Walter J. Phillips

About the Artist

The student's ambition should be to become a painter's painter, rather than a popular painter. The approbation of fellow artists based on sympathy and understanding is manifestly better than the fickle or fast homage of the greater public. --attributed to Walter J. Phillips, source unknown

Walter J. Phillips was born in 1884, in Barton-on-Humber, Great Britain. His father, a church minister, frowned upon young Walter’s love of drawing, but young Walter nevertheless received encouragement from his mother. Walter began to attend evening classes in art at the Municipal School of Art and Science in Burton-on-Trent, and his focus on his artistic pursuits became ever sharper.  At only fourteen, he won a scholarship for mathematics and spent the money on art classes!

Phillips eventually left England for South Africa, when an uncle of Walter’s suggested he might find work there. He returned to England after a few years, working as a  commercialPertaining to making money, i.e., creating art in order to sell it, rather than creating art for purely aesthetic purposes.  artist (similar to what we now refer to as a “graphic designer”). He began exhibiting his paintings in England shortly before moving to Winnipeg, Manitoba.

In Canada, Phillips continued to paint and also expanded his practice to print-making, first through the  mediumAny material and technique used to produce a work of art (paint, glass, clay, fibre, video, sound, etc.). It may also refer to the liquid with which powdered pigments are mixed to make paint. Note that the plural form of “medium” is “media.”  of  etchingAn intaglio printing process in which an etching needle is used to draw into a wax ground applied over a metal plate. The plate is then submerged in a series of acid baths, each biting into the metal surface only where unprotected by the ground. The ground is removed, ink is forced into the etched depressions, the unetched surfaces wiped, and an impression is printed. Also, both the design etched on a plate and an impression made from an etched plate. Too often confused with engraving. (Artlex.com)  and later (and most successfully) through  woodcutA print made by cutting a design in side-grain of a block of wood, also called a woodblock print. The ink is transferred from the raised surfaces to paper. (Artlex.com)  printing. This new way of imaging brought a new  styleA way of doing something. Use of materials, methods of working, design qualities and choice of subject matter reflect the style of the individual, culture, movement, or time period.  to Phillips’ work; it was during the height of  art nouveauFrench for "The New Art." An international art movement and style of decoration and architecture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, characterized particularly by the curvilinear depiction of leaves and flowers, often in the form of vines. These might also be described as foliate forms, with sinuous lines, and non-geometric, "whiplash" curves. Gustav Klimt (Austrian, 1862-1918), Alphonse Mucha (Czechoslovakian, 1860-1939), Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1861-1901), Aubrey Beardsley (English, 1872-1898), Antonio Gaudí (Spanish, 1852-1926), and Hector Guimard (French, 1867-1942) were among the most prominent artists associated with this style. The roots of Art Nouveau go back to Romanticism, Symbolism, the English Arts and Crafts Movement and William Morris (English, 1834-1896). In America, it inspired, among others, Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933). The name is derived from "La Maison de l'Art Nouveau," a gallery for interior design that opened in Paris in 1896. Art Nouveau is known in Germany as Jugenstil and in England as Yellow Book Style, and epitomizes what is sometimes called fin de siècle style. It reached the peak of its popularity around 1900, only to be gradually overtaken by art deco and other modernist styles. (Artlex.com)  that Phillips found a visual voice similar to the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha, but with his own English-Canadian sensibility. As is often the case with early printmaking, the switch from  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  to printmaking narrowed the number of colours Phillips could reasonably incorporate into each image, forcing the artist to place greater emphasis on line, shape, and  compositionArrangements of elements in a work of art.  in his work. The result is his best-known work: his graphically-inspired, flattened but still vibrant  woodcutA print made by cutting a design in side-grain of a block of wood, also called a woodblock print. The ink is transferred from the raised surfaces to paper. (Artlex.com)  prints. Phillips published a book on his  techniqueAny method of working with art materials to produce an art object. Often implied is the sense that techniques are carefully studied, exacting, or traditional, but this is not necessarily the case. Examples include basketry, blotting, carving, constructing, découpage, embossing, encaustic, exquisite corpse, firing, folding, hatching, kerning, laminating, marbling, modeling, necking. (artlex.com)   in 1926, called The Technique of the  ColourProduced by light of various wavelengths, and when light strikes an object and reflects back to the eyes. Colour is an element of art with three properties: (1) hue or tint, the colour name, e.g., red, yellow, blue, etc.: (2) intensity, the purity and strength of a colour, e.g., bright red or dull red; and (3) value, the lightness or darkness of a colour. When the spectrum is organized as a color wheel, the colours are divided into groups called primary, secondary and intermediate (or tertiary) colours; analogous and complementary, and also as warm and cool colours. Colours can be objectively described as saturated, clear, cool, warm, deep, subdued, grayed, tawny, mat, glossy, monochrome, multicolored, particolored, variegated, or polychromed. Some words used to describe colours are more subjective (subject to personal opinion or taste), such as: exciting, sweet, saccharine, brash, garish, ugly, beautiful, cute, fashionable, pretty, and sublime. Sometimes people speak of colours when they are actually refering to pigments, what they are made of (various natural or synthetic substances), their relative permanence, etc. (Artlex.com)  Woodcut.

Phillips worked and lived in other Canadian regions after Winnipeg, including Calgary and Banff, Alberta, and the West Coast. Landscape continued to play a primary role in his images, which follow a distinct progression from the prairie fields of Manitoba, through the mountainous forests of Banff, to the open waters of Victoria, British Columbia, where Phillips passed away in 1963. After his cremation, his ashes were scattered among the Rocky Mountains.

rocky mountains

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning