Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Britain and the USA defeated in Afghanistan, diminished in eyes of the world and no countries for an old Generals Dannatt and Keane

Richard Dannatt, who is 70 years old, is no ordinary retired General, but was Head of the British Army as 'Chief of the General Staff' from 2006 to 2009 and served in Northern Ireland in the Troubles and in Bosnia and Kosovo. 

Britain has left behind thousands to their fate in Afghanistan after its ignominious scramble to leave while surrendering to the victorious Taliban and Richard Dannatt is not a happy man. In particular, he is scathingly critical of the fact that many thousands who have helped Britain during its 20 year stay in Afganistan have been abandoned to their fate. 

He said :  “On the particular issue of those who we knew were in danger, people who had worked for us, interpreters, former locally engaged civilians, this issue has been in the media. This issue has been on politicians’ desks for two to three years and, certainly, it’s been there during the course of this year. Back in July, 45 senior officers wrote to the Government saying there are people we are concerned about and if we don’t do the right thing, their blood will be on our hands. It is unfathomable why it would appear that the Government was asleep on watch”.

Afghans employed by the British army or who worked with British-based organisations believe they and their families could be tortured and murdered for working with western powers despite assurances from Taliban leaders. Some from the aid sector believe that up to 9,000 could have been left behind and left to fend for themselves. 

The General said : 

"I think the issue of Afghanistan sat on the backburner. Maybe it started to come forward. But then, suddenly, when the Taliban took over the country in the precipitate fashion in which they did, it fell off the cooker straight onto the kitchen floor and we've had this chaotic extraction".

Jack Keane, who is 88 years, is no ordinary Four-star General, but was a former Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army and served Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. On the BBC Radio Today Programme this morning, he was asked by Sarah Smith : "The US has left Afghanistan in defiance of what NATO and international allies wanted, leaving behind some US and UK citizens, many thousands of Afghans who worked with forces and whose lives may now be at risk. Can America now be seen as a reliable ally ?"

The General replied : "I don't blame anyone for questioning us as a result of this. I have great  difficulty identifying with what we have just done. I understand that nobody expected the regime in Afghanistan to collapse as quickly, but why wouldn't we have changed the date when were gonna get out and make sure we stay as long as it took to get our people out - your people, our people that needed to leave ? I can't identify with what we have just done to be quite frank about it. I'm ashamed of it. I think it's a fundamental betrayal and its a stain on America's national honour. To walk out of a country and consign hundreds of American citizens and even more - tens of thousands of our Afghan partners, their lives into the hands of a terrorist organisation - the Taliban - unforgivable and fundamentally shameful."

Sunday, 29 August 2021

Britain is a country which provided Photographer, Vanley Burke, with the stimulus to create his brilliant Chronicle of the Black Community


Vanley, who is 70 years old, was born in Jamaica in 1951 and has lived in Britain for the last 55 years. During that time, using his skill and understanding, he has built up a unique photographic record of the migration and settlement of the Jamaican Community in Birmingham. It has always been his intention to construct Black history from his own perspective by empowering his subjects through his photography as he captured them at work, at play, at church, on the streets and in their homes. Vanley said : "The idea was to photograph everything between birth and death. I live as part of the community I photograph and I’m very much aware of what’s happening around me".

He was born in 1951 in a small village in the foothills of the Blue Mountains in Jamaica and described its location as : "If you take an aeroplane to a destination and if you are unable to move any further, then you jump in a car and the car is unable to go any further because of the road, and you get on a donkey, and when the donkey is further, that's where I lived. Just around the corner". It was here, when he was three years old, that his mother left him in the care of his grandparents and travelled to Britain to train to be a nurse. He didn't know his father and was not to see his mother for another twelve years. He got on well with his grandparents, who were farmers and in particular his grandmother and recalled that in school "The history was English History, Cromwell and all the rest of it - Battle of Trafalgar, Waterloo, Kings and Queens. I remember thinking that if I was a king, every week of the year I could have a different pair of shoes". 

It was while at school that he first displayed an interest in the evidence past people had left which provided a key to an insight into their lives. He said : "I remember reading about the Morant Bay Rebellion (in 1795) when Paul Bogal led his people against the British and these people were taken from Africa and I had a need to find out as much as I can about these people. They used to live in the hills in caves. Just imagine if there were any relics left ? Anything that you can use to be closer as much as possible to their lives and experience".

