Thursday, June 2, 2011

American Urban Art

This week I have chosen the image Abducted Airstream Googie Sign by Chet Phillips. The Googie style of this image can be argued to be quintessentially recognizable as American. Googie’s, the Los Angeles coffee shop that launched an American architectural and artistic movement is now a fading memory, although its imprint on popular culture can be seen to this day. Googie’s retro-future kitsch provided an unrestrained artistic style, perfected in the 1940s's and ’50's by architects such as John Lautner, Douglas Honnold and Wayne McAllister, which flourished in American cities such as southern California, coastal Florida and Las Vegas, locales that specialised in fantasy and escapism. Whimsical, and arguably absurd restaurants such as Pann’s and the Wich Stand, futuristic bowling alleys, drive-in movie theatres, and roadside fuel stations, motels and burger stands sprang up virtually overnight. The effect was startling. As stated by Los Angeles-based journalist Chris Nichols. ‘New York and Miami had Art Deco, but here in southern California, we really excelled at Googie’.

Googie blurred indoor and outdoor living spaces, and employed a space age persona that embodied the technological hopes and dreams of America during the 1950’s and ‘60’s. Add to this the Disneyland and Hollywood scenes, which were both more comfortable with the fantasy element, and the fact that most Californians weren’t tied to tradition, both architectural and artistic, and the West Coast was a prime breeding ground for the Googie style. Facets of the style have permeated pop culture via iconic imagery such as Holiday Inn signs, and McDonald’s legendary golden arches as well as famous landmarks such as Seattle’s Space Needle. Chet Phillips uses inspiration from Googie architecture to create digital based images for both commercial companies and private buyers, specialising in Googie, Steam Punk, and other unusual American styles.

Phillips lives in Dallas, Texas and began his career as a freelance illustrator in the early 80's. He has created work for advertising agencies, design firms, books, newspapers and magazine publishers and corporate companies. He trained in traditional media and has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and drawing, in 1992 he transitioned to digital media using a 'Digital Scratch Board'. He produces fascinating pieces that ironically en-capture America's fetishism for both nature and technology, often combining the two with somewhat bizarre images of animals wearing clothes or Steam Punk suits, people performing the roles of computer components, and Googie signs illustrating cultural identifying icons such as the selected image Abducted Airstream, which focuses upon America's obsession with aliens and fear of abduction. All of Phillips art possesses a notably urban theme and as mentioned often blends urban and nature together producing a iconographic hybridity that whilst the majority of his images are not of ‘cities’ they can be argued, through their use of technological and industrial iconography, to apply to the theme of the ‘city image’. The streamliner is a particularly technological and in some ways urban artefact as it allows the luxuries of the urban home to be taken anywhere and applies to the machine aesthetic, the worship of the machine and the industrial, and the purity of art within an efficient artefact.

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