Philip Reeves 1931-2017

Philip Reeves was a major part of the rising popularity of British art, particularly printmaking, in the twentieth century.


The son of Bert Reeves, a printer and proofreader, and his wife, Lillian (nee Langford), Philip was one of twin boys born in Cheltenham in 1931. He went to school locally, then trained at Cheltenham School of Art and the Royal College of Art, London (RCA), after undertaking national service as part of the 8th Royal Tank Regiment. Posted to North Africa, he always had a sketchbook to hand at the camp near Tripoli, Libya.


In 1954, Reeves was both appointed Lecturer at Glasgow School of Art and elected as an Associate of the Royal Society of Painter Etchers. When he started out as a lecturer, an original print was considered an adjunct to the decorative arts. Book illustration, in the tradition of Rembrandt and Whistler, was as high as etching or wood engraving might aim. Philip learned this craft as a student at the RCA, but by the 60s he was aware that prints had taken on a significant new role equal to painting itself, and that his students had to be made aware of this.


His own prints grew larger and more ambitious. Their apparent simplicity, or economy of statement, was subtler than one might guess. They were also related closely to collage and assemblage. Philip challenged the conventional rectangular format of the printed image, inking up metal scraps and back-street “found objects” and putting them rather dangerously through the presses. The resulting images were fresh and unexpected.


Philip’s work developed so that there was less emphasis on the printed image and more on collage. In his small studio in Glasgow, apparently unrelated fragments – discarded scraps, old envelopes and corrugated cardboard – were transformed into a new significance. He was no realist, but his abstractions related to specific experiences or places. He was quite clear about this and expected his “viewers” to see with his eyes.


Although landscape figured often, Philip was just as much inspired by the city, its high rises, car parks, street furniture and bridges as by rural hills, the West Highland Way or Caithness shoreline. There are times when a minimal abstraction takes over entirely, exploring geometries and structures for their own sake. Given his emphasis on the self-sufficiency of such subject matter, the opulence of his love of pure colour can seem surprising and stimulating.


He rose to become Head of the Printmaking Department of Glasgow School of Art in 1970, continuing in this post until 1991. Reeves was also the President of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolours 1998 to 2005. He was a Founder member of both the Edinburgh Printmakers' Workshop and the Glasgow Print Studio.

Reeves work had been part of an extensive programme of solo and group exhibitions in Britain and abroad. He is represented in public and private collections throughout Scotland, among them Aberdeen Art Gallery, Lillie Art Gallery, Glasgow School of Art, the Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow and Paisley Museum and Art Galleries, and in collections in Canada, Denmark, England, France, Norway and the USA. In 2015, a monograph on Reeves was published by Lund Humphries, written by Christopher Andreae.