Tony Phillips Art Trail Map
Tony's art trail, 'Above us only sky?', probes the development of the modern airplane through various historical events from 1903 to the present day. Throughout the trail, each hand-painted panel follows the history and glorification of flight, designed in comparable ways to ancient religious relics and god-like icons. This aesthetic and technique represents humanity's obsession with technology.
The trail begins at the Bluecoat Gallery on School Lane, following up to the Bombed Out Church on Leece Street and back again. The Bombed Out Church acts as a standing example of the damage human use of flight technology has done to society. Tony also has an exhibition on inside the Bombed Out Church named '20th Century Chapel'. More information regarding exhibition opening times can be found here.
Follow Tony's map below using the purple arrows to guide you. Make sure to click each location to discover more information regarding each plaque you find!
Location 1: Bluecoat Courtyard
'The first plaque of the trail is based on the famous Wright Brothers who supposedly pioneered the first controlled powered flight in 1903. During the course of my research, I discovered that there is some controversy surrounding this topic because the Brazilians claim that their early aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont led a powered flight before the Wright Brothers did. Many also contend that the Wright Brother’s first flight actually had assisted take off (although according to the dominant history it didn’t).
The plaque itself is one of two that refer to flight in its overall human context. In other words, this plaque relates to man’s dream of conquering the air. This is why I included two human figures within the image, an adult male and a young girl both of whom are cheering. This is a nod to a famous photograph of the Wright Brothers first flight, in which there’s two people throwing their hands up and waving their hats. That moment seems to capture the elation people felt towards the first flight.'
1. Title: First Powered flight (Wright Brothers ),1903.
Location 2: Lyceum, Bold Street
'This plaque is based on Louis Blériot, a famous French pioneer who came to fame not just because he flew a lot in his lifetime, but because he won a contest hosted by the Daily Mail Newspaper which involved him flying across the English channel in the quickest time ever recorded.
I included the Eiffel Tower in this plaque because in those days, Paris was a central location for the arts and technological innovation. For example, Dumont the Brazilian aviator also lived in France and did a lot of his own experiments there.
Cubist style French painter from the early 1900's Robert Delaunay also included a lot of aviation and Eiffel Tower imagery within his paintings. So, that may have been at the back of my mind when creating this piece too.'
Title: Bleriot, Paris (aviation pioneer),1911 (left side).
3. Title: 'Red Baron', (1st World War), 1918 (right side).
'This painting is based on a German WWI fighter pilot, nicknamed 'The Red Baron' for his military prowess and his bright red plane.
Even though it’s a negative image, it also conjures up the romance of battle in the air and the sense of adventure that surrounded flight at the time. It’s a very macho and military image.
The Red Baron is symbolically courageous but an anti-hero in some ways. He has been romanticised as a hero when in reality it was the opposite. Below the plane is a very bleak image of the trenches, black smoke and the pilot with his white face could even be interpreted as the figure of death.'
4. Title: US Navy sea plane, 1920's (middle).
*AWAITING PERMISSION FOR INSTALLATION*
'A typical example of what I discovered when researching the range of planes for my exhibition was how many aspects of human life they began to address. This plaque simply highlights the fact that as early as the 1920's, we made planes that could take off and land on water. This changed the nature of the plane itself.
This is an example of an early airplane absorbing technology in order to address all social needs including the need to engage in naval practices.
As it happens this theme is again related to the armed forces. But, sea planes were used for all sorts of things. I find it to be an interesting shape and I actually painted it in the same colour as the sea, the plaque itself showing the plane reflecting the blue-green of the waves.'
Location 3: Resurrection, Bold Street
'This plaque is based on very typical poster from the 1920's. It expresses ideas surrounding the ability to experience the exotic for yourself, something which was once limited only to rich adventurers.
In this modern age, you could now go to exotic places hence why I've pictured the plane flying over the pyramids and palm trees. The strongest thing about this poster is that it reflects the elation of the first plaque and highlights the freedom that flight gave us.
The dichotomy of human progress isn’t necessarily visible in this plaque. It's more straightforward and about following your dreams (if you had enough money to do so).
With these initial inventions, no one was necessarily thinking about global problems and the destruction that they could cause. These discussions only really seriously began after the second world war whereas these images are more about the joyride of flight.'
5. Title: Imperial Airways, 1920's (left side).
6. Title: Amelia Earhart, 1932 (right side).
'This plaque gave me the opportunity to draw upon issues which have since become very important. It was good to see that as early as the late 1920's, there was a female pioneer who was at the forefront of conquering the airways and setting new world records. For instance, Earheart she was the first woman to cross the Atlantic on her own.
