"My mom is the only person who noticed that the baby is smoking fetuses out of a placenta pipe," says Natalie Phillips of her busy illustration "Red Sky." Using gouache and acrylic paint on Bristol board, Phillips takes the viewer back to an '80s sci-fi comic book aesthetic. Drifting through a white-dots-on-black version of outer space, fetuses rise from the baby's pipe and collect into a pod shape at the top right. The baby wears what Phillips calls a "geisha headdress," composed of a woman, legs spread-eagle, neck craned, birthing a bouquet of vein patterns which flow between flowers and remember-me ribbons.
The 22-year-old's surreal illustrations achieve a distinct busyness, reading as a dissociative response to her rocky start in Portland. In April of 2008, after graduating from UC Santa Cruz, Phillips moved into town to reunite with her father and boyfriend. "But as soon as I got here my dad left and my boyfriend and I broke up," she explains. "I was left without a car or a job and was living on a boat." She painted through the hard times, using passion as distraction.
"I'm so glad I stuck it out," says Phillips, referring to her recent series of successes. This April, Phillips showcased several pieces at the Stumptown Comics Festival, as well as at Vorpal Space for a solo show that was extended through the month of May. Inspired by a flyer for the Vorpal exhibit, Breeze Block offered Phillips a solo show that opens on Friday, June 5.
On the Vorpal walls, "New Mexican Wedding Night" features two nude women wearing Native American headdresses, their limbs like ivy, curled in an embrace. In the would-be negative space, dense florets of skull and rib grow endlessly into one another. With this psychedelic bone-thicket, a modernized version of '60s Bay Area poster art—morose, heavy-metal design motifs spawning throughout—Phillips has proven her ability to consume the ADD gaze.
Lately, Phillips' blog (nataliebluephillips.com) has been filling up with images of new work. The backgrounds in her most recent pieces have calmed down considerably. Whether this comes as a product of contentment, her high-demand status, or her recent design work for Portland-based Foyer Clothing, it's certain that Phillips' illustrations are quickly evolving into something distinct and memorable.