Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Biochemical Society Medal

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

A Humument App

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

Flowers NYC opening

Wittgenstein's Dilemma, 1999, silkscreen on acrylic cube. Photo Ben Drury.

Back once again on Einstein Drive after an enjoyable opening at Flowers, my first in their splendid new gallery on W20th. The usual loyal and loved suspects turned up i.e. Ruth and Marvin Sackner (with their brilliant grandson), John Pull (bravely after illness) and Richard Minsky, who brought with him one of my heroes, the 94 year old George Braziller, whose book on Albert Pinkham Ryder that I read fifty years ago became (and, perhaps now invisibly, remains) a real inspiration.

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

Rail Diversions & Flowers NYC

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

Anyone for Tennis?

The Seven Ages of Man, 2010, artist's hair on tennis balls.

At last after a few years of squint and tweezers I have assembled, like the notes of an octave, a set of seven well-tempered tennis balls. They are meant to match Shakespeare's seven ages of man. A lawn-green stand (crafted by MDM) serves as their support.

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

I'll go on (continued)

Quantum Poetics, July 2010, Oil on panel.

Like those stages of the World Cup in which England feebly participated my painting Quantum Poetics has turned into a game of two halves. What, in a recent issue of Turps, claimed to be the almost finished thing ended up vague and veiled and somehow incomplete. It called for a complete revision. I added, by way of injury time, a further section of panels to its right wing painted in a different (major rather than minor) key and hung the whole work in the ping pong room of my other studio, where I could not escape its gaze.

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.

Beckett Again, 2010, oil on palette.

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.

Beckett Again (verso), 2010, oil on palette.

[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].

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Modem form a poetry... Get with it!

Flora, my wise and sophisticated stepdaughter shows me the study manual that accompanies her labours with A level English. And lo! Here I am in the glossary of Edexcel A2 English Literature Student Book, neatly tucked between Hegel and Hyperbole under the rubric humument. I am flattered.

But wait a minute. This seems not to be written for but by a student, and one moreover none too bright or knowledgeable, or even literate.

I might have known there was a reason why messages from GCSE pupils to my website usually start with my name spelt wrongly. Here it appears as Tom Phillip, possibly because the writer does not yet know how apostrophes function.

The description of my process is drab indeed and made more so by the lacklustre word 'somehow'. Nonetheless I and my books are obscure topics, unlike Hegel and his: so I glance at the entry above. It is turn-in-the-grave time for poor Friedrich. After an alarmingly rough guide to the dialectic, the student is referred to what is 'probably' (another dampening word) his most famous work The Phenomonolgy of the Spirit [sic]. Two spelling mistakes in a single vital word, plus two incorrectly added articles (the and the), and a less useful translation of 'Geist', is not bad going for what is usually now called in English Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind.

My eye strays upwards to Graphology (do they mean 'Typography'?) where I meet a usage unknown to me. I can't go on.

I'll go on; at least to find the intext reference to A Humument, and here it is with its own spectacular illiteracy, ie 'this modem form a poetry'. What can that mean?

Flora and her classmates would be justified in writing to the Examination Board to explain that if mistakes occur in their papers these may originate in the very textbook that has been approved. Should they fail the exam they might sue the authors (Mike Royston and Jackie Moore) or the publisher (Pearson Education Ltd.) by filing what the legal profession would, with nice appropriateness, call a class action.


Undeterred I offer up the latest example of 'this modem form a poetry' done at the London Sketch Club on successive visits. The left hand image is painted to mask the earlier one, suggesting a critique. Something dialectical going on here I suspect...

A Humument p309, 2010

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

I'll Go On

Any artistic career has its vanities. One area at least in which I thought myself the British pioneer was the artist's book. This is now a genre in its own right taught earnestly in colleges here and abroad. The particular variant I was certain had been my own discovery was that of working over a complete novel (W.H. Mallock's A Human Document) to make what I call a treated book.

Alas a recent fragment of information gleaned, as is most of what I know, from the pages of the TLS, challenges my claim on all counts. Among the books once belonging to Oscar Wilde held in the Library of Magdalen College, Oxford, is a copy of Mallock's A New Republic of which page 30 displays a graphic intervention in the form of 'a jam stain', perhaps the first mark of a projected treatment by Wilde of the whole volume.

I thus find myself neither the inventor of the process nor the first Oxford graduate to employ it. More pathetically I am not, it would seem, even the first to have used a text by W.H. Mallock.

Distressed I rang Magdalen's librarian who obligingly took down the book and reported that it was a 'spot' rather than a 'stain', and not identifiably 'jam' (chemical analysis is promised). In effect this was merely a typical example of the lurid sensationalism that gives the TLS a bad name.

Nonetheless I had lost my claim to originality and was reminded of the story of an evening at the Cafe Royal when Whistler coined a specially clever epigram. "I wish I had said that" remarked Wilde, at which Whistler rejoined, "You will, Oscar, you will."

Undeterred by the blow I carry on with my revisions of A Humument. It is a good recipe for an artist to persist with a task, to head for the often drawn mountain, to set up the familiar still life: return to the same spot and dig a little deeper.

Here then is my Easter offering, p303 in the appropriate form of a recitative and chorus...

A Humument page 303, watercolour, 2010.

Comment from Anonymous:
National Public Radio broadcast from the Folger Library
Prof Collins examines a Shakespeare First Folio:

Prof. COLLINS: One of the other ones that we have here has, I'm pretty certain, a strawberry jam stain. Samuel Johnson, actually, his first folio, is full of food stains. The next owner that had it after him said, I've repeatedly met with thin flakes of pie crust between its pages.

Tom Phillips replies
Thank you anonymous for your uncrusty mention of Johnson.
Treating a book is one thing,but actually feeding it was well ahead of the game.
There is a connection in that I designed the 50p coin that celebrated
the 250th anniversary of the great dictionary.
it was my largest edition of anything [18,000,000].

Tuesday, February 02, 2010


Back from Berlin after the launch of 'African Goldweights' at the Barbara Wien Gallery. The show looked handsome and I am happy with the book, yet another collaboration with Hansjorg Mayer, my publisher for forty years.

Sad however to miss the Australian tennis final: I had to hold my breath until the TV highlights in the late evening to see who won. Predictably perhaps Heldenspieler Federer made our Murray look pretty ordinary.

Coincidentally, the following morning I finished my black tennis ball.

Tennis ball covered with hair, 2010.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

More balls

Black-haired ball nearing completion, 2010.

I was quite wrong. My last comments on the signature configuration of earlier balls led to a small supply of vintage examples from ever helpful suspects. One box of Slazengers was actually dated 1974 and the balls therein were of what I had come to think of as a late decadent type.

Perhaps the lone, grey, bald and orphaned ball I started with is truly archaic. For all I know it matches those that appear in Henry V.

I still, however, regard it as somehow authentic and, as here, continue to mimic the fine curves of its manufacture.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My Painting/Epilogue

Quantum Poetics mock up of extended format.

Although I have done nothing to it since last March a lot has happened in and to Quantum Poetics.

It has moved to the studio in Bellenden Road to be hung in one place then another. I have again stared at it as well as glimpsing it over and over again while playing ping pong. It tells me that I have not yet done with it.

I can no longer blame the wayward light in Talfourd Road for its having lost its colour balance. It has contracted Burne-Jones Disease in which viridian and ochre conspire to trump however many other colours may be present. This is summed up in the famous rhyme from Gilbert's Patience in which the Wildean aesthete is mocked as 'Greenery - Yallery / Grosvenor Gallery'.

The complaint is serious but not fatal. It is largely a question of key (what is light is not always bright) and what musicians call tessitura; in this case it is as if the upper strings are working too near the lower, leading to the equivalent of that overweight sound that sometimes adds too much gravy to the symphonies of Brahms.

The musical analogy is relevant to the other fault in the picture, its general format. The implied calligraphy moving from left to right, shouts 'unfinished symphony' and demands an eastern extension to provoke the action of reading.

An excellent chance to put both these symptoms to a clinical test came my way when I was asked to provide elements for a screen at the Ivy Club. This project took me to the Coriander Studios at Perivale where the whole picture was loaded, scanned and printed out. Since more elements were wanted for the screen than the picture provided I extended its length by taking a section from the west side of the painting and adding it, with rough surgery, upside down to the eastern end. Uncannily it was not a bad match and immediately the picture seems to be a happier and more appropriate shape.

Via Brad Faine's computer one can, as on a music synthesiser, change key at will. In a second one can shift it from umber minor to crimson major. The same image can move from sombre to raucous in a frightening trice, equivalent to (but not the same as) hundreds of hours in the studio.

On both fronts I learned what I needed to know and once again 'I can't go on' becomes 'I'll go on'.