He also recalled sitting around a fire at night and being told stories handed down from his African heritage, about Annancy the Trickster spider. He retained the first photograph of himself from this time, taken when he was either 9 or 10 years old and recalled : "Dressed up in the Sunday best. You can still see the crease in the trousers. A table was put outside and flowers were picked and the photograph was taken which was then sent to England, so my mother could see what I looked like". Shortly after this he received a Christmas parcel from his mother in Britain, which, when he opened "was quite surprised and intrigued by this camera, Kodak Box Brownie 127 and I took some photographs of a house that was being built at the time. They had got a photographer to photograph the house and she (the owner) reckoned it was better than their photograph".(link)

He had received his only tuition in photography from a travelling photographer who told him :"Keep the sun behind you and squeeze, don't press it". "Now 'keep the sun behind you', the light is on the face of the person facing you and you squeeze it, rather than press it, because when you press it you are likely to shake the camera. So those were my instructions". (link)

By this time, Vanley's life had taken a turn for the worse because, in 1960, his Grandparents had left him to join his mother in England and left him in the care of Aunt B who already had children of her own and left him feeling an outsider. For the next five years he was overburdened with chores - feeding and cleaning the pigs, chickens, guinea pigs and rabbits and picking fruit and coffee beans. If he committed a transgression his Aunt would beat him with a cane and he described this period as a "brutal experience". No doubt, his sense of isolation increased when he learned that in England his mother had married and he now had 5 step brothers. 

Vanley admitted that he had yearned for a family life and this period in his life ended on May 13 1965 when his BOAC landed at Heathrow Airport and he was met by his Grandfather and stepfather and was driven to Birmingham to his new home over the family's Caribbean grocery shop in Handsworth. It was here that he was reunited with his mother who he referred to as 'Sister', his Grandmother being 'Mama'. Much later he said that it was : "Almost if I was trying to collect these people together and that collection of people had exploded because it wasn't just about the individuals but a whole group of people and the collective nature of - immigration and settlement".

In comparison with Jamaica he said : "I thought this house was so small. Everything was just close and claustrophobic and if you looked out the bedroom window, you looked on to a church or the house next door". Back in Jamaica you saw "the next hill and you can just see for miles and it's just so green". In comparison he described England as "grey". It seems that his two years in school - Bell Street School for Boys in Lambeth, where he was taught 'English for Immigrants', was equally uninspiring. It was here that Vanley experienced his first taste of low level bigotry when : "We had to show our hands at lunchtime and the teachers would say "Go on. I wouldn't know if it's clean anyway".

He recalled conversations in Jamaica with his best friend : "Earl and I used to have frequent conversations about what life was like in England ? I would try to imagine what their existence was like ? what their daily routine was like and their environment?" Vanley found that, now he was in England, he used these questions : "As a sort of template. So now I tried to use photography to answer those questions and I used Earl as the person I'd be communicating with". In addition to architecture, he included the landscape and "some of the practices might be going to school, church, funerals". In short, he said : "I would pose the questions when I got here and answer them with the camera" and "It was really me who was posing the questions, but I was using the experience of us having talked about it". He was still using his Kodak Brownie 127.

He said : "I started teaching myself photography, bought 'Amateur Photographer' and 'British Journal of Photography' weekly and built a dark room in the back of my Grandparent's house". After leaving school at the age of 17 in 1968, Vanley said : "I went to Handsworth Technical College and when my friends were all going out to dance and places, I would be in the dark room till one, two three o'clock in the morning trying to perfect the thing".

Vanley's mother wanted him to study to become and engineer and was resourceful. Vanley recalled : "There was an evening class (in photography) being held at Handsworth Boys' School on the same day as an English class was held at Handsworth Technical College. My mother wanted to do 'English' and I wanted to do 'photography' and my mother came up with this  wonderful idea that : "How about, if I go about and learn about photography and you do English and then I came and teach you what I learn". 

Needless to say, Vanley studied photography and in his late adolescence he became fascinated by the thousands of faceless immigrants who had preceded him to Britain : "When I came here I wanted to know them and having found these people I couldn't let them go". He thought : "I need to capture them. I need to keep them together. I need to collect them". Crucially, he said : "The notion of 'documentary photography' didn't exist, But, I'd been sufficiently informed for me to think that photography has a life beyond just a record". 


He cited the example of : "A young man who'd left Jamaica with all his dreams, borrowing all the money from his family, perhaps sometime they would sell him farm produce to get this money to come to England. And if you're in a pub on a Friday night and you see these wasted lives. You want to document it and there's a lot of drama and emotion there. It wasn't about this person having a drink at the bar. It's about the failure to succeed. It was much more than one image. It's what lay in the shadows. It's what you don't know is what I'm interested in". "I need to convey the lost dreams of those in the photograph. I don't know if I succeed, but I try".

