Phoebe Unwin, Reel, 2007, Acrylic on canvas (184 × 153 cm).

Phoebe Unwin's Sculptural Approach to the Practice of Painting

Phoebe Unwin, Frame, 2009, Oil and spray paint on canvas (50.5 × 60.5 cm).

Phoebe Unwin, Portrait (Speaking), 2009, Encaustic on canvas (61 × 50 cm).

Phoebe Unwin, Street, 2009, Aluminium leaf and acrylic on canvas (220.5 × 184 cm).

Phoebe Unwin, Desk, 2008, Oil, aluminium leaf and spray paint on linen (97.5 × 107.5 cm).

Phoebe Unwin, Silver Shower, 2008, Acrylic and aluminium leaf on linen (145 × 121 cm).


Wilkinson Gallery
50-58 Vyner Street
+ 44 20 8980 2662
Phoebe Unwin. Man made
January 13-March 6, 2011

Man Made encompasses Unwin’s curious approach to painting: at once a destabilisation of expectations of style and form, coupled with a stern and enthused focus on realising a subject in paint. She cares for a painting’s physical qualities of material and scale in a way a sculptor might. These paintings feel part of our world, rather than a passage to somewhere else. Each is a new possibility, differing in mark, material, scale and subject, with no repeated motif. With these formal interests and challenges, it may seem perverse that these are figurative workss, however, it is how image relates to material that is fundamental to the work.

Unwin references and explores a world we all experience visually, verbally and sensationally: a figure infects and affects it’s space, as if thoughts are made into things; a grubby patterned Underground seat blocks a view; the shape of a head is formed by a uniformed edge of toothpaste-like stripes; pictures of notepaper become a layered collected mass of white on whites.

Colour is used to explore these perceptions of the familiar with a palette ranging from the irreverent to the beautiful: monochrome chromium oxide green to wet-glossy black to washed-out fuzzy fluorescents. The intrinsic materiality of Unwin’s chosen media is acknowledged and celebrated within the paintings. For instance, the matte plastic quality of acrylic paint differs from the sheen and subtlety of oil paint; the opaque colour and furry-edged mark of spray-paint has both industrial and urban qualities; powdered graphite makes translucent marks of slightly sparkly soft grey. Connotations of colour combinations are communicated: the gentle, poetic, modern, dirty or minimal. The application of these colours range from brushes to simple stencilling techniques, achieving diverse results. Some paintings have a sense of its image having been near-destroyed, while others appear to show a subject playfully found; one work might have a feeling of layered time put into it, yet another is a lone economy of line.

In size and composition, some of these paintings might appear to reference the ergonomics of design, while others probe the more intimate visual conversation to be had with a small portrait form. All of the paintings are, in a sense, more about explaining, visually, what something feels like, rather than what it looks like. It is because of this interest and aim for the work, Unwin does not work from photographs or direct observation. Instead, she takes an almost phenomenological approach to materials, often working with memory as an editing tool to find the essence of a subject: both our physical and emotional navigation of it.

Phoebe Unwin was born in Cambridge in 1979 and lives and works in London. She studied at Newcastle University and Slade School of Fine Art. Currently her work is exhibited as part of the British Art Show 7, a Hayward Gallery National Touring Exhibition. Recent solo shows have taken place at Honor Fraser, Los Angeles (2009); Wilkinson (2008, 2006) and Milton Keynes Gallery (2007). Group shows include: The Saatchi Gallery, London; IFF Gallery, Marseille; CIRCUIT, Centre for Contemporary Art, Lausanne; MOCA, Los Angeles ( all 2010); Jerwood Space, London (2009) CCA Andratx, Majorca (2008) Thomas Dane, London (2007); W139, Amsterdam (2007), Publications include: Feelings and Other Forms solo exhibition catalogue, Wilkinson, with a text by Jens Hoffmann (2008); A Short Walk from a Shout to a Whisper solo exhibition catalogue, Milton Keynes Gallery with a text by Max Henry (2007). She was commissioned to create a work for the Centre Pompidou, for inclusion in the catalogue publication of their exhibition Voids – A Retrospective (2009). Other publications include Younger than Jesus, New Museum New York/ Phaidon (2009) and the forthcoming Vitamin P Survey of International Contemporary Painting Phaidon (2011/2012).

