TOM PHILLIPS (RA, CBE) (b 1937)
Tom Phillips attended drawing classes and lectures on Renaissance iconography alongside his studies at Oxford. Later taught by Frank Auerbach at Camberwell School of Art, Phillips's first solo exhibition in London was in 1965 and he won the John Moores Prize four years later.
In the late 1960s Phillips was possibly better known for his music activities (both classical and with Cornelius Cardew's Scratch Orchestra) including his own compositions, as performed by the pianist John Tilbury.
In 1966 Phillips resolved to dedicate himself to making art out of the first secondhand book he could find for threepence on Peckham Rye. Thus began A Humument, the longest of Phillips's extended serial projects. A Humument is a radical 'treatment' of a forgotten Victorian novel by means of collage, cut-up, ornament and other techniques. On the fiftieth anniversary of its inception, in 2016, Phillips completed the sixth and final version of this work – each version with successively more pages reworked, until his original work had itself been completely transformed.
Phillips has received many commissions for site-specific artworks including tapestries for his old college in Oxford, sculpture for the Imperial War Museum, street mosaics for his native Peckham, and ornament and memorials for sacred spaces, including both Westminster Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.
Phillips's portrait subjects have included Samuel Beckett as well as friends such as Iris Murdoch, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Richard Morphet (keeper of the Tate modern collection until 1998) and the Monty Python team.
In 1989, he became the second artist to have a retrospective of his portraits at the National Portrait Gallery. Fifteen years later, he also went on to curate We Are The People, at the Gallery, an exhibition of his large collection of postcard photographic portraits. Phillips received the Frances Williams Memorial Prize in 1983 for his illustration and new translation of Dante's Inferno. He also made a TV version of the Inferno with Peter Greenaway which won them jointly as directors the Italia prize.
Elected to the Royal Academy in 1984, Phillips went on to chair the Academy's Library and its Exhibition Committee from 1995 to 2007. He also served as a trustee for the National Portrait Gallery and British Museum. Phillips was made a Commander of the British Empire for services to the Arts in the 2002 Birthday Honours list. In 2005, he was appointed Slade Professor of Fine Art, at the University of Oxford, and between 2005 and 2011 he was invited as an annual Director's Visitor to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.
Oxford's Bodleian Library recently took over Tom Phillips's archive and with them he has published his postcard collection in a series of books. Phillips's collaboration with Tarik O'Regan on an operatic version of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, for which he provided the libretto, was premiered at the Royal Opera House's Linbury Theatre at the end of 2011.