Tom Phillips: two skulls, 50,000 postcards and a book that took 50 years to finish

By Stuart Jeffries for The Guardian (UK)

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photo of Tom Phillips

He’s now in his 80s but the man who painted Beckett, illustrated Hell and made art out of beard trimmings, is still fired up. As his half-backwards opera Irma returns, we join the great experimentalist for a boozy lunch of artisanal bubble and squeak

One day 51 years ago, Tom Phillips strolled from his home in Peckham, south London, with his friend, the American painter Ron Kitaj. His idea was to buy a secondhand book at random and work on it for the rest of his life as an art project. Whatever book Phillips found, he would draw, paint and collage over its pages. The result would be a found text with a new story, a creative betrayal of the original. “Betrayal is too strong a word,” the 80-year-old painter, poet and composer corrects me as we drink tea at his kitchen table. “I envisaged myself climbing on someone else’s shoulders to make myself taller.”

The book he bought for threepence at a nearby junk shop was the 1892 romantic potboiler A Human Document by forgotten Victorian novelist William Hurrell Mallock. Oh come on, I say to Phillips. It wasn’t really random. What if you’d picked up An Introduction to Macroeconomics? “I might have put it back and chosen something else.”

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Source: Opera News from the UK Guardian

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