Phoebe Unwin


Phoebe Unwin

Born in 1979, Cambridge, UK
Lives and works in London, UK


1998 – 2002
Newcastle University

2003 – 2005
Slade School of Fine Art

Oil, acrylic and graphite on canvas
147.5 x 122 cm

“This painting marks a moment where I became increasingly interested in how the image of a figure might relate to its environment and vice versa – the two becoming one. The subject itself encourages a certain merging: the figure of a girl bathed in strips of light from a venetian blind,” Unwin says of Untitled. “I had in mind how when strong light cuts through a room it can appear almost as if it divides anything in front of it. Here I was particularly interested in how the coming together of person and place could be explored through the materials themselves. I like the idea of a feeling being translated quite physically. I have used quite opaque paints for the light – acrylic and oil – whereas for the majority of the figure I have used powdered graphite – making some soft and translucent marks. I was thinking about the structure of the blind being very solid and still, the light being so strong it has almost become ‘stuff’ and the figure being relatively transient and delicately, gently moving.”

Acrylic and oil on linen
122 x 97 cm

View compounds ideas about perception with an image of a man gazing at a something in the distance that’s left to the viewer’s imagination. Rendered in the green and red tones of 3D cinema, View takes on the qualities of film with the suggestion of narrative, movement, and casual voyeurism. The figure in the canvas is near life sized, a device which annexes the surrounding environment as part of the painting. “I often aim for my paintings to feel as if there is a possibility of the picture extending beyond its edge.” Unwin states. “I painted the man pushed up to the right-hand edge of the picture so that he is almost leaning on it. I like it if the shape of a canvas can almost become part of the image.”

Falling Sunglasses
Oil on canvas
120 x 170 cm

“I find it exciting to think that anything can be in a painting: a valuable subject need not be a grand idea, an especially significant moment, a pose or an accurate documentation,” Unwin says. “In Falling Sunglasses, I was excited by the challenge of how I might visually explain movement, heat, light, casualness and a moment of lying down but about to get up. The sunglasses are repeated, as a film is constructed, and the lenses are not black as you might expect: some are completely gold, others silver – its more about how glasses glitter in strong light. It also felt crucial that the man’s head is not depicted, since the painting is about the moment of dropping glasses rather than a personality. I wanted to communicate the energy and atmosphere of those fragmented and horizontal views one can have whilst on a beach, half looking up from lying on a towel. The painting as a whole is monochrome to give the falling sunglasses attention and focus rather than bringing in unnecessary information about the surroundings.”


I particularly like the Falling Sunglasses painting.  I like the idea of the glasses in motion.

See further notes on this artist under Exhibition Visits section.