Friday, May 18, 2012
Friday, April 27, 2012
Heart of Darkness is nominated for a South Bank Sky Arts Award. Something to (Melvyn) Bragg about. In the opera category we are bitterly pitted against Hector Berlioz in a lavish (and brilliant) production of The Damnation of Faust by my old friend Terry Gilliam. O'Regan versus Berlioz: it's a tough draw. You will hear about it if we win, but expect silence. At least I can look forward on Tuesday 1st May at the Dorchester ceremony to raising a glass as old Hector B shuffles up to Melvyn to accept the prize...
A new website, handsomely styled and edited by Lucy Shortis and Steve Xerri, will appear soon and incorporate this blog. Information to follow: watch this space: do not adjust your set.
Alan Oke (Marlow) and Njabulo Madlala (Thames Captain) in Heart of Darkness.
A new website, handsomely styled and edited by Lucy Shortis and Steve Xerri, will appear soon and incorporate this blog. Information to follow: watch this space: do not adjust your set.
Monday, February 20, 2012
Seventy fifth birthday looming up and a small self fest to celebrate.
The new and updated 5th edition of A Humument will be published by Thames & Hudson on 24th May.
24th May (the birthday itself) is also varnishing day at the RA where I’ll be showing tennis balls and 5 new prints in the Summer Exhibition.
25th May going local again with a substantial exhibition namely of prints at GX Gallery.
On 26th a show of new work will open at Flowers East.
Will be doing a reading from A Humument at Review Bookshop on 30th May.
Will be doing a reading from A Humument at Review Bookshop on 30th May.
For the Flowers show I seem to be in the middle of a group of a dozen or so pastels. Pastels again, yes. Somehow I find myself in tune with paper and charcoal and chalk and pastel and especially with the rubbing out of same, working backwards, erasing away, letting the paper do the white work… more like finding a sculpture inside a messy bit of wood; subtracting, getting rid of, carving back.
How it Ended Up, Pastel, 2012, h61cm x w46cm
Also on birthday number 75, an update to A Humument App for iPad and iPhone comes out on iTunes, and a brand new, redesigned Tom Phillips website will be launched (more about that soon). In the following week I shall be on the road again for the fortieth sampling of 20 Sites n Years.
Blog readers are invited to the private view of my show at GX Gallery, Camberwell on the 25th May, and the opening at Flowers East on the 26th May.
I hope to bump into all three of you at one or the other of these events.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
We can't absolutely guarantee to get it to you before Christmas but, here's a special offer valid until the end of the year. Choose two from the new selection of six humument fragments available now from 57talfourd.com and we will give you a third humument fragment print free of charge - if you buy before 31st December. Just fill in your third choice in the message field in Paypal. Go on, knock yourself out. Happy Christmas.
Photograph Catherine Ashmore
Herewith a link to the Observer’s account (not on this occasion by their chief critic since one cannot be blown by one’s own strumpet) and one from that independent and often contentious blogger who sidles to his seat under the name of operacreep.
Tarik and I gave talks before the shows and it was he that pointed out that the first email exchange about the project was in 2002. Not quite ten years before the mast but a long haul. It already seems unlikely that this will be our last collaboration.
With the opera launched, Cicero published, and the Olympic Coin minted, time for fresh woods and pastures new: in this case to join those who have stumbled at the wide brooks and the high fences of translating Rilke. But this is an even longer venture hoping to have text and pictures for all the Duino Elegies (which the loftiest poet of the 20th century started in 1912) ready in a couple of years.
Meanwhile, the longest term of all my projects, A Humument heads for its fifth revised edition in the New Year. I have written a new introduction that has now come through a protracted battle with copy editors who do not like semi-colons. There are more than fifty newly revised pages. Although these were delivered with the introduction to Thames & Hudson only last week, the book has already appeared on Amazon.
Friday, November 25, 2011
Design for 2012 Olympics Silver kilo coin, 2011, watercolour.
