There’s no renter yet for the former Taschen gallery store on Beverly Boulevard, so Saatchi’s Unit London has taken over the space until at least April 15 — as the giant cartoonish lobster on the roof might have tipped you. That’s the alter ego of artist Philip Colbert, whose eponymous neo-pop surrealist brand is London’s epitome of cheeky hip.
With a career primarily in design, Colbert contributed some paintings to a group show at the Tate Modern in 2015 before breaking out at Saatchi Gallery last year with his “Hunt Paintings,” which are now on view in Los Angeles. Two sculptures, several figurines and 29 canvases fill out the ambitious show, including the mural-sized Hunt Triptych, made up of two sprawling canvases teeming with pop culture and fine-art iconography, evidence of a feverishly busy 2018 in the studio.
These epic works based on classic compositions by Rubens and Van Dyck incorporate elements such as a Picasso warrior, sword drawn, about to smite a lion. Behind him a figure by George Condo reaches for his arm. A Basquiat figure rides a Rubenesque horse, spearing the lobster man in fried-egg pajamas as the lion digs its fangs into his groin. The lobster man dominates the show, a plethora of portraits, some figurines and more exploits on canvas involving Roy Lichtenstein’s hot dog, David Hockney’s swimming pools, Man Ray’s ball bearings, Salvador Dalí’s lobster telephone, William Shakespeare with a glass in hand, spattered with arrow icons, likes and emojis.
A year after launching his Rodnik Band label, encompassing fashion, art and design, Colbert’s Marcel Duchamp–inspired urinal dress put the London fashion world on alert. It soon led to collaborations with people like Rita Ora, who commissioned him to design costumes for her 2013 world tour, including a sequin Swiss cheese dress. No stranger to corporate brands, Colbert has worked with Disney, Peanuts comics, Rolex, Smart Car and Comme des Garçons, and counts Cara Delevingne, the late Karl Lagerfeld, Anna Dello Russo, Sienna Miller and Lady Gaga among his fans. In fact, on Thursday, March 21, Lady Gaga's creative director, Ruth Hogben, will give a talk at the space presented by the H Club and Cut and Wrap.
Colbert says his work is anchored in pop culture theory of the ’60s, which is a fancy way of saying he leans heavily on brand names and pop culture iconography in the tradition of fellow Londoner Richard Hamilton, as well as James Rosenquist and Roy Lichtenstein. The son of a real estate developer, Colbert was educated at Scotland’s prestigious Strathallan School before attending St. Andrews, where his classmates included Prince William. His path to an M.A. in philosophy was fueled by clouds of marijuana smoke and Nietzsche, which led naturally to a career in design.
Colbert is married to artist-filmmaker Charlotte Goldsmith, with whom he recently launched Popcorn Group, a film and theatrical production entity in London. The résumé gets longer, the work never stops, and the artist won’t have it any other way.
Make what you will of his mad melange of lobsters, logos and classical leitmotifs, but they are, in the words of Colbert’s idol, James Rosenquist, undeniably made with power, gusto and impact.
Through (at least) April 15 at Saatchi Gallery's Unit London, 8070 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood. Special event March 21.