Sunday, 13 January 2008

Tom Phillips in Apollo

The January edition of the Art Collectors' magazine Apollo features the contemporary artist Tom Phillips, and, in particular, his designs for the mosaics in the chapel of St George and the English Martyrs at the Cathedral.

The superb cover and interior photographs of the artist are by Lord Snowdon; above, you can see his designs for the mosaic of Cardinal Newman to be installed next year. The article begins:

"Tom Phillips is frequently described as a polymath and an 'intellectual' artist, a Magus-like figure who juggles dozens if different schemes, all of them feeding off one another and intimately connected with the man himself... As well as graphic and calligraphic images with their roots in pop art, there are old-Masterly portraits. He composes and writes about music, curates exhibitions, designs coins for the Royal Mint, knows all about African Art and delivered the Slade lectures in 2006. Recently he has also been absorbed in a series of designs for new mosaics for a chapel in England's premier Roman Catholic place of worship, Westminster Cathedral."

Above, an impression of the completed chapel. The article notes:

"Several of the artists who preceded him chose to design in a neo-Byzantine idiom complementing the building's architecture, but he finds such pastiche antipathetic. 'It's not a Byzantine church, it's a Victorian church. I really disapprove of that.'"

The article continues: "Designing for the chapel cannot have been easy because this little space already enshrines a great deal of art, emotion and polemic, an altarpiece by Eric Gill, polychrome marble, and a memorial to Catholics killed in World War I. He concedes that it wasn't straightforward, 'I went quite often to the cathedral, and sat there and thought, "What would be right? What was it all about, these martyrs?" And they were sparks of faith spanning a dark period, and that was in fact what I did.'"

"While the saints' names take flight across the ceiling on little tongues of lambent flame, St George is represented by a frieze of dragon's scales (below), and his red cross."

".. Westminster Cathedral has provided Phillips with a strong sense of purpose and fulfilment; it is, he says, really what he would be content to do for the rest of his life."


Ttony said...

I didn't like the artist's impression of the final result, but as I read on, and saw what Phillips was trying to do, I began to get quite enthusiastic. I really hope he pulls this off.

Anonymous said...

I don't like the impression at all. As regards his reasoning behind his work. Sure, great ideas but his art has to be beautiful and true as a standalone. I should not need to go to the artist's ideas before I can make sense of his art or find some reason for liking something which initially strikes one as not very beautiful.

I'm sure he's a nice fellow but his work is not beautiful nor in Catholic tradition.

By the way, with the beatification of JHN in the offing don't forget to reconsider your poster plans :-)