Gutted by yet again being passed over for a place in our Olympics table tennis team I had resigned myself to having no role in the 2012 Olympiad. A phone call from Kevin Clancy at the Royal Mint changed all that, with a request to design a silver coin (face value £500) weighting a kilo to celebrate the games. Thus I was paired with Tony Caro who was making a gold coin of the same weight in the novel Olympic event of synchronised coin stamping. Luckily the theme of my own design was team sports which let me off the business of the inevitable action images of multicultural sportspersons. Apart from a drawn out dispute as to whether it was XXX Olympiad or Olympiad XXX, in which I came out the loser, all went smoothly.
The coin features bunting (which as a wartime child always signifies to me a mood of celebration) to form a sun and, in negative, a multiple Olympic flame. This motif is surrounded by a verse I made to recall the original ideal of the games UNITE OUR DREAMS TO MAKE THE WORLD A TEAM OF TEAMS. Obliged to incorporate the ghastly logo of the London Olympiad I managed to shrink it to the size of the full stop which punctuates the text.
Sir Anthony Caro and Tom Phillips, 2012, photo David Parry.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
When you meet someone you haven't encountered for sixty years you shouldn't be surprised to find them changed utterly. So it is in my case with Tully, as Marcus Tullius Cicero was always referred to by our classics master. I well remember the long feared exposure of my shaky grasp of Latin when singled out to stand up in class to read out and translate a tortuous paragraph from the Orations.
Almost a caricature of pedagogic dryness this teacher never once hinted at Virgil's epic swagger or let on that Horace was a cunning and sexy satirist. They were there, it seemed, to show that Latin was horrible and hard; with Tully the toughest of the bunch.
Horace and Virgil yielded to later reading but the idea of revisiting Cicero was like being summoned once more to stand outside the headmaster's door, awaiting reprimand or punishment.
The opposite, as Cicero himself might have said, would prove to be the case. Having riskily agreed to accompany some of the Orations with pictures (illustrations doesn't somehow seem to be the right word) I plunged anew into the once detested text.
I was amazed to find that today was two thousand years old. Same cast, same evils. The knuckle-rapping invective sometimes read like a rediscovered Pompeian copy of Private Eye: only the barmy army of religionists was missing. All the crime, corruption and political skulduggery of the age of Bush and Blair was well matched. In the Rome of today, the outrageous Silvio Berlusconi whose lifestyle and morality as a statesman were pre-echoed blemish for blemish in the Philippics against Mark Anthony.
Dissatisfied with the translations that I looked at I found my dim Latin was just enough to illuminate the wit and invention of the prose and to recognise all those verbal strategies of orators I have heard in my lifetime, from Churchill to Obama.
I took the most famous tag of all, O Tempora O Mores, as a kind of leitmotiv... the best translation (if one adds an exclamation mark) being Trollope's title The Way We Live Now. This I made into a mosaic, variously interfered with to produce O Amores, O Mores etc. Making guest appearances in the book, in addition to Berlusconi, are Fidel Castro, Mick Jagger, Catullus, Christine Keeler, Julius Caesar, Dante's Beatrice, Agatha Christie, The Elgin Marbles, Vincenza Foppa, Mussolini and a London smuggler of antiquities who shall remain anonymous.
Cicero: Orations is soon to be published by the Folio Society. Copies may be purchased in their online shop http://www.foliosociety.com/
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Ornament, pencil 2011, 30cm diameter
Long ago I teamed myself up with Jessica Rawson to prepare an exhibition at the Royal Academy that would define and celebrate Ornament. We made a trip to the vaults of the Vatican to start the hunt for likely exhibits, and travelled to Vienna to continue the search. It was there over supper at the Sacher Hotel that we discussed in earnest what the show would say and what it might contain.
