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Tom Phillips - Portraits


Studio portrait

"I don't know quite how it started but suddenly in the 1980s I began to find that I was a portrait painter. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I'd 'come out' as a painter of portraits, since, for as long as I can remember, I have consistently made drawings of friends and occasionally painted pictures of them. Bit by bit this activity moved from the margins to near the centre of my practise and a body of work has built up sufficient to make an exhibition in itself."

So began Tom Phillips's introduction to the catalogue accompanying his 1989 exhibition of 160 portraits at the National Portrait Gallery in London. At that time he was only the second living artist to have been chosen for a solo exhibition at the gallery.

In the intervening twenty years he continued to paint at least one or two portraits a year some of which are shown here, until 2009 when he announced, "I don't know quite how it ended but suddenly I decided I wanted to resign from the wear and tear of public, official or commissioned portraiture. I had begun to long for sitters to ring and say they couldn't turn up. This was the signal. However I continue to draw my friends without having to guarantee a final product."