Phillip McCrum

A diagrammatic Interpretation of the French Revolution Based on Georges Lefebcre's 'The French Revolution, From its Origins to 1793'


Oil paint, modelling paste or plaster, on recovered wall paper — 1998

The following series appeared in the exhibition Tear, at the Or gallery in Vancouver.

“The nexus of pleasure and responsibility – be it self-destructive reliance or productive allegiance – is a site McCrum’s art consistently explores. While urging critical awareness, he conveys a paralysis that sets in when engagement, and memory, being to consume themselves. As achievement and financial independence are so intrinsically bound to the framework of the new, allegiance can sometimes only survive by eating its own tail. Sustenance, therefore, can breed destructive reliance.

Which forms one basis for McCrum’s other major piece in Tear: A diagrammatic interpretation of the French Revolution based on the work of Georges Lefebvre, The French Revolution, from its origins to 1793 [1998]. Arising from the Portrait Wall [1995], where he intermixed portraits of his friends with ones of random murderers, politicians and people of minor infamy cut from the local newspaper, the French Revolution consisted of forty-nine small oil on wallpaper portraits of McCrum’s friends and acquaintances. Each was given a coloured number (White: aristocracy; Blue: bourgeois; Red: working class) alongside a colour coded list which married the portraits to a key figure of the Revolution. While there was undoubtedly a point in each pairing, certain tendencies and class allegiances which McCrum detected in people and to which he found 18th-century Parisian parallels, the French Revolution, like the Portrait Wall, wasn’t about a shift in context.”



The incident that gave rise to the Revolution arose out of an interwoven community of Parisians whose relationships were multi-dimensional and complex webs. McCrum’s Vancouver is equally intricate, an arena of shifting allegiances and formative influence. It’s also a site of equal political consequence, not that late 20th-century British Columbia will be the topic of many Ph.D. theses, only that McCrum sees in his community, and any community, as much potential for revolutionary change as may have existed in France during the decade of the 1790’s. The French Revolution is a picture of the unavoidable significance of a group of people, and McCrum paints his friends not only because they will be looking at the work, but because he has, over many years, been looking at them. It is a portrait of the people who have, for better or worse, etched themselves into McCrum’s memory and who participate in defining his paths.”

— Reid Shier, “The Uncertainty Vice-Principle”, in Tear exhibition catalogue, 2000