Lot 9
  • 9

PETER PHILLIPS | The Random Illusion No. 6

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
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  • Attributed to Peter Phillips, circa 1970
  • The Random Illusion No. 6
  • signed and dated 1969 on the reverse; also signed, dated 1969 and inscribed on the stretcher bar
  • oil, acrylic and tempera on shaped canvases
  • 227 by 400cm.; 89½ by 157½in.


Galleria Maria Laura Drudi Gambillo, Rome
Galerie Bischofberger, Zurich, by 1977
Galerie Neuendorf, Hamburg, by 1982
Offer Waterman, London, where acquired by the present owner


Milan, Galleria Milano, Peter Phillips, January 1970, cat. no.5, p.505;
Munster, Westfalischer Kunstverein, Peter Phillips, 4th November - 10th December 1972, cat. no.43, illustrated;
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, Peter Phillips, RetroVISION, Paintings 1960-1982, 26th June - 1st August 1982, cat. no.15, illustrated p.33, with tour to Museum of Modern Art, Oxford; Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne; Fruit Market Gallery, Edinburgh; Southampton Art Gallery, Southampton; and Barbican Art Gallery, London;
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Pop Art, 13th September - 15th December 1991, cat. no.180, illustrated pl.158, with tour to Museum Ludwig, Cologne; and Centre de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid;
Bilbao, Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, British Pop, 17th October 2005 - 12th February 2006, cat. no.86, illustrated;
Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Supermarket Pop: Art and Consumerism, 2013 (details untraced).


Enrico Crispolti, Peter Phillips: Works 1960-74, Idea, Milan, 1977, cat. no.58, illustrated p.58.


The work consists of six shaped canvases joined together, with an additional shaped section of wood to the lower part of the car, over which the canvas has been stretched. All sections appear to be securely adhered and the canvases are original. There is a slight gap between the right hand panel and the main canvas, where the stretcher has possibly bowed, visible upon close inspection. There are some fine incisions and instances where the surface has been worked, these are in keeping with the Artist's working methods and intentions. There is some slight wear to the corners and extreme edges. There are a small number of isolated instances of fine lines of cracking to the work, most of which are only visible upon close inspection. There is a vertical crack towards the upper edge to the left of centre, with associated small flecks of loss. There is reticulation throughout much of the black pigment, however, some of this may be due to the varnish. There is some inconsistency to the shade and texture of the yellow pigment in places, which may be due either to a discoloured varnish or some fading of pigments. There appears to be an area to the left of the car headlights which has cracked and has possibly been retouched. There are a small number of faint scuffs to the work, predominantly towards the edges. There are some instances of small accretions, studio matter, surface detritus and light surface dirt. There is one vertical line of excess varnish in the lower left quadrant and a raised horizontal thread to the main canvas in the lower third. This excepting, the work appears in very good overall condition. Inspection under ultra violet light reveals fluorescence and probable retouching in the aforementioned area to the left of the car. In addition, there are instances of scattered spot retouchings predominantly focused to the external, adjoined sections of canvas, largely focused on the right vertical edge, To the main canvas there is fluorescence to the aforementioned vertical crack, with a small number of further instances of spot retouchings including to the car. The work is unframed. Please telephone the department on +44 (0) 207 293 6424 if you have any questions regarding the present work.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Peter Phillips’s artistic training began at the age of 13, at Moseley Road Secondary School of Art in Birmingham. As a technical college the skills he began to develop were centred on applied and technical arts such as decorating, silversmithing and technical draughtsmanship, all of which left a profound mark on him. The precision and invention that these skills required remained with the artist throughout his career, and are notably apparent in the present work. Critically, however, there was no formal art history as part of this course, freeing him from the study of the lofty ideals of traditional academic art and the restrictions imposed through the reproduction of existing masterpieces. The students were allowed to take pleasure in the physicality of their subject and the process. Moreover, this goes a long way to explain the development of his style and visual language. The uncompromisingly direct and technically accomplished manner in which he produces work owes much to the rigours of mechanical study.  

Reproducing technical imagery also has very direct crossover into Phillips’s depictions of automobiles and engines, with the present work being a marvellous example. Although the imagery also has obvious associations with the Pop movement in general, Phillips expresses a more individual predilection for mechanical objects. As a machine functions as a result of the successful interrelation of its constituent parts, Phillips is keen to express the interchangeability of objects in general, and the perfect uniformity of mass production, from pistons to lipstick. The visual material that he draws from and recreates is that of mass production, from magazines, decals, scientific drawings and pin ups. This body of literature was valuable and immediate for the artist as the works were already everywhere but from a practical point of view, as they were already two dimensional their translation to the canvas was made all the more straightforward. These visual sources would of course be absolutely familiar to any viewers which therefore makes the imagery direct, but Phillips reflects on the ubiquity of it all. The structure of the compositions as a whole, however, is more than just a comment on materialism, and the juxtaposition of images and geometry itself becomes the vehicle through which the emotion is imparted. With bright colours and bold and brash imagery the force of his argument comes from the immediacy of the painting.


Although Phillips’s style is viscerally direct, he is at pains to stress that he is not forcing the viewer in to a particular reading of any subject: 'A person who looks at a painting should be able to create himself, he has the freedom to interpret. This is why a painting for me must be complicated, with a lot of different references, handlings of paint, points of view and illusionistic changes. You can read it in a million ways.” (Peter Phillips, quoted in Marco Livingstone, ‘Peter Phillips’, in retroVISION, Peter Phillips, Paintings 1960-1982, exh. cat., Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 1982, p.10). The visual language that Phillips employs is therefore required to be easy to digest but open to interpretation. The Random Illusion series, of which this work forms a part, is a perfect example of this practice. The paintings reproduce the same categories of imagery in a similar format, closely investigating what the symbolism could possibly mean and how the same iconography can be mixed up and reimagined within varying contexts to utterly different effects, as Phillips himself said: 'There is no such thing as nonsense' (op. cit., p.11).