Phil Magee – Set Back To Zero

Plymouth-based artist Phil Magee has recorded a triumphant success with his recent solo exhibition “Set Back To Zero” – the result of a six week residency at the Alamo Project.

Nestled in a small industrial park in Millbay, the Alamo Project and Phil Magee’s exhibition, Set Back To Zero, is found in an unlikely location.  Surrounded by car workshops, plumbers and builders, it is not an obvious art gallery or studio space.  However, stepping inside the light-filled gallery and interacting with Phil’s joyful work, it all seemed to make perfect sense.

'Cottage Porn' and a view of the Alamo Project gallery space
‘Cottage Porn’ and a view of the Alamo Project gallery space

Over a cup of coffee, Phil kindly offered to walk me round his exhibition and chat about his work.  The space has been filled with Phil’s creations – he mainly uses materials, supplies and colours that are reflected around the industrial unit and transforms them into unusual, balanced and playful sculptures.

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“I work instinctively” says Phil, and it’s clear that he has made this space his own over the past six weeks.  Sculptures take up unusual but clever positions around the exhibition, making the most of the interaction between the colours and materials of the industrial building and Phil’s ability to draw a playfulness out of this through his artwork.

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Wire mesh sculptures reflect light from the skylight, and ripple across the diagonal-patterned background

There is a workmanlike honesty to Phil’s work – nothing is hidden, and his use of clamps, cable ties and wedges suggest a balance and tension in his sculptures.  Every artwork has a sense of ‘holding it’s own’ – supported by it’s own materials and needing no extra assistance.  The results are great to interact with – I particularly enjoyed Phil’s use of sofa tassels in some of his sculptures, which blow and wave in the breeze flowing through the open door.

'Cottage Porn 2', made with sofa tassels and hanging in the space
‘Cottage Porn 2’, made with sofa tassels and hanging above the floor

Phil works by trying to “extract the goodness” out of the materials and objects forming the basis of his pieces.  One great example is his use of the metal frames taken from advertising boards which he transformed into an intricate artwork, nestled into a corner of the gallery and supported by a single wedge.  It’s this balance, reflection and interaction with the industrial space which holds the key to Phil’s work.

Built from advertising board frames, balanced by a single wedge
Built from advertising board frames, balanced by a single wedge

They grey colour of the frames suit the gallery space so well that Phil had a nearby paint shop match the colour so he could transfer it to another artwork, “Cottage Porn”.  Matching it’s cheeky name, this is a cheeky sculpture – one long orange sofa tassel is clamped onto stacked workbench frames (painted in that special grey) and is weaved back and forth to hang languidly yet precisely across the space.  The orange tassel reflects the coppery orange piping running through the industrial unit, yet is transformed from a functional to an attractive colour.

'Cottage Porn'
‘Cottage Porn’

Phil’s transfer of colour and materials allows his artworks to speak to each other as well as their setting – relationships between the artworks and space seems to blend, turning this show into one immersive experience.

Phil describes himself as a “working-class man” and I really feel his background come out through his artworks.  There is a pride of making, of creating a finished, workmanlike sculpture, and it really speaks both to it’s setting and the people who work in this industrial park.  Phil invited them all round to view his show, and was really relieved to see mechanic sand builders alike enjoying his work.  “They just got it” said Phil.  And why wouldn’t they?  Set Back To Zero is a celebration of the joy of making and precision – a true, working show.

You can see more of Phil’s work on his website.

The Alamo Project is the working studio of artists Connor McIntyre and Karen Roulstone, offering a mentoring environment for emerging artists.

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Phil Magee-1
Blending sculpture with the industrial environment

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