The low level bigotry continued. On one occasion when he was dressed up to go out on a Saturday  night, in a double-breasted blazer, someone threw a pot of curry over him and in one pub the bar staff would smash the glass from which he drank. He put an end to this practice by taking all his mates along to the pub and forcing the staff to concede there were too many glasses to break. Occasionally, when he went into a shop, the person behind the counter placed his change on the counter rather than in his hand.

It was now, in 1970 and at the age of 19, he got a job as photographic technician at the College of Art and Design is Aston, which in the dark room in the basement, was : "Heaven, because I could immerse myself as a developer". Most of his occupation involved processing to work of the students but Vanley also found that : "Within that setting I was able to see how photography can be used to develop the  ideas of history" and he used the library to research photographers who were "documenting peoples lives" like Ernst Hass and Brassaï. He said was "searching for good images, irrespective of where it came from". He himself now had a Praktica Nova IB camera with a built in light meter.

Vanley recalled, when he was 19 years old in 1970, the circumstances around which he took, what would become, perhaps, his most famous photograph : 'Boy with Flag'. He recalled : "I just picked up my camera one Saturday morning and went to Handsworth Park" which he called 'The community's front room' "and I was just interested in walking and seeing what was happening in the neighbourhood and when I arrived he came by on his bike". He was struck by the union jack flying from the handlebars and said : "It evoked a strange feeling in you. This whole thing about longing and identity was very strong at the time and here is this young kid, just bold, cutting across all those arguments with his bicycle and his flag and I just thought it was so brave and wonderful of him, so I took the photograph". (link)   
                                                                     
He was clearly proud of the fact that the MP David Lammy had used the image projected behind him when he made his inaugural speech when he in Tony Blair's Government and he had used it on his website. He also tweeted it in 2017.  

Vanley added to his qualifications by undertaking a City and Guilds course at the School of photography in Birmingham, but it was a commercial course he didn't well with the teachers who he found to be : "A bit stuck up and into photography in the old traditional way - silver ware and glass ware". 

In 1975 he captured the exuberance of youth in his 'Day Trip to Skegness' and two years later photographed 'African liberation Day in Handsworth Park'.(link)
He recalled : "If you imagine  youngsters coming from the  Caribbean not meeting anyone from another country, only to find other islands and also African countries. We were all tarred with the same brush". He saw the need for self-development being addressed in the 'African-Caribbean Self Help Group' which had arranged for speakers from organisations in Africa like SWAPO and the ANC but also groups in the Caribbean and the U.S.A. He said he shot 10 rolls of film, but he thought the event warranted that and also that no white faces were allowed in the Park that day and the event was lightly policed and there was no trouble. 

At the Liberation Day Procession he also photographed the cyclists at the front and said : "I call this 'Outriders' and it's like policeman in processions : what tends to happen on these occasions there's always a group of young men on bicycles and they always go up and down the crowd and they're able to go into side streets and they'll come back and say : "There is a group of policemen on such and such a street". They would constantly be moving around the crowd. I also like the bicycles. The history of bicycles is there in the picture. We have a chopper. We have another one in the back and we have this cow bicycle and this upside down racer handle. It's all there".

Vanley photographed this in 1977 and liked it "because of the energy and everyone jostling with each other to be at the front of the crowd" and said "I refer to this one as 'The Wild Bunch' and the young guy up front, he told me that this photo changed his life. He said he was up to no good until this point and when he saw the photograph published and on television and whatever, he had a reassessment of his life at it changed him".

As a photographer trying to make his mark, he found the 1970s difficult and said that people's attitude towards him as an artist was that they couldn't understand his work and his work "wasn't well respected". Things changed in 1979 when he won a Kodak Bursary which confirmed that, in his own work, he was doing the right thing, without the aid of a mentor. He took a portfolio of his work and in the interview where saw himself as "a lad from the provinces" who explained : "My photo is not about showing you everything that's there. It's about stimulating this emotion inside you". He said the Bursary was a "validation" of what he was doing and if Kodak said his work was good, then that must have been the case.

Vanley now matched his increasing professionalism as a photographer with his acquisition of a £300 Nikon camera with a standard 50 mm lens, for which his Grandfather vouched for him as the financial guarantor. He became increasingly aware of the problems photographing strangers might create : "You had to be aware of the sensitivity of the people you were photographing because the only time they were being photographed was in confrontation. It would be social services or the police and so I got asked that question so many times : "Who are you working for ?" and "Who sent you to do this ? Why are you doing this ?" Sometimes I'd laugh it off and give them a joke to move on with. Later on I'd take a box of photos and say "This is what I'm trying to do". A lot of the time they said "No".

