Sunday, December 16, 2007
Since this painting daily commands most of my attention it comes to act as a repository of my energies; not a locked chest, but one that continually leaks to affect or, in viral fashion, to infect other work in progress. Even some innocent portrait may show symptoms. However it is A Humument that always falls first victim to such benign contagion, as can be seen in the most recent of the reworked pages. The book as a whole provides a lifetime diary of tropes and trends, strategies and devices, a house of memory of my visual preoccupations.
The photos of my picture and its crazed-looking creator that have appeared in this account were taken by Alice Wood. The present state of the painting in a slightly wider studio context can also be seen here through the lens of Lord Snowden, as featured on the cover of the forthcoming issue of Apollo.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Tom Phillips will talk about his work in conversation with Patrick Wildgust (curator of Shandy Hall) on January 4th at the opening of his forthcoming exhibition at the Williamson Museum and Art Gallery. Follow this link for more information and to register for exhibition updates.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Pictures as they progress tend to generate rules; rules of inclusion and rules of avoidance. Abstraction has the problem it sets itself of shunning representation or likeness. As the work develops, a deliberate and authentic breaking of such a rule can be a daring and stimulating manoeuvre, whereas an accidental infringement (a sudden unintended face-like image in a non-referential picture, for example) is merely bathetic.
While I was in Princeton my painting was in Peckham. I did however take with me a print-out of the state I left it in. I pinned this on the wall as soon as I arrived and looked at it every day. I saw that something was wrong but resisted the thought that the part I held most precious was now it's chief impediment.... how often and sorrowfully this turns out to be the case.
The top left hand corner panel, the little painting that had seeded the whole enterprise, was behinning to stick out like... but what if the rest of the hand was sore and the thumb quite healthy? Somehow it seemed now an anomaly in the dance of signs that the work had become.
I made some tests by cutting that segment out of the copy and supplying other marks on a piece of paper pasted in the space. This appeared to help the rhythm of the other elements in their spatial movement.
The little rectangle (1 1/4" x 1 1/2" approx) I pasted on to another sheet of stretched paper and surrounded it with eight equal spaces. I found that it naturally generated pictorial matter around itself as in the watercolour sketch below.
Perhaps it might go on forever serving to seed paintings from which it would have eventually to be itself banished....
Returning to Peckham I start to feel my way back into the picture. For the moment I have not renewed the panel in question, but, as a gesture have turned it upside down as a reminder of what to tackle soon.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
As I made my way on foot for fifty blocks, in stages broken by coffees and lunch, to the gallery I thought of old and more innocent days, especially the long Saturday mornings we spent together at Austin’s of Peckham (Ron was then living in nearby Pickwick Road). There, opposite the place where Blake first saw angels, we rummaged amongst old books or hunted for some unnoticed old master etching in that furniture repository’s ritually revealed new stock. It was there also that I bought (on October 14th, 1966) for threepence, the copy of A Human Document, a victorian novel bound in faded yellow buckram which would soon start its second life as A Humument. With Ron as witness I vowed to work on the book for the rest of my life.
By the time I got to 75th St I had thought of a small way to commemorate my friend at the exhibition. The latest page of A Humument, a reworking of p4 to replace the original version of 1967 was in the gallery's back office. The best thing would be to pin it on the wall with a notice underneath dedicating it to Ron’s memory. This I did; to show his ghost that I had kept my word.
[note from studio – exhibition open until 24th November]
Friday, November 16, 2007
There is much talk of a map at the beginning of the opera. On a visit to the Firestone Library of the University, Julie Mellby the Graphic Arts curator guided me through an intriguing show of African cartography. And there, in the equatorial section, was the exact depiction of the Congo that Conrad must have been referring to 'like an immense snake uncoiled'. This was Stanley's map full of what Marlow calls 'places with farcical names where the merry dance of death and trade go on'. It will now become a fixture of the set, seen three times in varying sizes. One of the bonuses of curating an exhibition is that one can never know what particular exhibit will spark off an enthusiasm in someone wandering through, or what almost unasked question it might answer.
The highlight of my month in Princeton had, of course, to be my return match on the ping pong table of the astrophysics department between Herman, a genial giant who works in the mail room, and myself. I yielded my hitherto undefeated record to him on the last day of my stay in 2006. On the last day of this visit I won by three games to one. Eric Maskin, of whom I made a drawing last week, could not have been more delighted when he learned of his Nobel Prize.
Tarik and I did a short stand up routine before the performances, he giving some examples of earlier treatments and I describing a fit-up set (with photos by Billie Achilleos [as above] of the tiny paper model I had designed). This set (structured for robust touring to small theatres) has somehow become part of the promotion.
Rehearsing it and hearing it twice (under two conductors, Steven Osgood & Oliver Gooch) gave Tarik and myself proper opportunity to consider cuts and pastes and changes that could be made before its next outing in London, possibly in the spring with Covent Garden's Genesis Project.
Friday, November 02, 2007
This time I am more relaxedly looking for samples of earth with an idea in mind that Halting the Fall [see blog 19.10.06 + 16.11.06] which dealt with local beauty could be complemented by a work that spoke of the Institute for Advanced Study's international identity in that it attracts distinguished researchers and scholars from all over the world. This was in part provoked by seeing again a tantalising and mysteriously lit wall at the end of a long corridor but more so by the spectacle from my window of a soilmover at work creating a mighty mound of russet earth at the end of its track. As the profile of this heap gradually took on an uncanny resemblance to that of Mt Ste Victoire I began to think it had something to do with the sculpture that I knew had been commissioned from Richard Long. I soon learned however that Richard's sculpture was in a concealed courtyard best viewed from the library of the Astrophysics building where I temporarily had my office. Oddly enough I have since become a semi official apologist for the piece, and have already given a requested seminar to the astrophysicists on its meaning and virtues in their mid morning coffee colloquium. It seems strange to me that people who are used to dealing with events that happened before there was a when [in a place before there was a where] should be perplexed by a small and spikily elegant assemblage of exfoliated rock. I pointed out that the sculpture's first success was soon achieved by its provocation of such a discussion. We had some lively exchanges, along the inevitable lines that art argument is doomed to take, before they returned to simpler issues like what happens when a large black hole swallows a smaller one. I kept to myself the thought that celestial indigestion must result, culminating in a cosmic belch.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Coming up in the next month there will be two workshop performances of Heart of Darkness, a chamber opera of the Joseph Conrad novella composed by Tarik O'Regan to a libretto and design by TP.
The first on 9th November 8pm at the Wolfensohn Hall, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton is a concert reading of scenes with Tarik O'Regan and TP in association with American Opera Projects. The performance is open to the public and tickets are free, but they should be reserved in advance. To request tickets or for further information about this event, please call (609) 734-8175 or visit the IAS website
The second concert reading will be on 11th November at American Opera Projects South Oxford Space, 138 S. Oxford Street, Brooklyn, New York, where Tarik O’Regan and Tom Phillips will take part in a panel discussion about the piece. For further information and to view an extract visit the Opera Projects website
On the 5th November there will be a party at the Flowers gallery in New York for friends and patrons of American Opera Projects.
There are plans for a further perfomance in London next Spring in association with the Genesis Foundation.
Keep in touch with news of forthcoming exhibitions and events by subscribing to updates at the exhibitions blog.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Off to Princeton once more for a month of calm on Einstein Drive. I had hoped to reach the halfway stage in my painting but failed. Even the ground that seems to be covered contains quite a few provisional gestures that will have to be rehearsed again. Some tentative alterations have already been made, as may be noticed.
As the picture is now moving forward on all fronts each new manoeuvre questions the rhythm set up by the calligraphic elements as well as the overall territorial balance. Sitting and staring plays as large a part as the act of painting itself.
August and early September, empty of meetings and grim obligations, were perfect weeks for work, with only the distraction of an odd afternoon or so spent at the Oval watching cricket... it's nearly sixty years now since I sat there on the grass watching Bradman's sad, brief last innings.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Friday, September 28, 2007
Now it seems possible to determine a size for the picture, indicated here by the optimistic placing of an unworked white panel to mark its top right hand corner. Also a border of masking tape helps to clarify the area on a messy studio wall, the historiated battlefield of many large pastel drawings and paintings in mud.