A lot of this time period was about breaking records and boundaries and so it was good to be able to refer to one person here. Many of my artworks try to look at the overarching social context and they're not usually about individuals so it was nice to be able to make an exception here.
I felt is a necessity to re-write history in a way that highlights what women have achieved. This is one of the only portraits I included in the whole sequence.'
Location 4: Bold Street Coffee, Bold Street
7. Title: Air Hostess, 1930's (left side).
'This image shows a step towards the passenger airline travel that we recognise today. In the very early days, the idea of the hostess was absolutely new.
This period also saw the furnishing of cabins with the kind of comforts that we had come to expect in our homes (like railways did in the Victorian period).
A number of airlines I researched for the 60's and 70's plaques used air hostesses standing outside the airline with their uniforms on as a promotional tactic when new airlines were launched.
So, air hostesses were included in big glitzy promotional posters and glossy magazines but the image of the air hostess was also a reference to a new type of job, a new function, a new career path and a new 'character' for the 20th century which became a well-recognised figure.'
8. Title: Continental Airways Poster, 1930's.
*AWAITING PERMISSION FOR INSTALLATION*
'This plaque is based on a famous poster called ‘as the crow flies’ and so the image is based on a bird.
The image is an artist’s licence graphic reproduction of an airplane for the sake of equating flight to being as free as a bird.
By that time, there were transatlantic flights occurring regularly. So, I decided to place images of New York on one side of the plaque and London on the other with an obvious ocean in-between.'
Location 5: St Luke's Bombed Out Church, Leece Street
9. Title: WWII Bombers (British and German), 1941.
'Originally, I thought I was going to just image one bomber here but then I realised it made much more sense to do two, both going in opposite directions.
Rather than showing the planes dropping bombs or a city below on fire, I decided to picture this as the moment before any bombing has actually happened.
The planes are circled with a halo/ sun image and this unites the planes. You can just about see the pilots in their planes and this painting captures the moment where the figures inside the planes share a common history, destiny and role. These factors are much more important than the fact that they’re on different sides of this military divide.
It only occurred to me afterwards how much this plaque reflects the truce statue in the Bombed Out Church’s grounds. Although I have made this truce through my painting and the pilots aren’t necessarily conscious of each other. Below is a city with a small building that looks like St Luke’s with chimneys and rooftops.'
Location 6: Wood Street
10. Title: Atomic Bomb, 1945.
'This plaque is pretty self-evident and really speaks for itself. What I will say about it is that this painting has a really biting irony about it because it’s just two objects, the airplane and the mushroom cloud.
A cloud itself is constantly changing and even though this one has been produced by humans, it's almost like it's producing a natural beauty that synchronises with all the cloud formations around it.
It's comparable to a beautiful flower. The city below is just about recognisable as a Japanese city.'
11. Title: BOAC Jetliner, 1950's.
'This image is going to the 1950's now, moving onto the theme of jet travel which was another major technological advancement of this period.
This is the first jet in the sequence and examines the era of post war transatlantic travel when more middle class people were able to visit faraway places.
You could say this is when air transport became established for the public.'
Location 7: Seel Street Facade (next to Alma de Cuba) and Seel Street Carpark
12. 'Laika', 1957.
'This plaque examines the Soviet Union sending Laika the dog into space in the late 1950's. In the very early days when I looked at the historical events for the trail, this one stood out to me because of the irony that the first eyes to look back on the Earth may not have been human eyes, but those of an animal sent up to space by man. Although, I am aware that the animal probably couldn’t see Earth!
In my first images of the dog looking at the Earth from space, I formed a black cloud around the world, almost as if the atom bomb which had dropped just over 10 years prior was still lingering around it. In a way, the animal had escaped the hassle of the Earth and human domination.
There is something fascinating about this event. It was so politicised due to the division between the Soviet Union and the West and the 'space race'. Although this plaque is a slight step away from aviation (as aerospace engineering is often considered in a different category to flight), I couldn’t not include it because it was such an important achievement.
The building that this painting is on is a listed building and the owners ‘Frenson’s Ltd’ are committed to maintaining it. They did maintenance on it just before I began painting and one of the workers who was very by the building began chipping away, trying to discover it’s past. They uncovered some lettering on the building, revealing that it had once been a veterinary surgery.
Of all the places where I could have placed the image of a dog, what a coincidence! This was also the only image painted directly onto a building in situ so this was an excellent surprise for me. I had to do the whole painting in just one day.'
13. Concorde, 1960's (left side).
'Concorde is a flagship image from the 1960's and 70's.
This inspiration for this image is taken from a poster which unties the British and the French flags expressing how the Concord was an Anglo-French project.