He said : "I exhibited in pubs, clubs, school halls - everywhere, because I had to educate the people while I was taking photographs. I had to let them know what I was doing to build a profile for someone else to see the work and say : "He's not a threat".(link)

In the notorious Acapulco Café, where he wanted to photograph, the owner had told Vanley : "It's your camera. It's your life" when he was approached by a "big guy wearing a donkey jacket and with steel capped boots" who said to him that if he saw a photograph of himself, even as a baby, he would kill Vanley. "I had every reason to believe that he would do what he said he would, because the Acapulco had that reputation that preceded it" and "So for a little while afterwards I made sure I did scan the horizon before I fixed my camera".

He also cited another case which illustrated the hazards of his career as community photographer in a time of riot : "A photograph was taken of Hazel, a young man with a fire torch in his hand and it was on the front covers of the nationals. That young man subsequently had seven years in prison for arson, two people died. The person who took the photograph left Birmingham and never came back". Vanley commented : "You had to work around that sort of thing".

Of 'Geffery Morgan loves white girls' Vanley said : "I was on my way to taking photographs when I saw this on a wall just off Antrobus Road. I thought it was wonderful, so I took o photograph of it. Now UB 40 used this was the cover of their album 'Geffery Morgan loves white girls'". The album was released in 1984.

In 1985 he photographed the young men on the see saw in Handsworth Park where Vanley was working at the time as a play leader. He recalled : "These were young black lads who, at the time, were neither here nor there. On the one hand they were just growing out of the home - they were experiencing things that their family weren't familiar with and they couldn't explain to their family." He said it was "A representation of their lives then - see-sawing - not quite sure where they will settle". 

In the same year the Handsworth Riots, reported in a compilation of news reports (link), were reportedly sparked by the arrest of a man near the Acapulco Café and a police raid on the Villa Cross public house in the same area. Hundreds of people attacked police and property, looting and smashing, even setting off fire bombs and Vanley captured the aftermath. (link)

Also in the 1980s Vanley said his 'Dismantlers' came about when : "This white guy decided to sell his house to a white family. It was illegal and he was thrown into Winston Green Prison and as a result the National Front came out in support of him and the Anti-Nazi League and other community organisations came out in protest and the police were in the middle. Either they didn't have riot shields or they weren't prepared on that day. They raided the back gardens and used the dustbin lids to protect themselves from all the rocks. If you look on the wall it's called 'The Dismantlers' . There's just some images which are naturally titles". (link)


For his 'Dominoes at the Bulls Head, Lozells Road' in 1988 Vanley said : “You would always see old men wearing a hat. Specifically, a felt hat was the headgear of choice. These guys never believed in just going out, they had to look smart. Each individual saw themselves as an ambassador for the race. So they were very conscious that they needed to look good, almost like you can’t let the side down. But it’s more than that. It’s about taking pride in yourself, which is something they brought with them from Jamaica. That look is a part of their lifestyle and their identity.”

In 2012 Vanley's book, 'By the Rivers of Birminam' was published alongside the opening of an exhibition of his work with the same name. Vanley invited Winford Fagan, the boy with the bike with a flag in 1970 to the Exhibition. Fagan was 50 at the time and Vanley had photographed him at his son's funeral a few years before. He said he chose to take the shot at a low angle because he "wanted him to be isolated from the congregation". He recalled : "His son was shot in gang violence that was taking place in the community and on this occasion his wife is on his right and his brother-in-law on his left". Winford didn't see the photo of himself as a boy until he was in his late thirties. 

In 2008 Vanley captured 'Man at a Funeral, Birchfield' and said : "This man with with his chains and his rings and then when they get in close and look and see that his little badge is actually 'Support Cancer Research' their attitude towards him changed. It's like a rough man like that can't be gentle enough to support cancer". 

For his series 2008 'Murder by Postcode' Vanley said that he : "Would locate the scene and research as much as possible about what happened there and take black and white photographs in the absence of anything visible if a crime scene. Post code defines the gangs". He said he was looking "at areas in Birmingham where youngsters were killed by other youngsters". The postcode was the territory they were fighting over and he named his photographs by that code. Vanley said : "I even got spots of blood on the streets before they cleared it up and blood on door handles. It's just an attempt to read what's happening and rather than be general, sometimes, be specific".

Vanley said : 

"I do love the Community. They piss you off, but I do love them. Some artists use oil. Some use watercolour. Some use wire. Mine are people, that's my material and you have to treat them with respect".

  * * * * * * * 

In grateful acknowledgement to Shirley Read and the 9 hours of oral history interview for the British Library that she carried out with Vanley, over four occasions in 2014, which provided a wealth of insight into Vanley's work and thinking.