The need to pin down (or in this case pin up) the likely dimensions, comes from the old pictorial problem of the perilous centre, a Scylla and Charybdis passage which must be passed without stressing that tempting point of natural focus for the viewer. An overemphatic mark or strident clash of colour at this juncture (or a conspicuous absence of event) would make the whole image a vortex trapping the spectator's attention at its middle. In the West (following a habit of dealing with text) we read pictures from left to right as in the East they are scanned from top to bottom. In either case the eye must be urged to traverse the half way mark. That point as can be seen here (directly above the appropriately anxious artist's head) is now, in mid-September, not too far away.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Monday, September 10, 2007
Subscribe here for information about all current and forthcoming exhibitions and events including performances of Heart of Darkness, a lecture at the British Library and new exhibitions at the Dean Gallery Keiller Library and Flowers New York
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Probing into the unmapped territories beyond the edges of the initial panel was exciting. The first move with each panel was to create a field of inconclusive marks without reference to its neighbour; a space for the partially resolved shapes to reach out into and conquer, as in a territorial game. The main guiding systems were already present in Panel I, a dialogue of dark and light and a conversation between large calligraphic forms and the intricate ornamentation of which they were made and which they inhabited. My own tendency to over-clarify the boundaries would have to be fought - i.e. gritting my teeth to relax. The more general question of how large this work would be remained open.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Emerging from the Panton Street Odeon after seeing The Seventh Seal again (I see it once every fifty years). I realise that I now have something in common with the knight (the amazing Max Von Sydow) and his squire (Gunnar Bjornstrand) - I will fail to reach the same destination ... since they are bound for Elsinore.
And I am emerging also from an exchange of messages between my Peckham studio and the very castle in which the story of the Gloomy Dane is set. The author of the official guide to Hamlet's home contacted me a year ago having heard of my work the Ghost Library (which came down this week from the walls of the Royal Academy). His enquiry sounded friendly and was accompanied by a copy of the interesting guidebook: he intimated that Elsinore might welcome a showing of my work when it was done; a cherished idea optimistically announced as a probability earlier in the blog.
What in fact ensued was the most frustratingly tedious correpondence I've ever entered into. Not only were my sometimes light-hearted exegeses of the work (was it Mao or Lenin who said you can't make a Hamlet without cracking jokes?) crushed by page after numbing page of wilfully obtuse pedantry, but it transpired that my correspondent lacked the authority to accept the work and moreover would not support any plan to show it in the castle at all.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Meanwhile I have promises to keep. One is to make an image of a banana as a campaign contribution in support of Turps Banana an excellent quarterly in which painters write about painting...a non-flashy forum that is not, like so many art journals, a pimple of matter on a mound of promotional hype or a few bits of critical prose that serve to keep the adverts apart.
I told its co-editor Marcus Harvey that I'd only met one banana, the disgraced former President of Zimbabwe. I have, it so happens, a poor record in meeting world leaders. Disgrace is a common factor, since my roster includes Saddam Hussein, Robert Mugabe and Tony Blair. If Hillary Clinton gets elected you have been warned.
For some reason some kind of skipping rhyme came into my head to accompany Canaan Banana . I felt the need also to rescue my lovely Olivetti portable from too many years of neglect. How pleasurably physical is the bangy act of typewriting and how fine the font looks after acres of computerface.
Friday, August 10, 2007
Meanwhile Embassy Signs Ltd. of Bellenden Road have, after some adjustments I made to the prototype, produced, in laminated plastic with perspex slide, a handsome multiple of my favourite device. I can't do better than quote my original description from 1965.
A shop that I pass regularly on the way to the studio had a small red and white plastic sign saying C LOOPSEEND. Since the shop sold yams and sweet potatoes I assumed that this was the name of the proprietor; the double vowels suggested Dutch however and I was puzzled each time I passed it.
Having seen this name for about a year and having thought it odd but probably liable to rational explanation, I suddenly came across its double in a second-hand shop in Ipswich in 1965. I was about to ask the shopkeeper whether he was any relative of his namesake in Camberwell when I noticed, in the back of the shop, many piles of similar nameplates, each bearing the inscription C LOOPSEEND.
For some reason I made no enquiry in the Ipswich shop but asked instead at the Camberwell grocers.
'Is this the name of the shop or a brand of banana or what?' and received the reply:
'No, it's broken, mate. There should be a sort of panel thing what goes over the top covering the letters so as you can sort of slide it along like, to make it say open or closed.'
I had failed over a long period to connect this sign with either its combined and opposing messages, or with the hundreds of complete examples I had seen in almost all the shop doorways in England.My delight in the discovery has in no way diminished since I first introduced it into a painting (A Little Art History) shown in my first one man show. Indeed it has taken on new resonance as it reflects aspects of philosophy, science and politics that I have encountered thereafter. I'm certain that uncertainty has no more eloquent emblem.