Phoebe Unwin, Jacket, 2009, Oil on canvas (81 × 70 cm).

Phoebe Unwin, Face, 2008, Acrylic and gloss paint on linen (50 × 40.5 cm).

Phoebe Unwin, Hair from Behind, 2008, 2008, Gloss paint and acrylic on linen (51 × 40.5 cm).

Phoebe Unwin, Beach Portrait, 2008, Oil on linen (61 × 51 cm).

Phoebe Unwin, Man with Heavy Limbs, 2009, Acrylic, Indian ink, charcoal and pastel on glossy card and printed paper (146.5 × 100 cm).


Phoebe Unwin, Man in Jacket, 2009, Acrylic and oil on canvas (145.5 × 120 cm).

Phoebe Unwin, Turn to Pastel, 2008, Acrylic on linen, 70 x 80 cm.

A Painting Practice that Floats above a Landscape of Art History

Phoebe Unwin, Yellow Room II, 2008, Acrylic on linen, 152.5 x 183 cm.

Phoebe Unwin, Beach Portrait, 2008, Oil on linen, 61 x 51 cm.


50-58 Vyner Street
+ 44 20 8980 2662
Main Galleries
Phoebe Unwin:
Feelings And Other Forms

September 4-October 12, 2008

As a painter Phoebe Unwin manages to break free from the weight of the medium's long history to create works that experiment with and push the supposed limits and boundaries of paint. Eschewing physical source material, photographic or otherwise, her works attempt to conquer the blankness of the empty canvas without the safety of self-imposed limits of form or motif. Unwin is not seeking some ultimate goal in the practice, more excitedly questioning the length and breadth of reaction that can be elicited with pigment on surface. Each work a unique experiment for the artist.

Ranging widely in its formal nature the exhibition includes wholly abstract washes of colour, part abstract portraiture, and minimal still lives. The creative process is integral to the end product. Each work is a process in progress, a reaction to its previous counterpart; some starting with colour or texture and others with subject or shape. Worked out in books first and then transferred, adjusted and edited onto a multitude of differently sized and prepared canvases, the artist works prolifically, only to carefully edit the output before public consumption.

The diverse formal subject matter depicts the essence of the artist's personal emotion without ever troubling the viewer with the non-universal back-story. Emotions are set in the abstract. This is demonstrated with the deliberate and effective confusing of outlines and spaces allocated to different depicted objects, including people which distances the viewer's concentration from the actualities of subject matter. In withholding the specifics Unwin makes her work raise more questions than answers, taking the look of cinema without the latter's traditional constraint of having to tell a story.

Colour has long played a significant role in Unwin's life, having spent much of her formative childhood living near San Francisco, surrounded by the optimistic palette of the Californian landscape and the strong influence of Mexican culture which counteracted the overriding belief in monochrome of her British, European, birthplace. The world that these works inhabit now however has progressed from these early influences, imbuing the colour with a very adult emotional intensity.

Unwin attended Newcastle University (1998-2002) and the Slade School of Fine Art (2003-2005). Her first solo show, The Grand and the Commonplace, took place at Wilkinson in 2006 and since she has exhibited in group shows in Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Reykjavik and at Thomas Dane Gallery, London (all 2007). In that year she also had a major solo show at the Milton Keynes Gallery. She is currently exhibiting in a group show at Honor Fraser Gallery, Los Angeles. In September she is participating in a group show curated by Barry Schawbsky at Centre Cultural Andratx, Mallorca. Unwin was born in Cambridge in 1979 but now lives and works in London.

Phoebe Unwin, Aeroplane Meal, 2008, Spray paint and oil on linen, 97.5 x 107.5 cm.