Saturday, 7 August 2021

Britain says “Farewell” to one of its Giants of Modern Sculpture, Phillip King


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Phillip, who has died at the age of 87, was born in Tunis, capital of Tunisia, North Africa, in the Spring of 1934, five years before the outbreak of the Second World War. The son of his French Algerian mother, Gabrielle and British father, Thomas, who had started a trading company in the city, given the fact that his mother was French and Tunisia was a French Protectorate, it is not surprising that he grew bilingual. His was a privileged childhood where, at the family home in Khereddine, the residential city in the northern suburbs of Tunis, he would be brought sweetmeats on silver trays, courtesy of Ahmad II, the Bey of Tunis, the Tunisian monarch whose summer palace stood next door. 

He was 8 years old when, in 1942, three years after the outbreak of the War, the city was occupied by French and German Axis troops and was there when it was taken by British and American troops the following year. Phillip made no mention of this, but did recall : "I've always had an interest in materials. It started off with a passion for sand. I was brought up by the sea and used to play around on the beach. If you dug holes in certain spots you could find clay mixed with the sand and I used to make small things out of it". He was five or six at the time and recalled, of his pots and animals : “I even tried to sell them”.  

He attended Saint-Joseph-de-l'Apparition School of Carthage, which was also attended by the future, Italian-Tunisian actress, Claudia Cardinale, of whom Peter said “annoyingly, I can’t remember", which is not surprising, since she was 4 years younger than him. 


He said his mother collected paintings, including one by Albert Marque after he married a friend of her sister’s. "It was a portrait of Algiers. Later, he came to stay with us and there are paintings of his that were made looking out from where we lived. I could recognise the landscape". Years later Phillip would say his work was influenced by Islamic architecture and its use of colour which formed the background to these early years.

He did recall that when the family moved to England in 1946 when he was 12, just after the end of the Second World War : "My father was very nearly shot as a spy, perhaps because he was a spy”. Paul said that he could always draw well, but art was not encouraged at his secondary school which was Mill Hill, a fee paying independent public school for boys in London where, on his own admission, he was more interested in playing rugby rather than becoming proficient in art. However, he admitted : "I also loved literature and was so shaken by reading Camus’s La Peste that I wrote to him via his publisher. It must have been something pretty heartfelt, as Camus responded by sending me a signed copy with a little note saying only that he had been moved by my letter”. 

In 2019 Phillip returned, as a guest speaker and Old Millilian, to the School and awarded a prize to the sixth former who had made the best speech describing an artwork of their choice. Apparently he 'shared memories of his time at Mill Hill Art Department in the 1950s which offered a great perspective on life in 2019'. (link) Phillip joined the School when he was 13 and lived with his parents in the nearby Mill Hill Hotel, because his father didn't wish to buy a house. 

At the age 18 in 1952, he was 'called up' for his two years compulsory National Service in the armed forces and because he was bi-lingual, found himself posted to Paris and recalled : “I could speak French and was supposed to be joining a general’s staff. But when I got there my post had been taken by someone else and so I found myself living this very independent life, with my own flat and a lot of time to explore the city”. 

He got into photography, wrote poetry and even started a novel. He also went to the Louvre where he began to make drawings of the sculptures and said : “I found that, while I could sense there were certain forms within the marble, no matter how hard I looked I couldn’t see them. In those days, there were no invigilators and so you could touch the statues if you wanted, and when I did, I could feel the curves I had sensed. It made me think for the first time about sculpture being the art of the invisible; it was quite a discovery”.

At the age of 20 in 1954 he took up his place as an undergraduate studying Modern Languages at Christ's College, Cambridge, where he added Italian to his language repertoire. However, he had eschewed formal art tuition at university and said : “I wanted to be self-taught, but I was so incompetent, technically speaking”. He received no encouragement for his parents and said : "I wasn’t encouraged to become an artist in any way, and I did it in spite of my father encouraging me to do something else". It was in his second year that he had turned his focus to art and said he "became more and more involved with sculpture. I found a basement in a street near my college and I just started working". He produced a series of small clay works that were exhibited and sold well. He said : “I made £50 having spent £30 to hire a gallery". 

It was 1957 and exhibited at Heffers Gallery in Cambridge. Phillip had seen and admired an exhibition of Anthony Caro’s work at Gimpel Fils and sent him an invitation to view his work and included a train ticket to Cambridge. Ten years his senior, as a sculptor, he was already having some international success and was credited with the significant innovation of removing his sculpture from its plinth. Then, sitting it directly on the floor, he removed a barrier between the work and the viewer, who was invited to approach and interact with the sculpture from all sides. It was almost certainly Anthony who was instrumental in Phillip joining St. Martin's School of Art for a year as a student, after graduating from Cambridge in 1957. Anthony had been teaching the students there for four years and was already busy inspiring a younger generation of British abstract sculptors.

