More than a "dinosaur" as he says in the interview, I would say that Jim Phillips is a legend, a true one. Some times ago I was thinking about opening a "legend" category on the blog for the likes of Rick Griffins still alives, but, finally, it would have been so messy to decide wheter or not an artist is a legend or just a grand'pa (i'm joking) I took the option of deciding that every artist had to be taken as part of the rock poster scene legend, and just kept the existing categories. This said, and with no further talks, please welcome, all of you skaters, surfers and rock art lovers, the legendary Jim Phillips…
I like all kinds of music, but it often depends on what time of day. I like to start the day with something un-hectic. This morning I’m listening to Takahashi’s latest Mellow Slack Key Guitar On the Beach, from Japan. By the way, the CD cover says “#5 Morning Wave (Jim’s slack key)”, Takahashi kindly claims he wrote the music after watching me surf. By late afternoon or evening I will turn to rock music to keep me going while I’m working, it works like coffee.
Can you tell us more about yourself, who are you, where are you from, what do you do?
In a nutshell? I was a loser who liked to draw. I was from everywhere, living on Army bases around the US and Panama until I was six. My dad was sent overseas in 1951 so he bought a small house for my mom, sister and me by the beach in Santa Cruz, California, near where I currently live.
I went to eight different schools by the second grade so I was always far behind the other students... I just spent my class time drawing.
Did you follow any course or did you improve by drawing in the margins of your schoolbooks?
I did enough drawing on my school books that my mom enrolled me in Ralph Grey’s free children’s art class when I was eleven. He was a political editorial cartoonist, sign painter, commercial newspaper ad artist and cousin to Harold Grey, creator of Little Orphan Annie. Ralph’s art could be seen all over town, on restaurant signs and delivery trucks. The little man carrying a big fish for Stagnaro’s restaurant on the wharf, the Hindu guy riding on a magic carpet for Santa Cruz Cleaners... and it gave me the idea that art could be visible around town and not just in art galleries.
I’ve been a commercial artist for 50 years, and didn’t always make a comfortable living as most artists can relate. But I hung with it, and my wife Dolly has always had an unlimited faith in my art despite times when we were three months behind in the rent. You know what they mean by “Behind every successful man there is a woman?” Today my art is licensed in 60 countries and the home is paid.
Are you collaborating with magazines/fanzines, regularly?
I do a few interviews here and there but my current art is primarily focused on skateboard graphics. 99% of my fans worldwide are skateboarders.
My design style has been affected by probably a hundred great artists. When I was a kid, television wasn’t available yet, so I entertained myself with newspaper comic strips and comic books and became inspired to draw. Carl Barks was one of my favorite artists at Disney Studios, who created and drew the Donald Duck family. I was also inspired by George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, and Pat Sullivan’s Felix the Cat. Comic books leftover from the Golden Age provided countless masters of the genre, Burne Hogarth, Harold Foster and Alex Raymond to name a few. In my teens I was enthralled by Harvey Kurtzman’s EC Mad Comics with artists like Bill Elder, and Wally Wood. These artists were instrumental to my development, and my comic book style of art finally became important for the key-line silkscreen printing methods in the skateboard industry.
Since the beginning, I have been mostly a pen and ink artist. When I became a commercial artist it was necessary to add colors by using overlays. An overlay full-color separation was not only difficult and time consuming, but the artist didn’t get to see the colors until it was printed. It was like flying blind. So when the Mac computers came along I recognized the amazing ability to do my color separations and be able to see the colors as I work. Also, the computer has become the required end medium as the standard interface for most printing, relegating many old world film and overlay techniques to history.
Do you do everything by hand or on computer?
I’m still intoxicated by what celebrity caricature artist Al Hirschfield called “Magic line.” I sketch with a pencil and ink with pen and brushes, but then I scan it to my Mac and create the color separations digitally. I think it is the perfect blend of old and new world.
My average poster time is 60-80 hours, that means working day and night for a week. But it’s not like a total grind, I get into trances and it’s hard to stop to eat or sleep. I have a 2:am rule, that’s when I make myself knock off and go to bed or else the next day is shot. Then it usually takes about an hour for the excitement of drawing to wear off enough to sleep.
You have a very distinctive style, are you doing only what you feel like or if tomorrow somebody asks you an oil painting with horses running out of water with a sunset backdrop, is it a problem or are you up for it ?
I’ve always been up for almost anything, and when you work with pro skateboarders on ideas for their deck graphics you get almost anything - of course I will always work my own spin into any design. But it’s motivating and even exciting to be challenged, and very satisfying to meet it above your client’s expectations. Poster art is generally freestyle, although I’ve had poster subject ideas requested from the promoter, they generally don’t care what it is as long as you get the names spelled right.
Since I’m a dinosaur I’ve worked with mostly dinosaur bands, psychedelic rock bands from the 60s. I was band artist for one of my all-time favorite bands the Seeds with Sky Saxon. Dolly and I tagged along on their Northwest US tour. That was a lot of fun. Then Sky and his girl friend wanted to move in with us, but my wife wouldn’t have it.