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
The germ of my painting had been lying around the studio floor for two or three years, a left-over panel half used for a portrait sketch. I had idly taken it up from time to time, improvising on it with colour mixed up for a working day gone by (artists are great recylers). Shapes emerged and were cancelled out. Eventually some of these shifting clouds resisted change until the whole panel, though not resolved, drew to a halt. It hinted however at possible extension, looking now like a unit extracted from a larger work. I got Andy to make a panel of the same size (24.5cm x 30cm) and then watched the work spread, as if with relief, into the offered territory. Its shapes now suggested a yet bigger field in which some kind of calligraphic abstraction might... and yes, suddenly the dread tingle, the warning signal of the artistic imperative, the other side of whose alluring coin is inevitably long, lone sessions of excited anxiety. I ordered another panel...
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Not, you might think, a surprising or original thing for an artist to be doing. But it is a long time since such a proportion of each working week has been spent on a single painting.
'Meanwhile' is a word I use all too often here to draw attention to the projects that interest me and are still in progress, some since the sixties and early seventies. In addition there is almost always a portrait on the go, for portraiture, especially in leaner times, has been my financial life-support system.
I do not yet know what size it will be or how long this painting will take, nor do I have a title for it or can exactly say what it is about. I shall refer to it (in occasional progress reports) as 'my picture', the ever present 'meanwhile' of my current working life. Here is a detail. More to come.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Another photographer, Heini Schneebeli, virtuoso imager of artefacts, is in the studio office at the moment taking pictures of Akan goldweights from my almost embarrassingly large collection. These miniature bronzes (often referred to as Ashanti weights), each an unique lost-wax casting, reveal a whole civilisation in miniature. They show every aspect of human activity from copulation to music making (as in the trumpeters above) and the animal world in all its variety. The abstract weights make a comprehensive inventory of ornament. We are making a book to be published by that guardian angel of almost all my printed work, Hansjörg Mayer, who on our first meeting (in a Corsham pub over forty years ago) announced himself my publisher.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
CRUMBLING NEWS: a small announcement of a curiosity to come, made topical by my just having painted (if only to postempt another design offered by the publisher) its title page.
For quite a few years now a little South London enterprise has been brewing in which the haunting still-life tableaux of photographer Bruce Rae have provoked appropriately atmospheric poems by Terry Jones. These texts in turn have been worked over (as one might say) by me to provide a further twist of reflection.
Publication now threatens - probably towards the end of the year in a limited edition...
Watch this space.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Monday, June 25, 2007
A brief birthday calculation tells me I must get moving again with A Humument. The goal is to revise, edition by edition, the first working of the text as it appears in the first 1980 trade edition (which is itself substantially a reprint of the Tetrad Press limited edition of 1973). With bursts of activity as each edition approaches I have replaced over half the pages with new versions. 163 pages remain to be reworked. Since I announced my intentions in 1980, I have averaged only seven or so pages a year. At that sluggish rate I would have to live to the extremely unlikely age of ninety three with a steady hand and my wits about me to complete the task, so I must get a move on.
All this but a prelude to showing the first page done in my seventies, revisiting the first page of all which started the work in 1966. Here is that early version, appropriately retaining some of the original drawing, seen through a burnt hole in a newly extracted page.
Twenty five years ago Bill Packer, reviewing a show of mine, characterised my attitude to my work saying I was like Little Jack Horner. It upset me at the time but I now see it as a fair observation. It is in that spirit of self congratulation I produce this present plum to show pleasure in demonstrating how great lines of the future (here from Beckett's Worstward Ho) lie latent in Mallock. For the connection with my own work see the lithographic portrait of Samuel Beckett.
Friday, June 15, 2007
It has stood the test of constant use though physically it is now even more battered and ageweary than its user.
But suddenly as an extremely welcome 70th birthday present I have a finely bound, smartly printed, book version thanks to the kind thoughts and diligence of John Pull and the indefatigable Patrick Wildgust.
Thus I've been able when thinking of commemoration, celebration or topical reference to look up a key word like 'seventy'. However I still rely mainly on serendipity, having chanced on 'ted heath' ("who is Ted Heath, mummy?") and 'bush' in my aleatoric trawl. It has offered me no 'blair' of course and (not for that reason alone) I'm glad to see the back of him. Welcome twelve-times-cited Brown!
Monday, June 11, 2007
To anon & Mike C
Feel free to talk on this blog however critically (or opaquely).
