Artist Richard Phillips became interested in Lindsay Lohan while he was working on “Most Wanted,” a show of portraits of young celebrities like Dakota Fanning, Taylor Swift, and Justin Timberlake, among others, that he exhibited at the White Cube in London in January 2011. He painted Lindsay Lohan for a different gallery soon thereafter, and Lohan happened to see the result. “Through happenstance, a friend of mine was working with her on a film set, and he showed her my painting on his iPhone,” explained Phillips. “She responded really well, and so we got in contact.”
Their first collaboration occurred last May, when Phillips was asked to submit a film as part of “Commercial Break,” a collection of 80 videos presented by Dasha Zhukova’s Garage Center for Contemporary Culture during the 2011 Venice Bienniale. Phillips hadn’t worked in video since art school, and he hadn’t even met Lohan until their shoot, but they were both so happy with the result that they decided to work together again.
This past August, Phillips and Lohan reunited for another film, First Point, which will premiere on June 11 at Art Unlimited at Art Basel, presented by the Gagosian Gallery. For this project, they enlisted pro-surfer Kassia Meador to act as a body double for surf sequences interspersed with scenes of Lindsay prowling about on the beach looking alternately suspicious, sad, frightened, and sultry. Set to an original score by Thomas Bangalter, one half of Daft Punk, the film is both gorgeous and eerie — or, as Phillips calls it, “day noir.” We spoke to the artist about his inspiration and working with Lohan.
People are really fascinated by Lindsay’s relationship to her fame. Did you try to show that relationship in your film?
We did talk a lot about creating this space that was neither film nor really video art, per se, but a production of those unknowable, unpossessable qualities that she really has that make people so fascinated by her.
Do you think those qualities are something a person is born with?
I do think so. I do think it’s innate. I don’t think it’s something you can actually choose to have. She does have it, and she’s conscious of it, and she’s also conscious of art and its potential to project those kinds of qualities.
I think one of the reasons why people are so interested by her is that there’s this constant tension between whether she’s going to make it or not.
That is very precisely an American question, you know? It stays with us, and she has embodied that.
Do you think she’s aware of that?
We didn’t discuss that, per se, but I think that she definitely is conscious of her talent and her ability and is confident in it as well. I think she has everything to look forward to.
What kind of directions were you giving on set? Was there a lot of improvisation?
It was a combination of direction and some improvisation, but mainly it was guided by these visual storyboards that we worked on, and they were inspired by a few different directions. One was a late 1967 surf film titled Free and Easy, by Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman, which is an underground surfer movie and is often name-checked as one of the best surf movies of all time. The other is nineties L.A. noir, David Lynch’s Lost Highway, starring Patricia Arquette. I almost call it, like, a day noir because you’re not really sure when it’s nighttime and when it’s daytime. There’s a quality of unease, which is not something that you generally assign to surf films, but there’s an intensity. There’s no dialogue, and the tension builds as a result of there not being words.
First Point will have its U.S. premiere at the Gagosian Gallery in New York in mid-September.