Books about colour woodcut or linocut artists are becoming something of a cottage industry this year. Leonard Beaumont, Sidney Lee and Eric Slater are now joined by Walter Phillips from Pomegranate Press in Portland, Oregon. It is more of an appreciation than a scholarly work, with contributions from two of Phillips descendants, and a longer piece by the Cornell Arts & Crafts scholar, Nancy E Green. She goes over the life, adding details I had not come across before, and looking at his work as an artist making colour woodcuts (139 of them), watercolours, wood-engravings and etchings.
Yes, he was as prolific as he was determined. He also did not start making colour woodcut until about 1916, so the number he made is remarkable, especially given the high standards he set himself. The book itself is mildly disappointing. There are a lot of images, all in colour, but somehow not quite right. The selection lacks the impact of Phillips at his best. He was a rather self-contained man, making a lot of striking but self-contained images. (The ones you see here and not necessarily in the book, although The Chinese Coat is). He used his children frequently as models (and also presumably his wife, Gladys) but the book doesn't say who his subjects are. Nor does Nancy Green talk about Phillip's country in Manitoba (along Red River), and then later Alert Bay in British Columbia.
There are mistakes in the book - worse, they are other people's mistakes, which could easily have been avoided by reading the actual documents. Getting gallery names in London wrong is the kind of thing a scholar shouldn't do, but that Nancy Green has made a core subject. Perhap the problem is that the ground has already been covered more than once. A biography appeared during Phillip's lifetime, which is the main source for a lot of what we know about his life, and there were also books about him in 1978 and 1981. But this is the first to be made widely available by a publisher and is a must for your bookcase.
I was hoping for more about his return to Britain in the mid twenties and the artists that he met. It was a crucial time for Phillips. It was where Urushibara handed over his know-how, and he gained the expertise that gave his prints the perfection that people pay so much for. I opened the package with anticipation, but what comes over here is a lack of fresh research, the sort of thing you look for in a new book about an artist. But it isn't that kind of a book and, for all its handsome American exterior and uncluttered layout, it's all a touch dull and been there. Even so, at £13.52 on Amazon, (which is what I paid) or an ebay, it's a book you ought to own. Just apply the plastic.