When one examines British contemporary artist Philip Colbert’s body of work, the first thing that stands out is his cartoon lobster persona. Taking centre stage in his art, the vivid red lobster that runs through much of his work is a striking symbol that immediately catches the eye.
“I loved going to the seaside as a kid, and I always thought that the lobsters there were communicating with me,” Colbert shares. “I was born in Scotland, which has a really strong storytelling culture. It’s a country full of fairy tales.”
Often referred to as the ‘godson of Andy Warhol’, Colbert has amassed a global following for his cartoon lobster alter ego and his hyper pop historical paintings. Vibrant and spirited, his art compellingly explores patterns of digital culture and the way they relate to a deeper art historical dialogue. With unique flair, he weaves high art themes with everyday symbols of mass contemporary culture, presenting them all through the eyes of his iconic persona. “I’ve tried to push the boundaries of contemporary art through this lobster,” he explains.
Featuring four towering sculptures of his lobster alter ego, Colbert’s first showcase in Singapore—entitled ‘Lobstars’ by the Waterfront—is held against the familiar backdrop of the Marina Bay waterfront promenade. Presented as part of Singapore Art Week 2023, the pop-up installation accompanies a dedicated feature room in the Mucciaccia Gallery where selected works of Colbert’s are put on display.
Here, Colbert opens up about his artistic philosophy and processes—and how his iconic persona came to be.
How did you create your cartoon lobster persona?
I have always identified lobsters as symbols of surrealism, influenced by artwork like Dalí’s Lobster Telephone. In the Dutch still-life period, lobsters were very iconic in table scenes. In a lot of ancient Greek and Roman mosaics, lobsters were also featured fighting octopuses. There is this amazing history of lobsters in art. I’m just combining my passion for both art history and surrealism to create a persona that offers me freedom to explore.
You have a very vibrant and distinct art style. What drew you to this and how has it evolved over the years?
I’m really drawn to primary colours. I want my work to feel like a whirlwind of energy, and I think colour helps to achieve that. My work is, in some ways, an homage to the power of a sunflower. When you look at a sunflower, it’s like radiant sunshine. It’s very empowering. I want my art to feel like that.
Are there any topics or themes you’ve found yourself drawn to recently?
I’m working with robotics and artificial intelligence a lot at the moment. These are relatively new phenomenon that have never really been experimented on before in art—and to me that is the essence of what good art should be. What gives art its value and sets it apart from being decorative junk? It should be conceptually interesting, create a new way of seeing things and push existing boundaries.
Who or what inspires you as an artist?
Artists like Nam June Paik, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí and Keith Haring are definitely inspiring figures to me. I also believe in the principle of making art for everyone—and not just exclusive collectors—so I enjoy collaborations and anything that allows me to connect with more people. Philosophy inspires me, as does humility. I find wisdom in people that can create impressive work without getting too caught up in negativity or losing their humility. Making the effort to retain your humility is one of the ways to keep yourself inspired.
What do you hope to explore more of in the future?
I’m interested in using my sculptures and my work to explore metaphysics and art in different dimensions. And I’m definitely very interested in robotics and systems—and also the metaverse. The beauty of art is that there’s freedom to be experimental and bold, and to use your imagination to create new possibilities. Of course, embracing failure is also important.
What does art mean to you?
Art is like language. It’s a form of poetry. It communicates, evolves and reinvents itself to reflect the essence of life.
‘Lobstars’ at Mucciaccia Gallery and ‘Lobstars’ by the Waterfront by Philip Colbert both run from 6 January to 6 February 2023.