"Today I sent my first post cards--they are capital things, simple, useful, and handy. A happy invention". This prescient diary entry for 4 October, 1870 came three days after the Post Office Act legalised the sale of the first postcards, a form that would survive even the advent of email more than a century later. It would remain reliably constant, while in its small, rectangular way illustrating a century of human achievement. Occasionally enigmatic, sometimes passionate and frequently banal messages collectively narrate an intimate social history, usually expressed through a faithful, haiku-like formula--greeting, weather, health of writer, inquiry as to health of correspondent, and goodbye. While aviation, advertising, cars, wars, fashion, politics and ethnicity provide leitmotifs
, Royal Academician Tom Phillips, whose own prolific art has recurrently embraced quintessential English mores, astutely celebrates the marriage of the democratic language of mundanity and the imagery of the monumental. From cards sent during the Blitz by senders more preoccupied by the rain than by the falling bombs, to Donald McGill's timelessly saucy ribaldry, the medium spans and connects a century it seems unlikely to outlast for too long.
Each year has four pages, the first of which shows a full-size reproduction, plus a brace of cards depicting Piccadilly Circus and New York (unconsciously echoing the publisher's name). The passage of time sees cards come from further afield, passing into gaudy Technicolor, and then the modern photographic image, but while the emblematic New York skyline glitters with an increasingly towering swagger, by 1999 its London counterpart is still a red Routemaster bus, perhaps a suitable reflection of respective self-worth. Phillips curates with a keen eye, on and within the card, ensuring no scrap of detail goes unnoticed in his pleasurably digressive notations, and, like photographer Martin Parr (a fellow collector who also relishes grubbing around at dusty fairs), he is compelled by a complicated affection. In the same vein as Parr's Boring Postcards, it re-affirms an underrated, rich medium of the vernacular, as well as Phillips' position as one of Britain's most versatile artists. --David Vincent