Beauty, disposability and the properties of being | Phillippa Mills on her Truth and Beauty show at Exeter Uni

Devon artist and former fashion model Phillippa Mills draws on life and death from her Dartmoor home. We caught up with her for a Q&A about her Truth and Beauty show at Exeter University.

ArtsCulture: These are striking, arresting and unsettling images – why did you call the collection Truth and Beauty?
Phillippa Mills: It’s a twist on Greek philosophy and the idea that these are the transcendental properties of being.

AC: Which artists inspire you – what styles are you using and why do you think they work best with the subject matter?
PM: I am influenced by a whole range of artists from Klimt, Egon Shiele to pop artists like Andy Warhol.

Like many artists I draw from life – or death – and often draw dead animals I find in Dartmoor where I live.

I work in mixed media, anything from oil and acrylic to car paint and nail varnish if it lends itself to the work. In this exhibition I am using acrylic, oil, paintsticks and pencil.

My work ranges from classical illustration to installations which have been called macabre.

AC: The subject matter is both personal with your time in the fashion industry, and a comment on society. As an artist, how do you see your role?
PM: I love fashion and still draw on the aesthetics of the fashion world. But in the short time I modelled I was concerned by the pressure put on young models to remain very thin, and the corrosive effect this could have on them.

I wouldn’t say I am a social commentator, and some of my work is pretty irreverent, but I like to look at what lies beneath veneers. People have said some my work is full of pathos, and slightly disturbing. But other pieces are more satirical and address contemporary issues or even items in the news.

AC: How did you draw on Catherine Talbot’s research?
PM: I was temping at the University of Exeter and I read a paper that Catherine Talbot, a researcher in the psychology department, published in a journal about how young women were posting thousands of pictures of themselves online showing protruding bones and skeletal features. It was disturbing and made me think about what was going through these young women’s heads and whether they saw this as beautiful.


AC: Where does this exhibition fit with the rest of your work?
PM: I like to examine the thin line between beauty and disposability and how society perceives perfection.

Some of my work examines how people and animals are disposed of if they are no longer seen as useful. One of my installations is of a euthanised show pony suspended upside down.

AC: Phillippa Mills, thank you!

Truth and Beauty is at The Forum – University of Exeter to February 23, 2018, from 9am to 5pm.

Read our preview.

Find out more about Phillippa with her Q&A at Breed

Psychologist Catherine Talbot spoke to our PRSD site about ‘bonespiration’, social media and art.

(Images: ©Phillippa Mills)

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