The English painter and composer Tom Phillips was born in London. After reading English at Oxford University (1957 - 60) he studied painting at Camberwell School of Art with Frank Auerbach (1961 - 4). He taught art history at Ipswich School of Art (1965 - 6), painting at the Bath Academy of Art (1966 - 7), and then taught at Wolver-hampton College of Art (1967 - 70). He has also been an instructor at the Royal College of Art and at the Slade School of Fine Art (1975).
Most of Phillips imagery is derived from specially selected color postcards which he interprets in paintings made according to a preconceived program which combines figuration and abstraction. Since 1969 the paintings have included color catalogs of all the colors used in their making, painted in lines around the image, for example, Benches (1970 - 1; Tate Gallery, London). Other independent paintings called Terminal Greys are made from mixtures of colors used. A major series of paintings made between 1971 and 1975 reconstructs a wall of paintings shown in an old museum postcard. Since 1972 some of the paintings have been politically motivated by subjects like apartheid.
From 1966 Phillips has created many works, including paintings, prints, and an opera and ballet scenario from the pages of an obscure English novel, A Human Document (1892) by W. H. Mallock. Their collective title, A Humument, is also the title of a book published in 1980 in which every page of the novel has been painted over to produce a blend of painting and poetry.