At one time, in the 1930's, there were 40 RCA's in Eastern Canada, and just one in the west...the one in the west was Walter J Phillips.
W J Phillips was to printmaking what Nureyev was to dancing...he was the best. He took woodblocks, formerly used for primitive reproduction and transforming the craft with an alchemy all his own, wrested from the blocks exquisite black and white masterpieces of brilliant delicacy. The coloured prints were on a level all of their own.
Phillips colour woodcuts were the zenith of his genius. The delicate, elusive quality of the prints is a masterly illusion in itself since each colour had to be separately and precisely rendered. Every print is actually an original since new pigment was applied as each was pulled. Therefore, each print has a unique tone and some are radically different.
W J Phillips is recognized as the finest colour woodblock printer in North America and with the exception of one or two Japanese masters, he may be the finest who ever lived.
Black and white or coloured, the great and lasting charm of Phillip' woodcuts lies in their simplicity, their understatement, and the tranquillity that suffuses them.
"Many critics think his work is so original because he was self-taught. It's surprising how many people look at his woodcuts and think they are seeing a watercolour. I feel this was his greatness...he was the first who made woodcuts so subtle and lovely in form. No one, not even his best pupils, has been able to imitate his graduations and shadings of colour." Mrs. Water J Phillips
Among the collections which include the woodcuts of W J Phillips are: British Museum, Smithsonian Institute, National Gallery of Canada, Victoria and Albert Museum, Glenbow Gallery, H R H Princess Margaret and Walter J Phillips Gallery of the Banff School of Fine Arts.