism and the limits of creativity identity in our globalised hyper commercial world, where art and branding and commerce are all so interconnected.
How would you describe yourself?
I’ve always been someone prone to day dreaming…
The role of technology is increasingly used to create new art and engage with new audiences. ‘Art without Walls’ provides new opportunities for artists but are there limitations here too?
I think digital technology is the defining artistic medium of our time. Technology is now deeply embedded in our brain function and our everyday perception and freedom of choice. This now largely defines our view and engagement with art and on a deeper level our whole sense of identity and interaction with the world. This comes both with many exciting creative possibilities and concerning problems.
How do you see this affecting the way individuals and businesses collect art?
I think we will see a continued rise in the significance of a digital reality, and more and more people will have an artistic presence in this digital space. The American dream could be replaced with a new tech avatar dream, where a new generation can find a talent and voice with fame and fortune in the digital world. Art collecting digitally will become a new normal. Collectors and business will have more developed profiles digitally as more and more cultural activity will happen there.
There has been a lot of emphasis placed on the role of creativity in business recently and how to best encourage creative thinking within business. What excites you about the intersect of art and business? Are you hoping to change the way people see hyper consumerism and challenge systems?
I think art and business have always been deeply interlinked. Successful art has always been a highly traded commodity. I am personally inspired by the democratic movement in art, to promote artistic language to more people, and break art away from being trapped in an elite luxury industry. That’s why I love collaborations. I recently did one with Adidas called Save the Lobster, using only eco-friendly recycled materials. For me these artistic collaborations with bigger business models bring my art to new audiences around the world.
You studied philosophy. Is there a school of thought that particularly inspired you?
I loved the ancient Greeks like Plato, but probably was most inspired by German 19th century, particularly the great, passionate romantic Friedrich Nietzsche.
Last year, at your Saatchi Gallery exhibition, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic you opened with the innovative and fun idea of using lobster robots as the ‘eyes’ of virtual visitors – can you tell us more about the concept?
Doing a conventional show felt impossible during the pandemic, and large gallery museum spaces were no go zones. It felt to me that such empty big spaces were like ship wrecks at the bottom of the ocean Almost impossible to visit, and only viewable by remote cameras via robot. So I thought it would be interesting to organise robots and go into a museum show in the same way.
After researching it saw that telepresence robots had developed enough and surprisingly no one had organised such an exhibition before. I managed to get a large collection of robots and then customised them with adding movable lobster claws. They became a performative part of the show. On the press day before the show opened a few days before lockdown it was crazy, there were so many TV crews waiting at the Saatchi entrance, and the show was amazingly then able to run through the lockdown with the lobster robots.
What are you working on next and how can we best follow your process?
My Lobsteropolis world in Decentraland is very much a work in progress, and I have another event there on 8 July. Anyone can now visit this anytime, and there should be lots of new features added every few weeks. My world is located in the Vegas City district. I also have a new museum show in Korea which I am finishing some new paintings for.