Born in Scotland and living and working in London, Colbert is often referred to as the “godson of Andy Warhol”. After graduating with an MA in Philosophy from the University of St. Andrews, Colbert has garnered a global following for his cartoon lobster persona and his masterful hyper-pop history paintings.
PC = Philip Colbert
P = Pearl Lam
P: When did you start to know you were an artist?
PC: That’s a good question, Pearl. I guess I have always been obsessed with art since I was a little kid. So, it is always for me like a magic window into another world: art. I’ve always had a memory for paintings, and they had a big gravitational pull for me. So, I was reading art history all the time, and in my imagination, I was always an artist somehow.
P: You started to do another trade and then you pulled yourself back as an artist.
P: And that is completely not like the traditional way of starting an art practice.
PC: It’s the same as Warhol!
P: So, Warhol does inspire you in many ways.
PC: Yeah, Warhol is definitely an inspiration. But, I think for me, it’s also I was always coming at even making clothes and the whole idea of a brand from a creative point of view. I mean, I was very inspired by a holistic creative power of clothes as an opportunity to do wearable art—to take art off the walls and into the street. It was a very interesting idea, but I liked the practical, commercial aspect of it because it also was a way of helping me to pay bills and to actually make a living.
P: When you talk about doing your label, brand, and fashion, [these are all] creative, but when you step into contemporary art, we’re talking about conceptual art. So, how do you transfer your creativity into conceptual art?
PC: For me, I studied philosophy. For years, I was studying philosophy, so for me, it was always coming from a conceptual point of view. When I was making wearable artworks, it was from a conceptual point of view. I was inspired by Duchamp and Duchampian theory.
P: [Points] I can see the Mutt.
PC: Yes, exactly. For me, the act of even making wearable art or even presenting myself as a (pop) band and playing with a bunch of things was very much like an artistic expression. It wasn’t… I was actually inspired by my creativity and inspired by theory of art. I was having a dialogue with art history too. It was just that by having a dialogue in a more commercial space, I didn’t get the full, let’s say, visibility of the intellectual idea.
P: So, how do you actually link all this into your metaverse, to your NFT, to your paintings, to your sculptures?
PC: Yeah, I think when we talk about critical theory, for me, a very important point…let’s say if we go back to pop theory, is the democratic spirit of making contemporary art, which breaks the boundaries of let’s say hierarchy and tries to connect artistic spirit. Why even [do] I love primary colour? Why is my work so connected to primary colour? Yes, there’s a whole canon of art historical painters I’m obsessed with—Léger or Calder, who have amazingly used primary colour. The essence of primary colour is something like going to a kids’ classroom, seeing primary colours splashed around the floor. It’s just [like] the power of the radiance of a sunflower. The way that you can [use] primary colour. It’s the power of colour and the power of radiance of the pure elements.
P: You want a lobster to…it’s like your avatar, but why not a crab?
PC: Well, I was willing to do crabs and lobsters, basically—
P: How about a shrimp?
PC: They’re like aliens from the sea. Then, the more as a kid, I was studying art history and stuff, the more I would see lobsters appearing in 18th century Dutch still life paintings. If you look at that genre of painting, Dutch still lifes, and how the lobster is really like an alien…an amazing pop alien in these paintings commanding such attention and such iconography.
P: In ten years time, where do you see yourself at?
PC: For me, what inspires me, I guess, is to push the possibilities of artistic possibilities. I think, obviously, creating my own planet and metaverse is something big for me. I already pushed that and made that the most groundbreaking, experiential experience. I think the continued development of my own language… Obviously, I have my own avatar, my own world around the avatar, and even just on a very aesthetic level. A painting, a narrative is building… I mean, at the end of the day, everything is storytelling—