As I follow Phillip up the stairs to his apartment, I am struck by his quiet confidence; always at ease, he speaks with an unobtrusive composure that commands attention. He knows who he is, and there is never a moment that his conviction wavers. The first time I watched one of his montages, I could not help but think about how very Phillip it seemed–it held my attention for the entirety of its duration, and I knew others would find it just as captivating.
“My inspiration?” Phillip muses, “Women and nature. Their strength.”
Interspersed with the haunting GIFs and animated graphics that compose his work, you will find many shots of formidable women, defying the camera with their eyes, reclaiming their own visual presence through their deflection of the male gaze. Clips that in another context may have been construed as pornographic or perhaps even degrading become, in his hands, an homage to the feminine mystique, the power of the female form, the invincibility of womanhood.
But don’t mistake the perpetuity of this theme and its referential motifs for predictability; his work is peppered with everything from surreal schools of fish to anime-esque petals fluttering in the wind, and these quick 2-3 second snippets of natural phenomena capture a sense of the ephemeral, the fleeting, and they are all the more powerful for their temporality. It is easy to see how the genre is updating art for the internet age, and it is undeniable that Phillip is a pioneer in the genre, with his eye for composition and continuity. The accessibility of his style and medium is unique, eschewing the elitism that art is often associated with, in favor of the universal. How can you remain indifferent when he incorporates songs, dialogue, and shots that you, and everyone else, can recognize? The juxtaposition of the familiar with the avant-garde brings out the most in his work, and, therefore in his audience.
“I’ll have a song stuck in my head, and I will just start seeing images. I had this idea in high school, to make music videos for my favorite songs, and my friend showed me that I could do it all on iMovie.” I watch as he pieces together GIFs I could never have even dreamed of, all of which somehow perfectly complement a song, forcing me to rethink the lyrics, themes, and deeper meanings of songs I’ve heard dozens of times.
An interesting question arises, however, in light of the fact that the images he uses can all be found on the internet. Does his art belong to him, or the person who originally posts the image or GIF that he uses? Fenty finds himself in the murky center of the age-old debate over ownership and appropriation, updated for the new digital era. Anyone exposed to his groundbreaking visuals can assure you of his originality, but does that conviction hold in terms of legality? Recently, he contributed a music video of sorts, entitled For Willa, to the SoundCloud artist YILLA‘s song “Like Cigarettes” (below), a step towards the generation of new content that he is gunning for. His end game is to use his own shots and film in his visual directing, and I can only imagine the depth and emotion we will see in his future works.
“At the end of the day, I just want to be thought-provoking.” And that he is; a modern-day Santiago Alvarez, his montages resonate far more than his modesty would imply. “You know, I’m always surprised when people enjoy this sh*t.” But how could you not? Keep your eye on Phillip Fenty (@commonfeeling on Instagram). His style is continually evolving and I know that I, at least, will be closely following his every post to see where his creativity takes him next.