Tom Phillips

National Portrait Gallery

Tom Phillips is a writer, scholar, composer, and artist. He first came to public notice with the publication of A Humament, 1980, a self-described “doctored Victorian novel.” The book is a fascinating and colorful meander through various styles of language and art. The work’s title plays on the title of an obscure book called A Human Document. Phillips tampers with the original book, including some passages, leaving out or rearranging others, so that the final version is a playful amalgam of words and patterns.

An important facet of Phillips’ work is its serial aspect. Both within and among works, he builds up layers, different ways of looking at the same person to reveal different aspects of character. Through multiple portraits, he introduces a strong sense of developing narrative. Keir McGuinness, for instance, was painted once a month for a year. For each four-hour sitting, McGuinness

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