For which band would you love to work?
I like to work and party with obscure bands like What On Earth. The bigger the name, the more control and legal hoops they demand, until they finally decide they really just wanted a photo of them-self on the cover.
Do you choose the artists yourself?
What is the most difficult part in designing a poster ?
Cancelled shows. You can put a lot into a poster and be left hanging. It’s bad enough when one of the acts or the dates change. And you can be sure that the changes have to be done on a last minute basis. It can be frustrating, but along with low pay it’s just part of the job.
Do you think you are part of a "Graphic Scene", if so who else ?
That’s so ironic to say graphic scene, because artists generally work alone, up late at night, burning the midnight oil and not seen much like our band friends. The artist’s work itself can have it’s own “scene”, it’s like that with my poster and skateboard work. My work is out there partying while I’m in my studio slaving away.
Do you recongnize any of your chidren/grandchildren in the nowadays poster scene ? If so, who ?
Jimbo Phillips my son is a prolific punk-rock poster artist....
A bit of self-promotion, take advantage of it, it's free, where can we see your work , on the web or in real life?
Thanks very much, my book, The Rock Posters of Jim Phillips, is available from Schiffer Books, which you can access thru my website http://www.jimphillips.com/ My not-up-to-date website is mostly a random archive of my surf skate and rock art. My first book, The Surf Skate and Rock Art of Jim Phillips gives a more comprehensive view of my life and work, and contains a wide selection of my rock posters.
The best praise you received lately?
I just got a copy of famous wet-suit pioneer Jack O’Neill’s new book, “It’s always Summer on the Inside”, and the author, surf historian Drew Kampion, described me in the contributor credits as: “Jim Phillips. Ubiquitous presence in the Santa Cruz surf scene since the late 1950s, Jim’s enthusiasm for pranks and social disruption were balanced by his keen artistic sensibilities and strong natural abilities”.
My grandson Colby James is nine years old and already he’s a pro artist! He was hired to draw the “Dog Jam” t-shirt art for this year’s stand-up paddle surfboards with dogs event at the small craft harbor. Of course his dad Jimbo is carrying the graphic torch, being the area’s premier surf, skate and rock art master, and along with the grandpa influence, Colby has already decided his career.
Thanks for answering my questions and see you soon on the website !!
Thanks for having me!
Few selected and commented (by Jim) posters :
Doors at the Crosstown Bus, Boston, Mass., Aug 1967
The Doors performed their first East Coast appearance at a club called the Crosstown Bus, where I was working in the art department and performing psychedelic light shows. I was called on, by art director Jim McCracken, to create art for the poster. One memorable time, one of our carousel projectors malfunctioned and failed to drop a 35mm slide which jammed and sent bright white light out onto the stage where Jim Morrison was climaxing one of his songs. I pounded on the projector as Jim Morrison glared at me, and I think he flipped me off. Next to me, working the lights, was a cute girl named Dolly who became my wife of 44 years. Of the two of us, she was the only one to get to meet Jim Morrison.
Hot Tuna is one of my favorite bands and I was stoked to be called for their New Years bash at the Fillmore. I was working as art director for Martime Hall on Harrison Street, lining up 60s psychedelic rock poster artists like Mouse and Kelley for the show posters, and moonlighting at Bill Graham Presents with a series of my own posters. BGP art director Arlene Owseichik called and asked if I wanted to do a Hot Tuna poster. She was very specific, asking for a southern girl defending her home, and guns were taboo on the art rules at BGP. So I sketched my business partner Bill Dawson’s daughter posing for the scene with pitch-fork in hand. I made Hot Tuna lettering with patchwork, it looked great, but soon Arlene called and said to can the southern girl, that it had nothing to do with the band. It was one of those frustrating moments an artist must deal with. I sketched up a scene with King Neptune in San Francisco bay looking at the Ferry Building clock, but I crumpled it up and threw it in the wastebasket cursing under my breath. Then I wrote a long letter of resignation filled with bitter sarcasm, and faxed it to her, which is how we shared images in those days. The fax didn’t take at first and I kept pressing send until I thought it went, and went to bed.
Arlene called and asked if I could do a four poster set for Tom Petty at the Fillmore. I submitted a list of twenty-five image subjects to her, from which she chose four, the first of which was Pan. I finished it, but before the poster was printed Petty postponed when he injured his hand, the story was he punched a wall. A few weeks later I broke my pelvis from a fall during tree trimming. After surgery I had six rods, six screws, a plate a broken off drill bit, and a hundred staples. I was lying on my back in the hospital and Arlene called and said Tom was ready to play again, could I quickly change the dates on the poster? I told her I was in the hospital, but I would see what I could do. So I called Dolly at home and, step by step, instructed her to make the date change. If you look at the poster you can see that the lettering is radically distorted, curved and on a gradation background, and she had very little experience with Photoshop, so it is very remarkable that she was able to go in and make the changes necessary by phone. The next day she emailed the file to Arlene, which in itself was a feat because it was one of our first high resolution poster images to send by email, and by modem which was always very sketchy.