Poring over postcards with Tom Phillips
On May 24 I visited that fascinating man, eminent artist Tom Phillips CBE RA, at his home in south London and I was delighted to discover that it was his 76th birthday. By coincidence, I had celebrated my 58th birthday the day before.
It’s more than two years ago that we first met when he did me the honour of asking me to write a foreword to Menswear, one of a series of six books he has produced for Bodleian Library Publishing from his huge collection of picture postcards. We had a lovely party at Huntsman in Savile Row to launch Menswear.
Weddings is one of my favourites – such a poignant collection. How did those 200 marriages work out?
Tom has collected an amazing 50,000-plus of these photographic records in the past 35 years or so. I have learned that the neat books in the Bodleian Head series, which feature 200 postcard images of people, are only a small part of his prodigious output. I can recommend without hesitation his magisterial The Postcard Century, which came out in 2000 to celebrate the 20th century through two thousand postcards selected and annotated by Tom. You can read selections of the messages written on each of the 2000 cards – it’s an amazing work of 452 pages and costs barely £20.
More than 1000 postcards that show only people were gathered together by Tom at the National Portrait Gallery in the spring of 2004 for an exhibition called We Are The People. These largely unknown faces made a telling parade alongside the famous images of the great and good at the NPG. Included in the accompanying catalogue-book are postcards that feature Tom’s father (from around 1906) and his mother (from the early 1930s). Tom generously gave me a copy of the 336-page catalogue, which is quite a pricey collector’s item these days.
Tom’s postcard collection is filed into 120 categories (and some sub-categories) and is kept in ring binders at his house.
I am so happy to report that further volumes in the Bodleian Library series are in the pipeline. Walls and Sport are finished and Dogs is not far behind. Watch out for them.
With my personal fascination for Tom’s postcards, I sometimes forget that his main activity is art. Although he was born in 1937, he is clearly a workaholic and has described himself to me as “a slave to art”. His fascinating home certainly reflects his myriad interests. This is part of his downstairs study.
His main room for painting and drawing is on the first floor.
He sketches on the ceiling by attaching charcoal to a long stick.
His second workroom on the second floor overlooks a leafy back garden. This rooms houses those essential ring binders and is where Tom selects the images for his postcard books.
Practical as well as artistic, Tom uses a cricket bat in place of a missing balustrade. It’s that sort of house.
Sign up for The Musgrave Manifesto
- The Place London Men’s
- Croots England. Made in Yorkshire. Seen at Pitti Uomo 91
- Christopher Raeburn for Save The Duck at Pitti Uomo 91
- Z Zegna at Pitti Uomo 91
- Johnstons of Elgin at Pitti Uomo 91
- PS by Paul Smith at Pitti Uomo 91
- Pitti Uomo hits 91 not out