On arrival at St Martin's Phillip recalled  : "The drawing classes were very full, but the sculpture classes were empty, so I joined them instead and rediscovered working with clay. After a couple of weeks I decided I didn't want to go to class anymore, but wanted to be on my own. I found a cheap basement that I could use as a studio and the first thing I did was to get hold of some clay. I eventually managed to find a local company that made pipes for sewers and got a dark, black clay from them. To help me feel comfortable in my new place I thought I would have a sandpit. I made a wooden frame in the corner and put a few bags of sand in. It was a comforting thing to have but I never did anything with sand until many years later". 

Still enrolled as a student Philip said : “All the talk in the pub with my friends was about painters. I thought people like Rothko and Pollock were using a kind of physicality as part of the making process, but there didn’t seem to be anything in sculpture that resembled that kind of adventure”. 

He saw that these abstract impressionists were revolutionizing art in the United States and said : "They were doing things in painting that left sculpture behind".

After his year at St Martin's, Phillip followed in the footsteps of Anthony and worked as one of the assistants of Henry Moore, during which time his own work still remained firmly rooted in the  figurative tradition. In 1959 he visited the 'Documenta II Exhibition' in Kassel, Germany and the sculpture of Constantin Brâncuși, who Phillip was to call an early “idol”. He had died in France at the age of 81 in the year Phillip joined St Martins and was being hailed as the Patriarch of Modern Sculpture and had said : "There are idiots who define my work as abstract; yet what they call abstract is what is most realistic. What is real is not the appearance, but the idea, the essence of things".

Phillip's role as an assistant to Moore came to an end in 1960 and having been awarded the 'Boise Scholarship', had travelled to Greece to study ancient sculpture and architecture. If his visit to the Louvre had been his first apocryphal moment, Greece was to be his second. He said that as a result of the visit : “Brâncuși made sense. Brâncuși had discovered the pileup, physically putting one thing on top of another. What really struck me in Greece was the way the Parthenon rooted itself into the landscape. My later reluctance to see abstraction as something worthwhile was to do with it being cerebral and not from nature. Greece allowed me to rediscover how things can be of the mind but also of nature, and the idea of using gravity as a way to make things stand up”.

On his return to Britain he said he : "Put to one side everything I had done before" and destroyed all the work then in his studio, including the Matisse-like nudes and started afresh, giving his workspace a general clean-up and symbolic coat of white paint. He began a series of drawings, the results of which included two seminal sculptures, his concrete 'Window Piece' and concrete and steel 'Declaration' in 1961. 

He later said : "I had to get special tools for Declaration because it was made of green-coloured concrete and marble chippings. I called it Declaration because in a sense it was a manifesto piece for me. I suddenly established new ideas about fundamental forms and sculpture being off the pedestal and extending on the ground and stretching out. I was also interested in repetition and symmetry"

Tim Hilton, art critic of the Guardian, has suggested that 'Declaration' with its neat, symmetrical row of  circle/square/cross/cross/ square/circle, was  probably the first time in British sculpture that repetition of non-organic forms has served as a principle of the sculpture’s composition’. The Deputy Head of The Courtauld Gallery, Barnaby Wright, said that, for Phillip, this period 'opened the possibility of using abstraction to explore the experience of man's place within nature without trying to convey that experience by imitating natural appearances'.  

As the 1960s unfolded, Philip became an influential member of the British sculptural group, known as the 'New Generation', which was experimenting across a variety of colour, material and form with the aim to rid the medium of its traditional connotations. He began working with fibreglass in 1962, crafting his famous 'Rosebud' and said : “From Brâncuși I was thinking about adding one thing to another as a way to make things stand up, and when leaning two leaves against each other I came up with the cone shape”

"When I first started making sculpture, the 'truth to materials' notion of the 1950s, which Henry Moore had quite a lot to do with, was an anathema to someone of the 1960s like me. I was anti-material in a sense and that is what attracted me to fibreglass. I was one of the first people to use it as a material in itself. Most previous fibreglass work had used moulding techniques : you took a female mould of a form that you'd already made in some other material, put the fibreglass in and came up with a positive". Working directly with fibreglass Phillip "would make a male mould and build something - Rosebud, for instance - around it. I made a cone out of linoleum and I tried to put fibreglass directly on top but it started to collapse. I strengthened it with plaster and then added the fibreglass directly and sanded it down". 

'Rosebud' was his first painted sculpture, he said : "The whole idea was to colour it. I wanted an almost painterly finish - originally it had brush marks in pink, with a deeper red showing through. It was a quality I wanted to pick up from painting, but it didn't really work and I abandoned it. In the end I used an acrylic finish to get a smooth, matt surface. The idea was to suggest that the surface itself was coloured - that it had a total skin, equivalent to the surface underneath it". 

His 'Tra-La-La' in 1963, used brightly coloured plastic and in the same year his colourful, cone-based 'Twilight' used plastic, wood and aluminum. 

This was followed in 1964 by 'Genghis Khan'. When he titled the piece, he was originally thinking of Coleridge’s poem, 'Kubla Khan' and its opening lines : 'In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree/Where Alph the sacred river ran/Through caverns measureless to man/Down to a sunless sea'. The title led some to see the sculpture as anthropomorphic and possibly a helmeted warrior? Apparently, when it was displayed in the grounds of a gallery in Germany, and the police were called after complaints that someone was camping in the woods.


Phillip recalled his meeting David Smith the American abstract expressionist sculptor and painter, best known for creating large steel abstract geometric sculptures. : "In 1964 I went to the States and I taught for a year at Bennington, where I made 'And the Birds Began to Sing'. It was in fibreglass to start with, and then David Smith said to me "Whatever you do in fibreglass you can do just as well in steel". When I got back to this country, as a sort of experiment I went to Aeromet, a fabricator that Caro used, and they made 'And the Birds Began to Sing' in sheet steel." It was his fourth cone sculpture and related to the nursery rhyme, “Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie . . . and when the pie was opened, the birds began to sing”. Unlike 'Genghis Khan', Phillip titled it after it was  finished. 

Following the 'New Generation' show at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1966, both Anthony Caro and Phillip were included in the seminal 1966 exhibition, 'Primary Structures' at the Jewish Museum in New York representing the British influence on the 'New Art'. In his three large works of 1967, 'Span', 'Call' and 'Blue Blaze', he used separate forms disposed over a certain floor area as  components of one sculpture. None of these pieces was conceived from the start as a whole with so many component parts; each started from one or two forms which were added to until the space "read’’ the way Phillip wanted it to read. 

This was followed in 1968, with Phillip having both his fibre glass and brightly painted steel pieces, exhibited at the Venice Biennale. It was a time of student revolution all over the West, and when he left a Venice where there were troops in St Mark’s Square, he returned to an equally febrile atmosphere in London. Back at St Martin's he and Caro had long operated an informal 'hard-cop', 'soft-cop' system of dealing with the emerging generation of artists such as Richard Long and Gilbert and George, who had little time for conventional sculpture. Phillip was the 'soft cop', always trying to find something positive to say, and Long has spoken about him being one of the more sympathetic tutors at St Martin's.

Philip recalled : “The 60s were a very exciting time, but also very fraught. At St Martin's in '68 and '69, people were questioning everything so much that you couldn’t really be a teacher. That was good in a way and eventually gave rise to new artists who were very independent and anti-authority”. For Phillip, born of the pre-War 1930s generation, there was a gulf between him and the post-War 1940s baby boomers who were now his students. For him, only in his mid-30s, there was a feeling that he had become part of  'The Establishment' and “might be sidelined at any minute. The idea of the avant garde became worrisome – the notion that you could do something new, and that it would eventually be upgraded, didn’t make sense any more”.

With the coming of a new decade Phillip moved in a new direction and recalled : "At the beginning of the 1970s the idea of working with a material other than steel began to be attractive. There was some demolition work going on next door and I made some brick pieces, started using steel mesh with brick, and then when they demolished the roof I started using slate and steel. I wanted to work in slate in a big way, so I went to Wales and found a quarry. I lived in a caravan for a while, working in the quarry, putting things together and collecting bits and pieces. Eventually, myself and half a dozen students loaded about 20 tons of slate on to a truck and brought it to my studio, and that was my stock. Later on I bought a stock of elm".  

In 1978 his resulting exhibit at the Tate Gallery titled 'Within', was made from thirty-two pieces of slate, steel and elmwood fixed together by bolting, glueing and welding. Phillip compared his approach to the carver's methods of making sculpture - revealing something that is already there, like discovering a possible construction from within the material. ‘Within’ was assembled at Phillip's Bedfordshire studio. He worked by selecting pieces from a pool of material in and around the studio and then altering and reshaping the pieces as he was working. His approach was improvisatory with he and his assistant trying out a number of possibilities for the placement and fixing of each element. He tried to make the active process as short as possible and the time in between, the time for thinking as long, at no point was it a preconceived process, but one that proceeded by trial and error.

