Phlegm's fantastical characters have always felt somewhat real, in the same way as kids have nightmares of the Big Friendly Giant roaming the streets outside their window - a tale that's so in-tune with our childhood mythology that we can't fully shake the notion into adulthood. The monochromatic masterpieces of this Sheffield-based artist, also retain this poetic quality making for an emotive exhibition.
Mausoleum of the Giants is Phlegm's latest show, a realisation and logical continuation of his creative process up until now. Having spent years building a world for his characters, developing their own characteristics and features, he's taken them off of the wall and filled large rooms with them.
Experiencing art like this, from two to three dimensions, entails an entirely different viewing experience. For one, looking at a wall has limits and even if artists carefully use those limits to their advantage, they still exist. These limits are limited even further by the imaginative capacity of their audience. Three-dimensional also has limits, but far less. The scale of Phlegm's installations, opting to go giant rather than to the scale of his walls, shows his willingness to take a chance and hints at the importance of doing so.
They're really big, almost too big for the room requiring them to be arranged into positions denoting their spacial struggles. As such, in their unorthodox layout, the audience are more immersed than ever before, being able to experience more acutely the intentions of the artist when he originally painted on them on flat surfaces.
Building on the mythology he has built, with pieces spanning from his hometown across the globe, Phlegm has constructed a situational effect in the exhibition that recently debuted in Sheffield's Taylor's Eye Witness Works, an industrial red-brick building, perfectly suited to housing his figures. To navigate the show meant to move around the pieces, not just walk past. Upon entering the first door, the audience were immediately met with a laying giant, crouched and somewhat vulnerable.
Progression to the rest of the show required the audience to fully embrace the new temporal space they were visiting. For a moment in time, the characters were no longer only characters, but a part of the world you inhabit.
These experiments with scale lead to a curiosity over his next works, with his street art up until this point acquiring a sort of cult-following. With his background in self-published comics, Phlegm is no stranger to building a narrative and worlds surrounding his characters. No detail is overlooked, from the location to the construction techniques (papier-mache over a wooden skeleton, covered with illustrative painted brush-strokes) in the environment that sees him push his art to new frontiers.
Because of the monochromatic palette and distinguishable style of his characters, the fanfare surrounding his works is akin to artists like Banksy, whereby people will actively seek out his paintings. Looking at other comic book artists, or series, we can see why. Their story becomes our story, and to get a chance to see that in real-life, not only to discover some context, but to stand in the spot where the artist went through the process of its creation, brings fans closer to what it is they see on the page and online.
Now, they're closer than ever. Despite their towering stature though, the installations are distinctly subdued and melancholic, almost blending into the shadows of the location, crouching like a bullied child or covering as if sick or afraid. Their feelings are tangible and devoutly honest. These aren't things to be scared of, but to understand.
The concept is deeply poignant. They are peaceful giants that have lived for thousands of years, watching vast geographical and social changes unfold from a distance, but in this place and at this time, their lives are almost at an end. When you walk in to meet them, it's as a last goodbye.
Phlegm's artistic works may have come full-circle here, hinting that his giants might have reached the end of their life in his art too. If so, what next for the artist? It might be too soon to ask, as this a period of mourning, yet equally of celebration for an artist whose life developed alongside his characters - only that their death might be his re-birth.
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