The Latin term ‘Phoenicia’ was assimilated from the words phoenix and porphyry, the phoenix plant is a genus of the date palm, while porphyry is a rare purple granite, leading to the term’s literal meaning of ‘purple lands’. The Phoenicia, or purple lands, were affluent, idyllic areas along the Meditteranean; the date palms that dot these locations symbolise victory, sanctuary and success due to the water, shade and dates they would provide.
Rex Southwick’s work is concerned with notions of affluence within the domestic setting: the paintings in Purple Lands explore the process by which we have arrived at a near universal concept of the western domestic ideal. Modernist buildings are depicted under construction, labourers populate the space in the shade of date plants, self-referencing the act of creation and the potential disconnect between creator and created. Southwick is interested in the process by which a building becomes a home, the works in Purple Landssuggest that, somewhere along the way, many of us are misattributing value to such a gross extent that our domestic environments have become soulless, vapid reflections of our prejudices.
Southwick breaks down these domestic settings into their constituent parts, depicting architectural components that are essentially a series of motifs: a series which, when arranged in the correct order, provide a concrete assurance of status and happiness. Purple Lands pays particular attention to the original domestic status signifier: the swimming pool. Southwick is questioning whether the wealthy construct these environments because it fits the way they live, or whether it is a reflection of their aspirations to live a certain way, the swimming pool simply becomes a framework by which these rather vacuous lifestyle dreams become possible.
The focus on the labourers in the paintings shows these typically glamorised environments in a more raw and approachable light, offering a stark contrast to our usual exposure to such places through digital platforms. These works also highlight the disparity between the lives of the builders and the owner or future inhabitant of the space. The works are not intended to be some sort of visual exposé on immigrant labour, but rather an insight into contemporary lifestyle ideals and the reality of the spaces we are accustomed to seeing in a more polished and refined state.