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"A RARE SYNTHESIS OF TWO WORKING, LIVING GENIUSES": PHILIP SMITH'S SPECTACULAR TRIPTYCH DESIGN ON ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ARTIST'S BOOKS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY.
Philip Smith first developed the concept of the "book wall" in the late 1960s, with images on each volume flowing on to the covers of the adjacent books, but at the same time forming integral individual images. His versions of Lord of the Rings are the best known examples: in 1973, he and Tolkien were invited at the Craftsman's Art Exhibition to present a set to the Duke of Edinburgh, and in 2003 a monumental wall of 21 volumes was sold at auction for £130,000. The design for the Dante tower structure was drawn up in 1984, but work on the first volume was only begun properly in 1991. Three years later it was completed and exhibited at the British Library. The remaining two volumes were designed in 1999 and completed a year later. The work can be displayed in three separate volumes, or erected vertically to form a contiguous tower using an elaborate three-part perspex case (all parts and instructions supplied).
"It is to my mind a rare synthesis of two working, living geniuses giving visual form to a remarkable poem... This extraordinary work is unique in vision and skill... I believe their like will never be equalled" (Timothy C. Ely, in 'Designer Bookbinders newsletter', no. 185, Spring 2019). For his illustration and for providing a new translation of the Inferno, Phillips received the Frances Williams Memorial Prize in 1983, the LA Times writing "there is no doubt that Tom Phillips has captured Dante for our time".
Exhibited: British Library 1994; Designer Bookbinding 2000-2001.