Phillip said that in 1981 : "I began Shogun with a round steel ball, which I picked up - actually, I nicked it - from the roadside. It was lying about after being used for demolishing buildings. It weighed about 300 pounds, but with an assistant I managed to get it on to the back of the van. It was in the studio for years and then one day I used it in 'Shogun'. I bent the steel around it and started doing this and that. I more or less finished the sculpture, but I knew there was something wrong, though I didn't know what. Eventually it occurred to me that I had to get rid of the steel ball, and it suddenly clicked. It was a hard thing to do, because the ball was the inspiration that got me going and I ended up throwing out the found object". 

In 1984 personal tragedy struck when his 19 year old son, Antony, drowned while swimming in the Mediterranean. He had been born eight years after Phillip's marriage at the age of 23, in 1957, to Lilian Odelle. The news was brought to him as he worked with a group of students by the Thames and this, coupled with the fact that his Dunstable studio burned to the ground and he lost his workplace, all his materials and much finished or half-finished sculpture, must have had a profound effect on him. "Sometimes" he told friend, he had "a private religion" and he became less productive and his work became more figurative, as in 'It’s a Swell Day for Stormy Petrels' made after a visit to a New Zealand inland sea. He also made realistic elements in his 'Sun, Bird, Worm, House', a small bronze with a sun-like orb, a stylized bird, a wiggling brown worm and an upside-down house. 

At the age of 56 in 1990 Phillip became Professor Emeritus of the Royal College and was made  President of the Royal Academy of Art for what would be a 5 year tenure and presumably declined the knighthood which traditionally accompanied the position. He took over at a time when the Academy was facing financial trouble and later said it distracted him from his work : “There was work pressure, health pressure and academy pressure. It did affect my productivity, and for a time I was only producing about one new work a year. But I always felt as an artist it was too easy to stay in your ivory tower, and I fought against that, not least by teaching, but also by taking on public roles”.

Phillip provided some insight into his thinking when he recalled that in the summer of 1991 : "I learned how to make poodles out of balloons - I saw a guy doing it at a fair in France. He could do a poodle in about 15 seconds flat; it took me about three minutes. Translating that on to a gigantic scale is an absurd thing to do, yet it has a resonance in its absurdity. I don't know whether it's the object itself that has the magic, or the idea of an ephemeral thing turned into a vast enterprise, but I liked it".

In 1992 William Feaver, art critic in 'The Observer' wrote that Phillip : 'is the one sculptor of his generation prepared to jettison what he has proved himself good at in order to explore what cannot be programmed'. Phillip validated this the following year when he turned unexpectedly to Japan and ceramics and two years later made the powerful unglazed, vessel-themed works. Phillip said : "If something is new in my work and developing I know it instinctively, if it doesn’t obey the rules I usually follow. If it breaks fresh ground in some way, it’s exciting. I mean, I call sculpture the art of the invisible – because it’s below the surface, you can’t see what’s going on. The sculptor is the one who has to understand the inside".

Phillip's 'Darwin' was a painted steel work completed in 2010 and commissioned by the University of Cambridge on the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth in 1809. It comprised of an 8-foot square in magenta which represented a window with an open shutter, reminiscent of his 'Window Piece' from 1961. The work contained themes and shapes that had recurred in his body of work over the previous 50 years. The circle, he explained, represented the moment of conception of an idea, while the triangle was “the dynamics of it, Darwin himself, in this case” and “The window is the way in which things then move out into the world”.

In 2013 Phillip was interviewed at his 'Une exposition du Consortium / Centre d’art contemporain à Dijon Commissariat (link) and a year later, at the age of 80, he said that he still thought "about sculpture all the time” and was in a “constant state of keeping an eye open for things that might be a trigger” and at that time a broken children’s toy found on the pavement featured in another new piece he was working on. 

In 2014, in his studio he was filmed assembling, with the help of his assistants, his unit, 'Recoil', which was due to be exhibited at the Tate Gallery. (link)

He said :
  "I'm really pleased with it. It's got a real dynamism, that's why I call it 'Recoil'. It has things going one way and things going the other way - push and pull - the kind of release from gravity, as it were. I have to cope with gravity and play with it and go with it and go against it and so on. So it's all about that".

Phillip said that although in the past he was : “scared of the blank page, I’ve learned that something will always turn up. The idea that you "go for a walk", as Klee said a long time ago, is a good one. And it doesn’t matter if you sometimes find your road blocked, or you go down a blind alley. The detours are all part of the journey”.

"If something is new in my work and developing I know it instinctively, if it doesn’t obey the rules I usually follow. If it breaks fresh ground in some way, it’s exciting. I mean, I call sculpture the art of the invisible – because it’s below the surface, you can’t see what’s going on. The sculptor is the one who has to understand the inside".

Phillip's legacy.