We questioned each other's choices of the previous days. It soon emerged that our concepts of ornament, its nature, status and role in art were quite different; in effect irreconcilably opposed. With tempers frayed we retired to our respective rooms.
I intended, before finally turning in, to jot down a few clarifying notes, but eventually sat up half the night composing a manifesto that I could read out to Jessica (and to Simonetta Fraquelli who was with us) over breakfast. I only half realised that this would mark the end of the collaboration and the evaporation of the project as a whole. It was this polemical pamphlet that some months later I presented at the RA's Architecture Forum.
Ornament frequently creeps into what I do, usually by way of borders and framing devices. That it was on my mind at the time can be seen in the drawings that obliterate the many agendas and minutes of Merry Meetings (D3 Editions 2005) including its cover illustration.
On my return from Vienna, remembering Derrida's contention that the margins are at the centre, I set about an ambitious exercise in pure ornamental mode. I soon got lost in its improvised and unsystematic convolutions and set it aside as unsolvable. My artistic performance had not matched my rhetoric.
I have now retired from the business of formal portrait painting and stepped down from committees. Taking advantage of new resultant gaps of time I could return to the drawing abandoned so many months ago. Unravelling and reravelling I managed at last to bring it off.
Duino Ornament, h42cm x w29cm, 2011
I made a smaller coloured version, making minor adjustments to balance the field of energy. To this I added, as if to challenge the ornament's autonomy, the opening words from Rilke's first Duino Elegy which kept running through my mind; with various translations forming and reforming as I worked. Not a title but an accompaniment. Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel / Ordnungen? Perhaps this could be the official badge of the order of angels.
Friday, June 17, 2011
The transfer of my archive to the Bodleian Library might have felt like parcelling up one foot and posting it direct to the grave. But it has not been like that at all: the opposite in fact, for out of that arrangement has come new life for a long cherished project.
For twenty years I have been collecting real photo postcards of anonymous people. They all date from that period when portraiture suddenly became democratised. At the beginning of the twentieth century all manner of people, not just the wealthy, could for the first time in history possess their likenesses. What resulted was an inadvertent and unofficial visual census of the country.
Out of over a million of such cards that have passed though my hands I have brought together fifty thousand or so which now, in albums and boxes, crowd out what passes for my kitchen. They are grouped under titles that announce the obsessive typologist, Two Men, Tree, Pram, Bather, Nurse etc.
I exhibited a selection of these cards in 2004 at the National Portrait Gallery in a show whose catalogue, We Are The People should now be seen as a trailer to this current series of books published by the Bodleian itself. Readers was the natural first title in what promises to be an extensive but not expensive sequence produced by one of the world's great libraries.
Issued at the same time was Women & Hats. Weddings and Bicycles appeared soon after with the same generic rubric Vintage People on Photo Postcards. All four are now available and more are to follow. Watch this space: start clearing a shelf.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
|Word Cross, wire 1997|
One of the strange aspects of an artist’s job is that most of the time you are doing something no one has asked you to do; things that, since they do not as yet exist, no one could ask you to do. Sometimes they may of course be things that no one will ever require you to have done. It is a chancy life of uncontingent imperatives.
I first exhibited this Word Cross at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition of 1997. Caroline Gould, a parishioner of Farningham, a small village in Kent, showed a great interest in securing it for her church, even though it is an expensive and doctrinally controversial object. I can only too readily imagine what efforts of planning and persuasion led, after many months of discussion, to its eventual acquisition this year. There was just time for me to have it shipped back from New York where it had been on show, and delivered to Farningham church on the Thursday of Easter Week. Luckily the installation (at a spot we had worked out together with the help of paper models) could be effected in the few hours before the appropriate Good Friday service for its dedication. The picture shows that it will soon look as if, simultaneously modern and mediaeval, it has always been there. At a time when the artworld has become a bloated thing like a celebrity based branch of the stock exchange, it is very satisfying to make a real and seriously thoughtful transaction.
