Tom Phillips Obituary, Death – In 1966, the artist Tom Phillips, who passed away at the age of 85 after a protracted illness, went into a junk shop on Peckham Rye in south London and purchased a novel titled A Human Document written by the Victorian author William Hurrell Mallock. Tom Phillips died after a long illness. The book that was read was selected at random. In an interview held in 2012 to commemorate the occasion of Phillips’ 75th birthday, Phillips recalled, “I’d decided it should be the first one I picked up that cost thruppence, and this one did.” “In addition to that, it had the most arresting title; it jumped out at me.” Unfortunately, the witness, the painter Ron Kitaj, passed away before the investigation could be completed. He replied, “Well, Tom, this one will set you back threepence.” Here it is. You’d better get it.'” Phillips paused. Sadly, he did not survive to see how things turned out. This should not have come as a surprise. When Kitaj passed away in 2007, Phillips had already spent more than 40 years slowly working his way through Mallock’s novel, modifying each page to create a new piece of work that he referred to as A Humument, which is an abbreviation of the full title. There would ultimately be two handcrafted iterations of this, and it would take each of them a total of 25 years to finish. It wasn’t until 2016, just a few years before he turned 80 and the project’s 50th anniversary, that Phillips made the decision to call it quits.
At this point in time, Phillips was already a father and a husband. He had tied the knot with Jill Purdy in 1961, and the couple’s daughter Ruth was born three years later. Leo Phillips was born in 1965 while Phillips was working as a teacher at the Ipswich School of Art. At the time, Phillips was known in the area as “Black Tom” due to the dark color of his hair and the morbid style of clothing he favored. One of his students was Brian Eno, who would later join Roxy Music and become a collaborator on occasion. He was one of his students.
It was characteristic of Phillips’s polymathic tastes that the American composer John Cage served as his primary source of inspiration at the time. Cage was not an artist, however; he was a musician. Phillips was drawn to Cage’s work for a number of reasons, one of which was the way he incorporated elements of chance and luck into his compositions, as described in Cage’s book Silence. Together with Eno, he came up with the idea for the game known as “sound tennis.” “Sound tennis” was “a kind of hand tennis played in a room full of old pianos, with the scoring being based on the noise they made when you hit one of them,” Eno recalled 25 years after the game was first played. “I thought it was a pretty fun game overall.” In 1978, he would record Phillips’ opera Irma, which was based on the A Humument, which was still in the process of developing. Phillips’s own career, on the other hand, had expanded into other kinds of artistic production in the meantime. In the late 1970s, he started reworking Dante’s Inferno into a new translation that would be illustrated with his own prints; the book was finally released in 1983. Six years later, in 1992, he collaborated with the experimental filmmaker Peter Greenaway on the film A TV Dante, which he directed and co-directed. Phillips, who is now a Royal Academician and was elected a RA in 1989, was the curator of the exhibition Africa: The Art of a Continent that was held at the academy in 1995, before he took over as the academy’s chairman of exhibitions. Two years later, he was called out for his role in displaying Marcus Harvey’s painting of the Moors murderer Myra Hindley in the now-famous show Sensation at the art academy. He was criticized for his actions.
After that came the design phase. In the year 2000, Phillips collaborated with the sculptor Antony Gormley to develop concepts for street furniture that would be used in an urban renewal project in the neighborhood surrounding Gormley’s studio in Peckham. This was followed by a commission from the Royal Mint in 2003 for a £5 coin marking the 50th anniversary of the coronation, and then, in 2011, for another gold medal to commemorate the London Olympics, which was co-designed with Sir Anthony Caro. Both of these projects were carried out in collaboration. In the midst of all of this, Phillips was able to paint portraits of his famous friends such as Brian Eno, Iris Murdoch, Samuel Beckett, and Pete Townshend (he had a solo exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 1989), design album covers and menus for the Ivy, become the Slade professor of fine art at Oxford (2005-2006), write a book about the representation of music in painting, and play cricket at the Oval (for his 50th birthday). In the year 2000, he released The Postcard Century, a history of the 20th century that was told through the messages written on 2,000 different postcards. The Massimo and Francesca Valsecchi collection at the Palazzo Butera in Palermo, Sicily, is home to a significant number of his works at the present time.
In 2002, he was honored with the title of CBE. His first marriage ended in 1988, and he wed Fiona Maddocks, who is now the music critic for the Observer, seven years after their divorce was finalized. His name remained unexpectedly unknown despite all of this (or perhaps because of it), so this was somewhat surprising. He felt it was unfair that dictionaries of art from the 20th century did not include him. “I’m not even in this one,” he would sigh, thumbing his index finger pitifully, and add, “You should know that I’m quite a well-known artist.” Despite all of that, his life was recorded in his own work of reference, which was called A Humument, and it did so in a manner that was more than sufficient. In a world that is always moving and changing, the book served as a point of stability for Phillips, much like his mother’s purchase of his Peckham home, in which he has resided since 1984. The major turning points in a person’s life, such as falling in love, getting married, separating, or passing away, are all referenced at some point in the story, either covertly or openly on occasion.