Artist David Bailey Ross enlightens us to the process behind his endless series of heads

What started out as a creative outlet separate from his job became a fully fledged and methodological Instagram gallery.

17 April 2023

Sometimes an artist doesn’t need much beyond a small set of materials to create something rich and evocative. With his watercolour head silhouette series on Instagram, Scotland-born and London-based artist David Bailey Ross has done exactly that. David has amassed a sizeable following with his galeriephantom alias, publishing his Heads work in a formulaic way that keeps his grid at a concise 36 posts at all times. When a new work is uploaded, another disappears. “I’ve been working as a creative for over 20 years and, although rewarding, the work is not necessarily my own,” David tells us on the genesis of the project. “I felt the need to have a more personal outlet for what I do, something I could present purely as my own.” Through trial-and-error with colour, texture and watercolour, David found himself drawn back to the silhouette of the heads.

The project is still a relatively new endeavour for the artist, “so I don’t feel there are any real restrictions”, he says. “I’m interested in the surface and silhouette as much as the more abstract internal representations of moods or emotions, so I keep things fairly loose and allow myself freedom to experiment and explore character types, or effects of light and colour.” Throughout the Heads series, there’s a subtle through-line of queer and BDSM elements laden into the art. From fetish masks to punk rock glamour to expressive and abstract colour choices, the Heads are not your standard silhouettes. “With BDSM, the masks or hoods can serve for anonymity but also signify a role or specific kink, and that symbolism is interesting for me,” David explains. “Much of the gear is designed to treat the head as an object which makes it a fascinating subject.” Considering that David’s inspirations are “fashion, beauty, subculture and groups of people who challenge norms and express themselves in interesting ways”, it’s no wonder Heads touches on the aesthetic landscape of society’s fringes.

GalleryDavid Bailey Ross: Heads (Copyright © David Bailey Ross, 2023)

But where exactly do these Heads come from? “I spend a lot of time researching and collecting images from books, magazines, films and social media, all over really,” David says. “I then collage and manipulate the imagery into something resembling what I want to paint, and I use a 'wet on wet' technique which allows the pigment to bleed into the paper and leaves an element of chance.” The “wet on wet” technique is what gives David’s work a somatic quality to it, almost as if a texture which can be touched and felt. “I have to work quickly, dispersing pigments while in the process of drying which creates almost random blooms,” he says. “The reference imagery is discarded at a certain point and I allow the interaction of the paint and water to guide the final outcome.”

As the time of writing this, there's no doubt that one of David’s heads has disappeared from the gram, and a new one has emerged to take its place. There’s only one way to truly enjoy all of David’s marvellous and mad Heads, and that’s by catching it while they’re live.

GalleryDavid Bailey Ross: Heads (Copyright © David Bailey Ross, 2023)

Hero Header

David Bailey Ross: Heads (Copyright © David Bailey Ross, 2023)

Share Article

About the Author

Joey Levenson

Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. They were part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.