They also serve that only stand and wait...
|Word Cross at St Peter & St Paul, Farningham 2011|
Monday, March 28, 2011
Fifty years ago I sold (for £12) my first picture to a proper collection, that of the JCR of Pembroke College, Oxford. This was a watercolour called The City. Last month this same Junior Common Room made a second purchase, slightly smaller for a slightly higher price. In their now splendidly hung gallery these two works, though separated in time by half a century hang merely inches apart.
My present self remembers painting The City as an undergraduate in my Walton Crescent lodgings but my past self could not have imagined making Rima's Song... and would probably not have been able to identify it as mine, or even to have 'understood' it.
The City, 1958, gouache.
Rima has quite a role in fiction. She is not only the jungle girl of W. H. Hudson's Green Mansions but the heroine of H. W. K. Collam's Come Autumn Hand, from which came the idea of my largest drawing, Rima's Wall. Her name is also, by nice coincidence, an anagram of Irma, the femme fatale of A Human Document (and hence A Humument). I was more than delighted, rummaging in a New York vintage comics store, to come across her again, once more a jungle goddess in tales like Safari of Death from Rima a short lived DC comics series from the seventies, brilliantly drawn by the enviably named Filipino artist Nestor Redondo.
Rima's Wall, 1991-2, pastel, h220cms x w1150cms
The Rima in Collam's story is less exotic, and cherishes an album of esoteric postcards. Using material from the DC comics I echoed them in a series of postcard-sized collages. Rima's Song is one of these, and one of my many attempts to convey the look and feel of music by means of an abstract notation; a song without words or specified tones. All the tiny fragments that make up this miniature metascore come from Redondo's harmonious colours and fine-tuned marks.
I was very impressed when the young committee members lighted upon this small and unassuming piece. To be truthful I was almost dismayed since it is a favourite thing I had half intended to keep. But it has found a good home not far from the Ashmolean which contains quite a comprehensive collection of my drawings, and the Bodleian which houses my archive. Fifty years ago the committee's predecessors chose the best thing on offer and their present members have more or less done it again. Artists be warned: if the Pembroke people come knocking at your door, they have very sharp eyes.
Tuesday, February 08, 2011
The strangest affect of my possession of an iPad (I do not have an iPhone) is that I have become my own consumer. Each night after midnight when the daily page first announces itself I consult, somewhat furtively (even though alone), the Oracle that I have made. I am often surprised by pages made long ago and almost forgotten, as well as by the sometimes uncanny predictions they offer their maker.
Friday, January 21, 2011
The Remains of the Day, 2011, recycled acrylic palettes on board, h41 x w76.5cm
It's all Daphne's fault. Meeting my friend the admirable portrait painter Daphne Todd at Green & Stones in the King's Road (the last true artist's shop in London) I saw that she had bought a pad of disposable palettes. She said she always used them... so practical, no more cleaning palettes at the end of a working session etc. I said I thought they were meant for amateurs but I would give them a go; and anyway I had just used up my three wooden palettes making Beckett Again and had been about to buy a new one.
So, for the whole of the reworking of Quantum Poetics I used them for mixing colours and for making the cumulative mix for the current Terminal Grey canvas. Always aiming to be the Compleat Recycler I did not however dispose of them but let them pile up and dry in the corner of the studio.
Nor did I discard the sturdy tray that Andy had made to house the panels of Quantum Poetics as I was painting them, and on which I cleaned my brushes as I proceeded.
One day looking at these curling, flimsy but paint laden palettes I had a taste of that epiphany that visited Kandinsky a hundred years ago when he observed that the mixtures and random conjunctions of colours on his palette were perhaps more exciting than the picture he was painting.
I could see that the verve of the brushwork and the sliding and colliding (often called 'painterly') of colours were events that had largely eluded me in my work, as was the physical presence of paint itself that French artists call matière.
How to harness this observed energy was the problem. Boulez (quoting Sibelius) says that, to compose, 'one must take delirium and organise it'.