This was the first super jet made for passengers and highlights the extent to which air travel and technology in general had developed by this period.'
14. Moon Landing, 1969 (middle).
'This is another example of space flight again but I felt impelled to include it.The age old dreams of flying and reaching the moon are twins, even though the technology and expertise is different.This image shows the American moon landing craft. It includes no humans in it and it was nice to be able to paint something with a detailed starry sky.'
15. Vietnam, 1970's (right side).
'This image is adjacent to the moon landing plaque and includes a lot of war iconography within it such as flames and smoke. This was the era of real jet warfare, laying the groundwork for all the subsequent decades of warfare that we’ve seen since.
These three plaques are interesting as a 60's trilogy. The central one is man walking on the moon and is extremely expressive. On one side is the Concorde about luxury travel and nationalism but on the other side is this emotive American bombing of Vietnam.'
*UNFORTUNATELY, DUE TO VANDALISM, THIS PLAQUE IS NOW COVERED BY GRAFFITI BUT IT CAN STILL BE VIEWED ON
Location 8: Concert Street (Einsteins)
16. Jumbo 747's.
'Again, looking at images of airplanes I discovered that there's been a graphic technique called 'the cutaway' for some time. It became very popular once jets got to a certain size, allowing people to see the whole range of equipment and technology and how it was housed inside planes. I knew when I saw these sliced down facade I wanted to include that imagery on one of my plaques.
Due to the amount of detail, this had to be a larger plaque and within the image, it’s a recognition of human achievement without any extra social comment. This plaque is just showing how far can we go in making something look so complex and intricate but still so huge and can still fly which really highlights human fascination with such technology.'
Location 9: Level, Fleet Street.
17. Vulcan Fighter, 1980's.
'This is a very common image of the patriotic idea of flight. These bombers become the most expensive individual pieces of hardware that most governments are composed of and they become a symbol of protection and defence.
In this image, the plane is camouflaged and flying over a green planet. I like the idea that the military aircraft is pretending to be like the planet but in a way it's actual destination is outright destruction of the planet and it's ecosystems.'
18. Red Arrow, 1990's.
'This image is another very patriotic one within the trail. It's all about fascination. This is the first time in the trail we see a child pointing upwards since the very first plaque.
It shows that no matter what the story is, airplanes are always going to be interesting to us because of the essence of adventure and achievement that they represent.
The fascination with flight is also shown through display and performance. These are all things I discovered throughout my research of how we present and continue to re-present what we have achieved.'
19. Private Jet, 2000's.
'This one is important because I’ve become more aware in the last 20 or 30 years that when you’ve got money there’s a whole other world out there.
Big companies all have private jets like Harrods and they’re all about showing how luxury we as humans can get. For example, while the Concorde was once considered luxury, now having your own private jet with your own pilot is the ultimate.
So the first plaque of the Wright Brothers is about celebrating freedom but we’ve now moved even more towards freedom, but only for people who can afford it.'
Location 10: Bluecoat, Back Passageway.
20. Military Drone (Above Us Only Sky?), 2020's.
'The drone itself has a very menacing look about it despite obviously not having a conscience. There’s no human in there risking their life, it’s all done through controls. The image is white as many drones are, and they look very clinical despite white also being the symbol of holiness and a ‘virginal’ colour.
This image goes beyond the initial ideas of flight and shows the dichotomy between the Western and ‘non-Western’ world. Those in the ‘non-Western world’ are always considered secondary and they’ve been on the receiving end of most recent wars. This plaque gave me the opportunity to show the glaring inequality in access to reasonable standards of living and also access to consideration by human beings.
The war in Ukraine has highlighted that those who have lost their lives and had their lives uprooted by war like others have over the years should be treated like everyone else, but the Ukraine is getting more media attention, sympathy and reaction than say a war in Yemen. All those looking up at the drone are black, Asian and none-European. It’s interesting to see how people are still being ignored and when it comes to warfare its glaringly obvious.
This is the ‘end of the story’ and casts the story of the aircraft in the role of the negative image. It casts the viewers (who were originally the ones waving in awe at the aircraft at the beginning of the trail) as the speculators. It poses the question of whether these onlookers are going to be the next target and victims of this technology.
The question mark at the end of ‘above us only sky?’ ties the story of the Bombed Out Church back again to the trail. The reason there is sky above us when we stand in the church today is because it was bombed. The conquering of the airways should mean an acceptance of that ethereal wonder and the feeling you get in a plane when you feel free. But we now know that what's above us is not only sky and what's above us can be equally liberating as well as oppressing.'
This project was made possible with support from: