The object of art is not to reproduce reality, but to create a reality of the same intensity.
- Alberto Giacometti
Making a living as an artist in 1970s Guyana was extremely difficult. Tony Phillips recalls, “private and commercial art galleries were non-existent … so artists relied on their reputation and verbal recommendations for the sale of works.” He says, “Other than being an art teacher at one of the secondary schools, the opportunities were limited for artists.”
Despite the difficulties, Phillips was a well-known and highly respected artist. His reputation led to a career-altering opportunity. The British owned and operated Barclays Bank DCO in Georgetown, Guyana was undergoing renovation. The architect in charge of the project, Hugh McGregor Reid commissioned Phillips to “enliven” the bank’s interior dome by creating a painting “of relevance and suitable subject matter.” The mural was conceived to beautify the building, educate the public, and honour those of distinction within Guyanese history.
Phillips quickly realised that he required assistance. So, he asked fellow Guyanese artist Stanley Greeves to join him. Phillips and Greeves chose “eight historical characters from varying eras of Guyana’s history.” Together they completed The Builders in 1974.
Reflecting on this project, Phillips comments that receiving the contract and successfully completing the mural has been one of the highlights of his career. On a personal level, he is heartened by the fact that the mural “is guaranteed to stand up for 100 years for many generations to enjoy including [his] own children.”
Once The Builders was completed, Phillips was commissioned to do another large scale piece, entitled the Miracle of Demeter – a tribute to King Sugar. At the end of this project, he moved his young family from Guyana to Australia.
Phillips’ paintings consist of figurative studies, portraits, floral subjects, and nostalgic drawings of Guyana.
To date, he is the only painter ever invited to exhibit at Australia’s largest national orchid show. In 2012, his painting, The Floral Double Pink Rose received an award in the category of best “professional artist”.
Phillips is inspired by nature as evidenced by the above painting. He meticulously represents the delicacy, complexity, and strength of the petals.
As a realist, he is also inspired by the works of Peter Paul Rubens, Jacques-Louis David, and Francisco de Goya. Aside from nature, his subject matter includes people, places, and historical events.
Phillips’ artistic accomplishments are many and varied. He is an award winning painter, a designer, a manufacturer of art equipment, and a soon to be author. Currently, he is writing a book on his first major commission tentatively titled, The Dome.