In Cece Philips’ surrealist paintings, women of color regain the night

The night has a history of great magnetic wonder that few women have been able to tap into because of the threat of gender-based violence obscuring the evening activity. In Cece Philips’ paintings, however, the night is full of illustrious cinematic wonders, where women of color come alive in streetlight-drenched encounters.

The 26-year-old Philips has already made a strong impression in the art world in her career. The self-taught artist, born and based in London, has already received dual representation from Peres Projects and Gillian Jason Gallery, has been the subject of several solo exhibitions and has garnered notable press since leaving her job in advertising in Spring 2020.

The rising artist’s second solo show this year, ‘The Night has a Thousand Eyes’, can be seen at Peres Projects in Berlin through November 11. The exhibition is a collaboration with playwright Lucy McIlgorm, who helped Philips build her comprehensive narrative of cityscapes after dark. The public can read McIlgorm’s text about this world in the accompanying exhibition booklet.

Saddled with interiority, the women in Philips’ paintings wander through isolated streets and interiors. Sometimes they are alone. Other times, these women exist in a pack. In any scenario, however, men are absent from Philips’ frame and nighttime world in general.

In Night walks (2022), a woman with a cigarette lightly clenched between her fingers leans against a wall. With her back to the viewer, she peers down a corridor into the street. The work’s predominantly blue color palette is disrupted by the woman’s crimson trouser suit and black and white diamond tile floor. The painting is bathed in ambiguity: the public is unclear about time period or circumstance, so that only the melancholic dreamscape tone is the indicator of this woman’s feelings.

Philips’ paintings of estranged women in the city are strongly reminiscent of the work of Edward Hopper. The subject of his current solo exhibition, “Edward Hopper’s New York,” at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the 20th-century artist is known for his ability to capture the cinematic appeal of a woman standing alone at night.

At Philips, however, race and gender are reinvented in the cosmopolitan setting. The social dynamics that mask the very real dangers faced by women of color walking alone at night cease to exist in her fantastical stories. Here, women of color are allowed to live and get lost in the solitude of the city after the sun sets. The night actually becomes our time.

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