I got Andy to make a single panel that would exactly fit his tray frame (now itself covered in streaks of paint, plus the odd brushed-in memo or telephone number). I made a border for the panel of square sections of Terminal Greys gathered from the palettes, to link it with my original recycling project started over forty years ago. This made a frame within the frame. Then I started to build an improvisatory mosaic of choice fragments of colour and texture, following where the emerging shapes led, sticking down the little rectangles piece by piece with acrylic medium. Scissors, scalpel, straight-edge and glue brush was all the equipment I needed, and, once stuck down the pieces remained with no revision allowed.
I call the picture The Remains of the Day, a recycled title from Ishiguro's novel which would appear to be in turn a recycling of Sigmund Freud's Rückstände des Tages, the daily residue of impressions that make the basic recipe for a later encoded dream.
Monday, January 10, 2011
Having downloaded the Brushes app on my iPad I was keen to try it out. An evening at the venerable London Sketch Club armed with no other drawing tools put me nicely on the spot.
With half hour poses being the order of the day I had four chances to make a fool of myself (since being so oddly equipped made me an object of curiosity). Luckily I could quickly press the bin ikon and trash my first three attempts which went sadly out of control. By the last pose I was almost getting the hang of it and produced something like a drawing I could honourably leave on the screen. So I count this my first effort. Certainly in terms of new technology it is a Sketch Club First, though essentially it seemed old fashioned as I held my reminder of a child's tablet to work on. Drawing with my finger, moreover, seemed virtually prehistoric.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
See what you get if you practise, as Liberace used to say, pausing at the keyboard to flash his huge diamond ring at children gathered round the stage.
This is the Biochemical Society's highest honour made to celebrate its hundredth anniversary and much as I would like it to be mine as a result of spectacular research in Biochemistry I am here showing it off merely as designer.
It was Martin Kemp who suggested my name to the Society and Sheila Alink-Brunsdon who saw it through the usual controversies.
As soon as I spotted a translucent cabuchon of fossilised coral at a mineralogical shop in New York I felt that this would make a marvellous insert to enliven a medal that was more the size of a coaster than a coin. My thought was that this living organism had been transformed through long chemistry into its mirroring self in mineral form. The Very Intelligent Designer had scored once again in reflecting a structural complex that could be cosmic, miscroscopic, cellular or stellar in scale. It has become one of the endless pleasures of looking at pictures in Scientific American to guess whether they are of some event in space or some tiny happening in the world of the infinitely small, so similar do they seem in their patternings.
The hardest part of the operation was getting flat discs of the fossil coral which eventually came from far off in Surinam, via Tucson to the ever helpful Ammonite 2000 Ltd. in Pimlico Road. This took a long time to arrange but since the coral had been some millions of years in the making a few more weeks did not seem to matter much. Only 2mm thick they admit the light that reveals their delicate structure when the medal is held up.
The medal is otherwise made of pure Brittania silver which has a lovely weight and feel, and the whole was expertly manufactured by Fattorini.
Design for Biochemical Society Medal, 2009, Pencil drawing.
Monday, November 22, 2010
On returning from Princeton the big excitement at Peckham HQ is presiding over the final birth throes of my Humument app for iPad which is now up and running thanks to midwives Lucy and Alice, consultant Jonathan Hills and the surgical expertise of John Bowring.
So, safely delivered it shows, in colours more glowing that my pens and paints could achieve, almost like church windows at times, the whole of A Humument, including very recent pages. And all at full size, together with a device for using the book as an oracle in the manner of the randomised predictions of the I Ching (though on the iPad a little internal jiggery-pokery replaces the never quite available yarrow sticks).
Very soon after starting the book in the sixties I dreamed of its use as an oracle and it has taken forty years for technology to make that possible.