Re the Summer Exhibition I hung rooms I & II & can't answer for anything else. I don't really like to comment on another artist's work unless I am really excited by it as I am with the whopping Kiefer in Gallery III.
Lots to report but I've been more than a little fêted for the amazing achievement of reaching the age of seventy on May 24th or, according to my mother, May 25th, a date which Birthdays of the Famous tells me I share with Cilla Black & Dante Alighieri, in that order.
Friday, June 01, 2007
Thursday, May 24, 2007
The Tom Phillips Dante Archive is featured both in the Bodleian Library's 2007 summer exhibition, Italy's Three Crowns: Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio and the accompanying publication of the same name. The exhibition will be open from 19 June to 31 October in the Exhibition Room, Old Schools Quadrangle, Catte Street, Oxford. Admission is free.
Another Dante exhibition opens in August 2007 at Dove Cottage in Grasmere, entitled Dante Rediscovered: Blake to Rodin. Though largely confined to the 18th and 19th centuries it will show two works by TP; a portrait drawing and a copy of the Talfourd Press Dante edition. The exhibition will also include works by Blake, Fuseli, Rossetti and Byron and Shelley manuscripts.
Recent prints by TP appear in an exhibition of work by Royal Academicians at the 108 Gallery in Harrogate 23rd June to 14th July 2007.
This year TP has designed the cover of the Garsington Opera programme and a limited number TP's prints will be available for sale at the box office tent during the Garsington Opera Season from the 9th June to the 9th July 2007
Works by TP will appear in Eye-Music: Klee, Kandinsky and all that Jazz, an exhibition about music in art at Pallant House 30 June - 16 September 2007
TP will be speaking at the British Library on Monday 24th September 2007 on the subject of Wagner and Popular Art. This is the first event in a special season at the British Library accompanying the Ring Cycle at the Royal Opera House.
An exhibition of new works by Tom Phillips will open at Flowers New York in the autumn.
Friday, May 18, 2007
There is in fact a real library at the real castle of Elsinore. Its curator has shown an interest in exhibiting this phantom work.
Shandy Hall is in prospect and who knows but that the Folger may live up to its name and follow suit.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
The Library at Elsinore (Fragment), 2006.
Shakespeare on a visit to the castle at Elsinore is to have an audience with the King. He is set to wait in its ample library for the summons into the royal presence. He finds himself alone there except for two rather overdressed courtiers who seem already to have been waiting for some time. He idly scans the shelves and takes down a book whose nicely ambiguous title, A Show of Violence, intrigues him. Its contents, however, seem of little interest. Replacing it he notices that the subsequent books on the shelf all have titles equally suggestive of emotion, escapade and death. So is it also on the shelves below. As if in a dream the titles conjure up, one after another, a sequence of speeches and events in a play.
As he reaches for the last book on the fifth shelf, Casual Slaughter, the door of the library opens. The courtiers look hopefully up but it is Shakespeare that the steward invites to follow him.
After his audience with the King, Shakespeare is returned to the library to await the coachman. He eagerly makes for the same shelves only to find that they contain a dull series of tracts and biblical commentaries...
Some such scenario or dumb show is the conceit behind a long planned installation, The Library at Elsinore, whose bookcase Andy has just finished constructing. I have been loading its shelves with the books I have prepared over the last few months and which have been lying in rows and piles around the studio.
Last year at the Ashmolean Museum I showed a maquette of a single shelf which contained all the titles (of actual books) that derive from Hamlet's speech, To be or not to be.....
Now the whole play is covered and next week as one of the hangers of the Summer Exhibition at the RA I hope to find a nice corner for it.
Monday, April 30, 2007
Monday, April 23, 2007
This is not some riff of sophistry but an attempt to verbalise those churnings of daily doubt which I have known all my working life; ever since I entered the garden of forking paths presented to the artist by the twentieth century. Somewhere half formulated has been an idea, itself a guarantee of failure, of making that garden not of forking but rather of converging paths.
Mentioning Henry James reminds me that one of the things I really am doing is drawing (for wire sculpture) the quotation from James that I made a pastel version of last year. 'We work in the dark. We do what we can. We give what we have. The rest is the madness of art.' Perhaps as I allow myself to think, albeit briefly, and only from time to time, it might be a real, right thing.
Friday, April 20, 2007
Monday, April 16, 2007
Periwinkle Diary 2006
[to be continued...]