Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Kefa Café Features Art by Al Phillips

As I See It
Al Phillips, Pyramid Atlantic artist
June 1 through July 12, 2014
Reception: Friday, June 6, 2014, 6:30 to 8:30pm

As I See It is a diverse set of illustrations and paintings showcasing the work of Silver Spring artist Al Phillips.  This exhibit offers us a nostalgic trip through time, honoring select historical and cultural events and personalities inspired by America's recent history. 

The images, chosen from his large collection of works, represent a passionate life dedicated to art - from the artist’s days as a young struggling artist working the night shift as a janitor, through his esteemed career as a newspaper illustrator, during his post retirement days living with Parkinson’s disease, until present day.  The exhibit includes political, conceptual, sports and pop culture illustrations that were originally used throughout sections of three major newspapers. These visual editorials reflected Al’s viewpoint and were conveyed by a wide variety of artistic approaches.  They played a significant role as a visual partner to conceptual and analytical news articles, as a vehicle for editorial opinion and as part of the newspaper’s identity. This collection of drawings showcases Al's talent for capturing the character of his subjects, while simultaneously providing valuable visual documentation of newsworthy people and events.   Noted personalities included in the exhibit include:  Martin Luther King, Michael Jordan, Woody Allen, Nelson Mandela, Elvis, Bill Clinton, John Thompson, Janet Reno, Andrew Weil, Whoopi Goldberg among others.

The show captures how Al Phillips, as an illustrator, was able to document, evoke, amuse, question and tell a story while always keeping his audience in mind.  “Artwork gives newspapers a different feel compared to photographs.  When the newspaper wanted something special for a story they would often choose art over photographs as we could accentuate colors and exaggerate certain aspects of the image”.  This is evident in Al’s illustration of Michael Jordan drawn as if he is flying through the air while viewers are unable to see where the ground is. 

Al particularly enjoyed creating symbolic art which combines images in order to infuse meaning.  Sometimes these pieces were controversial in nature.  The show includes one such illustration titled Jesse Helms versus Education which is based in a Normal Rockwell setting.  Al initially had Jesse Helms portrayed in the mirror as Bozo the Clown which his editors thought too provocative.  Al, although in disagreement, replaced the clown figure with a stick figure as a symbol of the character’s simple-mindedness. 

Viewers will also see a sample of Al’s extensive collection of architectural illustrations.  “Architectural art has been a way of saving my soul over the years. In the beginning I did line drawings of houses because I was surrounded by beautiful architecture in Chicago and I wanted to eventually have a career as an artist.  Now, due to my Parkinson’s disease, I need to draw simpler shapes so I have more control of my hand.  Over time I have figured out ways that I can still draw a straight line even with my tremors.” 

Al titled the show “As I See It” to capture the essence of him being an active artist over six decades and drawing and painting up until this day.  As Al states, “Life is exciting and I always have new projects in my mind. I am constantly finishing up projects I have started”. 

Artist Bio
Born in 1933, Al Phillips grew up in rural Indiana and began illustrating and painting at a very early age. Despite having Parkinson’s disease since 1998, Al continues to illustrate and paint to this day. In the mid 1970’s, until his retirement in the late 1990’s, Al worked as an illustrator for three print newspapers, one of which had a readership of 300,000 people – the Chicago Daily News, Chicago Sun Times and the Charlotte Observer. Everything he created while working at these newspapers had a headline and usually an accompanying article. He was recognized as one of the best illustrators in the country, winning five awards, over the years, from the society of newspaper designers.  “I learned how to use my imagination constructively for my work…..and how to make graceful illustrations. “ In addition to illustration, Al invented an art toy called ArtBlocks© whose purpose was to encourage non-artists to make art.  Artblocks©, 16 blocks of wood with geometric shapes, has been sold at museums and gift stores throughout the United States. Al has a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts (1955) and a Master’s Degree in painting, graphics and print making (1962).  Al now lives with his daughter Kendra, and her wife Julie, in Silver Spring Maryland. To contact Al Phillips please call 301-588-1934 or email allanphillips33 at