Matt Phillips was born in 1927 in New York City. Initially, he pursued a career in poetry and in 1952 he received an M.A. in Literature from the University of Chicago. Simultaneously, he was studying art at the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania.
Unimpressed with the collections of modern art in the United States, Phillips traveled throughout Europe and studied painting in the studios and museums there. After teaching briefly in Paris, Phillips returned to the United States in 1964 to teach at Bard College in New York. After retiring from Bard in 1987, he concentrated on exhibitions, travel and giving guest lectures.
In 1967, Phillips brought long- overdue attention to the technique of the monotype by organizing a Prendergast exhibit at Bard College. He has since continued to organize monotype exhibitions and has contributed greatly to the monotype tradition with his own work in the medium.