Collector's Choice - Sabrina Phillips

Every release we invite a respected collector to recommend three pieces selected from the PROJECT PAPYROPHILIA inventory. We are delighted to introduce Sabrina Phillips.   

Hi Sabrina, when did you get into collecting and how did it come about?

I’ve always had an innate love and interest in art. While it was not my primary focus, I took a number of studio art and art history courses throughout high school and college. Collecting came about organically. I lived with and around a lot of artists in my 20s. It was more about making art, being surrounded by creative energy and less about collecting at that point. I’ve worked with really talented graphic designers who are artists in their own right and started picking up pieces from them, mostly prints. I went to art fairs for a long time without much thought about buying until I saw some work that really spoke to me, so much so that I wanted to own it. It was an unexpected reaction, but when you know you know. That really started it. 

Are there any special interests or threads that run through your collection?

Portraiture and figurative art. Mainly painting and drawing. I’m very interested in unexpected pairings, and I have a lot of pieces that use text as an element. Often there are song lyrics I know and identify with. Generally, I’m drawn to work with a slightly gothic mood or with a sense of melancholy or longing. I’m also interested in street art and how it merges with fine art.  

Being a Design Director for Calvin Klein Jeans and Performance, you are a very visual person. Can you perceive any cross pollination between design and contemporary art?

For sure. Sometimes it’s very obvious. For example, Raf Simons’ collabs with Sterling Ruby. Or designers that are artists and designers simultaneously, like Hedi Slimane. But on a less obvious level, I’m behind the scenes looking at contemporary art all the time, as is my graphics designer. Any graphics or prints we’re putting on a t-shirt, sweatshirt, etc. needs to feel relevant to the current cultural zeitgeist. Our taste is shifting and being influenced constantly by the art we see and the voices we’re drawn to in that world.

And does your experience as a Designer and Design Director influence what appeals to you?

I’ve been looking at fashion imagery and drawing from it since my early teens, so that’s one reason I’m drawn to portraits and figures. I love to study pieces that use collage with fabric or thread since these are materials I work with.  Fashion is all about what’s coming next…so for better or worse, I’m trained to look for the “new.” I can tell when buying art that I need to see an evolution or see the newness out there to be excited.

Being based in New York but operating internationally, what similarities and / or differences can you identify between the New York and London art and fashion scenes?

Both cities are cultural melting pots, but of very different cultures. In both, we are seeing more work from minority ethnicities, and it’s really enriched the overall landscape. I think it’s an exciting time to have such a mix of perspectives and backgrounds in the contemporary art scene. Similarly, we are seeing more people of colour and a more diverse mix of voices at fashion houses. In both London fashion and art, there is a deeper sense and reference to history. Rarely do you see Edwardian or Victorian inspired looks on a NY runway. American fashion is still driven by a relatively clean American sportswear aesthetic or by streetwear. I think you could draw parallels to the art world, where British art is also more historically referential based on a much longer history. A lot of American art is being driven by individual voices and experiences in the present, and it feels very personal.

The pandemic has impacted the artworld in so many ways, but one exciting development is a move away from traditional operational models, PROJECT PAPYROPHILIA being one of them. Can you say the same thing about the fashion industry?

Not an easy answer: yes and no. Fashion is in a very tough place right now because of its traditional operational models not evolving. We did learn that it’s possible to design and sell a collection virtually, but I can’t say that people are sold on adopting that way long term. Fashion, especially for a big international brand, is super collaborative and works best when the key team members are working together in person. It moves at a fast pace, and I think it’s impossible to keep up and come up with the best designs when we all work from home, even with Zoom and 3-D presentations.  Stores also make more informed buys when they see product in person. But for the consumer, shopping online has gotten easier. Product is more clearly presented and shipping is generally faster and cheaper. That’s here to stay. The customer wants that convenience and it will continue to evolve with technology.

I have to ask this one – what new trends can we expect to see next season?

Be sure you are adding to your denim collection beyond skinny jeans. If you don’t feel dated in them already, you will soon. The good news is all sorts of new silhouettes are going to work: loose / straight / wide / flared. Just evolve beyond skinny. Second, black is always the #1 colour in NY. But the new warm neutrals (not grey) look so fresh in any style or fabric. Earth tones used to be a sign of someone out of touch with fashion, and now earth tones are super on trend: off white / birch / wheat / taupe all the way to richer browns look great with anything black or any shade of denim.

You have been a strong supporter of the PROJECT PAPYROPHILIA initiative. What is it about work on paper that appeals to you?

The most appealing part has been less about paper itself, and more about seeing how artists have translated their voice to a different medium. I gained a better understanding about their processes and bodies of work in totality. It also seemed to free the artists to explore ideas they might not have done otherwise and grow in new directions. To have access to their work while witnessing that was amazing. It became a whole new sub-genre to connect with and collect. PROJECT PAPYROPHILIA also launched during the heart of the pandemic, when people were most isolated and desperate for connection. It allowed me to connect with a new body of work and with artists at a time when I really needed it.

We have asked you to select your three favourite pieces from our inventory— could you expand on why you have chosen these works?

Lisa Ivory’s ‘Somniloquist’: I was pulled in by the overall mood, the woman’s face, the subtle use of dark colours and how well it all worked together. I noticed the face first and realized after that the woman was some sort of creature. It created a story where the woman was put under a spell, turned into this creature and is comforted and put to sleep by the fairy somniloquist.

Sam Jackson’s ‘The Way I See Things’: Sam’s work on paper has created an ongoing dialogue with Pre-Raphaelite painters and brought my attention to their work in a fresh way. The piece he’s worked on top of, ‘Portrait of Sophie Grey’ by John Millais, is one I love, but Sam’s treatment of it puts it in a completely new, contemporary sphere. The delicate spray paint used around her face sets this portrait back in time and into a different state, like a veil separating history from the present. His disjointed stream of consciousness scrawl on top creates another layer – are these supposed to represent the subject or the viewer’s thoughts? Given the serious, sombre look on her face, his choice of a heart around her eye and a heart and arrow on her chest, further enhance the romantic mood. This is visually a really beautiful piece, but the layers create a new series of questions and interpretations that make it that much more interesting.

Zavier Ellis’s ‘Liberté XXVI’: I was struck by the organic but also very specific way paper was layered, peeled and destructed here. I loved that it looked like it could be a wall of graffiti and disintegrating wheatpaste posters somewhere in downtown NYC. Zavier’s recent work has been based on the French Revolution, and each layer here is revealing historical context and messaging from that time. But the way he is layering materials, techniques and specific references continues to get more complex and interesting. I was specifically intrigued by the tattooed hand in the background with the Celtic/occult/esoteric symbols, adding yet another lens to think about revolution. It will be very cool to see where this leads.

And finally, a question I like to ask all our guest collectors: what advice would you give to new, aspiring collectors?
Especially coming out of the pandemic, get out and see art in person as much as possible. Trust your gut when buying. If you don’t love it, wait. You’ll always come across something you do love. Talk to the gallerists and artists and learn; don’t be shy. Last, put as much as you can up in your home so that you are letting it enrich your life on a daily basis.