Tom Phillips



In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Tom Phillips born 1937
Etching on paper
Image: 292 × 204 mm
Purchased 1983

Catalogue entry

P07989 Colophon

Etching 11 1/8 × 8 (292 × 204)

Inscribed ‘Tom Phillips’ centre and ‘lxxxiii’ and ‘of the edition proper consisting of one hundred copies this is no.77’
Lit: Tom Phillips, Dante's Inferno, 1985 (bound edition of the complete work)

This work consists of Phillips's own translation of the Inferno, the first part of the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. Each of the 34 Cantos is accompanied by an introductory image and then three illustrations opposite the text of the poem. In an introduction in a booklet published by Waddington Graphics in 1983, the artist writes:

The Inferno is Europe's harsh masterpiece of eschatology: magnificent descriptions alternate with bleak but moving confrontations with the range of Man's baser potentialities; through these we come to know Dante's own beliefs, trials and visionary hopes. We also acquaint ourselves through his narrative with the complete scope of mediaeval learning: we see the Renaissance, so to speak, at first light. However remote in epoch and name are the characters, time drops away and reveals to us real people: we recognise them and know their modern counterparts.

Phillips's illustrations are intended to provide a visual commentary on the text. He has employed a rich visual language which includes some text treated as in his long series of ‘Humument’ works. In these, text from the same Victorian novel is taken out of context and blanked out with paint and other media to produce new meanings in a way related to some concrete poetry in which words are strung out down a page. He has also translated a wide variety of other kinds of printed imagery, particularly engravings and photographs, into these prints.

Phillips began work on the Dante project in 1976 but a fire at the Kelso Place studios of Editions Alecto destroyed most of the first year's work. He started again, setting up his own studio in Peckham to be both print workshop and publisher under the name Talfourd Press (after the name of the road). Much of the proofing and printing was done there although Phillips also used the screenprinting workshop Advanced Graphics and, in one instance, another screenprinting workshop, Coriander. The typography was done by Ian Mortimer and printed at IM Imprimit, using the typeface Walbaum. The work was printed in an edition of 185 copies in loose sheets; the edition was completed in 1983. Later, a bound facsimile edition was printed by Hansjorg Mayer, Stuttgart, in conjunction with the artist; this included Phillips's notes on each Canto and was published by Thames & Hudson.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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