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Liverpool-born artist, Tony Phillips, launches new exhibition at the Bluecoat exploring human desires and failures

Tony Phillips: 12 Decades
9 June – 29 August

As part of a new exhibition, Tony Phillips is presenting his etching series 12 Decades at the Bluecoat, which continues a survey of modern history that has occupied him over the last 40 years. It complements a new installation, 20th Century Chapel that he is currently working on for Liverpool’s ‘Bombed Out Church’, St. Luke’s, and a proposed pedestrian trail of public artworks between Bluecoat and the church, which were both badly damaged in the Second World War.

The sequence of 12 etchings at the Bluecoat narrates key events and man-made phenomena from 1900 to the present, from the pioneering inventions that heralded the modern age to the mass-production and consumerism that characterise life today. The focus is on the nature of technological progress evinced by our age-old aspiration to fly, starting with an image of the first powered flight (1903), and proceeding through the decades into the modern era of supersonic jet fighters and drones.

In his work, Tony Phillips places emphasis on the contradictions between the potential of technological advancement and the reality of our progress: 

“The wonderful scientific inventions that drove the optimism of the dawn of the twentieth century, combined with revolutions in the world of art, painted a hopeful picture for mankind in the coming modern age. Two world wars, nuclear bombs, and increasing inequality testify to the woeful contradiction between the potential of technological advancement and the material conditions of the majority of people on the planet.”

While the etchings follow a tradition of graphic narrative documenting human desires and failures, St Luke’s chapel is presented as a surviving relic of the modern age. The public is invited to contemplate these themes in the light of both an art gallery space and the commemorative monument to human tragedy represented by the Bombed Out Church. 

The two venues will eventually be connected by a public art trail of painted plaques that the artist is developing, to be mounted on buildings in Bold Street and the Ropewalks district. The trail will lead the viewer from a traditional gallery setting, through the streets, to the ruined church, becoming the real-life testimony of the story told in the artworks – from art to reality. 

Tony Phillips describes 12 Decades

“The work is a development of images which have occupied me since the 1980s, and is an attempt to condense some of the essential ingredients that characterise the age in which we live – from 1900 to the present day”.

Bluecoat’s Director of Cultural Legacies, Bryan Biggs says:

“We are pleased to welcome Tony back to the city of his birth. His work continues to engage with historical subjects on a grand scale and we look forward to the new collection with its theme of aviation across twelve decades. For the exhibition, we have put together an archival display about his long association with Bluecoat, and themes in his work that include jazz, the city and the Benin Bronzes”.

The project is presented as an independent project during the 2021 Liverpool Biennial. It is supported by Arts Council England.

Born in Liverpool and now living in Italy, Tony Phillips has a long association with Bluecoat, exhibiting in group exhibition Black Art: Plotting the Course (1989), curated by Eddie Chambers, which brought together the work of 27 artists of African or Asian origin working in the UK; the etching series, Jazz (1993); and a solo show, The City (1994) that focused on three cities the artist was familiar with, London, Paris and Liverpool.  

To ensure visitors’ safety a timed ticketing system is in place, advance booking is to visit the cafe, gallery and garden. Tickets are available for 1 hour slots: