Philip Napier

One of Northern Ireland’s most challenging installation artists

Philip Napier was born in Belfast in 1965 and studied at Manchester Polytechnic, Falmouth School of Art, Cornwall and the University of Ulster where he was awarded an MA in Fine Art in 1989.

Napier’s installation work is an interrogation and detonation of language around and through an axis of power. Juxtapositions, counterpoints and dislocations are set up, often deploying classical architecture as an armature to sound out from. Napier recognises that buildings are not disinterested structures but invested with values and notions of power. They implicate and insinuate themselves upon citizens as controlling devices. Critic Luke Gibbons describes the piece 'Ballad No 1' thus:

'It features an accordion mounted on a wall, whose intake and expelling of air allows it to double up as an artificial lung attached to the barely decipherable image of the republican hunger striker, Bobby Sands. The blown-up photogravure effect of the image is achieved through small nails, a reminder of the aura of martyrdom which surrounded Sands’s death on hunger-strike in 1981. 

'The wheezing moans of the accordion extend beyond the individual body, however, evoking some of the more discordant strains in Irish vernacular culture. Not only do the eerie sounds waft through museum space like the wail of the mythical banshee in Irish folklore but the instrument itself signifies traditional music, more particularly the street singer and the popular ballads that were repeatedly targeted by the authorities as cultural expressions of insurgency. By linking the famished body with mourning and collective memory, the off-key image becomes, in effect, a living monument for the Famine and the dark shadow which it cast on the lung of the Irish body politic.'

In 1991 the artist was awarded the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s British School at Rome Fellowship and in 1994 he represented Ireland at the Sao Paolo Biennale in Brazil. His work has been shown in many exhibitions in Ireland, the UK and internationally, venues including the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Santa Monica Museum, California, Centres George Pompidou, the Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast and Kerlin Gallery, Dublin. His work is included in the collection of the Arts Council of Great Britain.