So if you have an iPad you should go straight to A Humument in the app store and have a look. If you do not have an iPad a word to Father Christmas might do the trick. If you only have an iPhone, well stick around: there will be a miniature version early next year.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Who else should be mentioned in despatches? My lone East Coast blogwatcher, John, and Virginia late of the Folger and, oh yes... a chinese/american lady who went round putting noughts on the price list so that everything was in millions. She also offered me spectacular apres vernissage sexual services, but I opted for a good supper instead, hosted by Matthew, at which we all toasted Brent who had made such an elegant job of hanging and lighting.
Monday, October 04, 2010
My railings have just been officially unveiled at no1 Grafton Street... nice for a veteran Monopoly player to have at last a stake in Mayfair. There was no mention in the opening speech (by the developer's grand fromage) of Future City who nursed the project from beginning to end or of MDM who actually made the work. I took the opportunity however, in the customary 'few words from the artist', pointedly to make amends. It was a rum affair in a virtual world, entirely attended apart from my own two invitees, Jeremy King and Nick Tite, by men in identical suits. With much relief and thanks to Jeremy, Nick and I quickly repaired to the Wolsely.
On the way to Grafton St I looked in at Westminster Cathedral to catch a glimpse of the new mosaic of St David recently blessed by the Pope. This occupies a space I had been allotted for my own design of the same subject, once approved but recently rejected through some clerical skullduggery, or Madonna, or Maradonna and the Hand of God. It would have had to be pretty impressive to have broken through my vanity and professional pride to gain approval. There was however no problem in that it is a spangly confection that looks to be largely made of boiled sweets. More interesting perhaps was to notice a small group of conspicuously gay men looking up at my mosaic of Cardinal Newman, himself elected last month to the company of the Blessed and therefore on the fast track to sainthood. Could they have been prospecting for their future patron saint? Might I inadvertently have created a gay ikon? Newman is currently one miracle short of a halo. Might this eventually, and ironically, be it?
I am currently installed at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and keeping an eye on my imminent exhibition in New York. Any of my East Coast readers, or all three of them, are invited to the opening on the 7th October. Do say hello if you turn up.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
The strokes of time are measured in the deciduous changes of my own hair applied to shaved tennis balls. They register the passing years by one of those annual markers like Easter or the Lord's Test Match, in this case the great tennis fixture of the summer in South London. A distorted line, again from Shakespeare, echoes in my head... and all our Wimbledons have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Magnificent but cheerless. Perhaps I should have settled for T.S. Eliot's finer scale... I have measured out my life in Wimbledons.
It is an enigmatic object seen as a whole and certainly speaks of something. If I completely knew what it said it would not then have been something worth saying. Such is art.
See it at Flowers Gallery, W 20th St., New York from October 7th (Private view 6-8pm).
This is not the end of hair however. I'm still growing the stuff. One of my dreams has been to make a hat out of my own hair, a fine chapeau d'artiste, or elegant fedora. What better headgear in the event of baldness than a homegrown hat replacing absent hair with its past self. Now that dream has come a little nearer... (to be continued).
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
The new section declared even more emphatically what was wrong so I took half the painting back to the Talfourd Road studio and set about revising it. It thus became a game of two studios. Now at last I have reworked this part and have reached the scary moment of bringing it back to join the unreworked half. The complete picture looks now like one of those telling illustrations of an old master that has only been partly cleaned; as if these new colours and somewhat revised drawing were what had been hidden underneath all the time. The whistle has not yet blown. I’ll go on.
Also revised as a game of two sides rather than two objects is the relevant Beckett piece. Now this splits the quotation to either side of a single palette. This could be mounted to face me entering and leaving the studio, showing whichever part of the quotation would be appropriate to the beginning or end of the day's work. I think I favour facing I’ll go on in the morning and I can’t go on in the evening. That's how it sometimes feels.
[See it at Flowers, New York in my exhibition which opens on October 8th. Readers of this are invited to the private view on the 7th].