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James Phillips

Visual artist James Phillips was born in 1945 in Brooklyn, New York. Phillips attended the Fleisher Art Memorial School in Philadelphia in the 1960s. He then went on to study at the Philadelphia College of Art (University of the Arts for Philadelphia) from 1964 to 1965, followed by a brief affiliation with the Lee Cultural Center in 1968. Phillips then attended the Printing Trade School in New York City. From there, he became a member of the Harlem-founded Weusi Artist Collective, a group of young artists who made African iconic imagery and symbols a central part of their work, from 1969 to 1973.

In 1970, Phillips met the founding members of AfriCobra (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists), a group that was committed to incorporating African aesthetics, iconography and positive political imagery into African American art. Phillips also became a member of AfriCobra. From 1973 to 1977, he served as an artist-in-residence at Howard University with duties as a mural consultant. Then, from 1977 to 1979, Phillips was affiliated with C.E.T.A., a nationwide arts initiative of the Carter Administration. After participating in the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Exchange Fellowship in Tokyo, Japan in 1980, he was appointed as a visiting lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley from 1983 to 1984. Phillips went on to teach courses at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and Hampton University. Phillips earned his M.F.A. degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1998. In 2001, Phillips re-joined the faculty of the art department at Howard University as a lecturer, eventually becoming an associate professor of foundation and painting where he oversees all the graduate coursework.

As a painter, Phillips has participated in over seventy group and solo exhibitions in galleries and museums both nationally and internationally. His work is included in several well-known collections, including the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Arts and Artifacts Collection of the New York City Public Library and Hampton University. Phillips’ works have also been specially created for public art projects for the city of Baltimore, Howard University, the Department of Parks in New York City, and the transit system for the City of San Francisco. In 1994, he was commissioned by the Philadelphia Airport to create a permanent piece of art for their domestic wing. The Art in Embassies program of the United States Department of State purchased two of Phillips’ paintings in 2006 for the American Embassy in Togo, West Africa. Phillips was also honored with the Creative Artists Public Service Award in 1971.

James Phillips was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 5, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.210

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/5/2013

Last Name

Phillips

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Henry

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Harriton High School

Philadelphia Museum College of Art

Printing Trade School

Maryland Institute College of Art

Search Occupation Category
First Name

James

Birth City, State, Country

Brooklyn

HM ID

PHI06

Favorite Season

Spring

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Studio

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

4/29/1945

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

Visual artist James Phillips (1945 - ) a member of the Weusi and AfriCobra artist groups, has participated in over seventy art exhibitions around the world. His work is included in several well-known collections.

Employment

Howard University

Museum Institute College of Art

Hampton University

University of California, Berkeley

Suitland High School

Favorite Color

All Colors

Timing Pairs
0,0:3910,25:7650,47:8030,52:29217,428:81580,901:108070,1089:117108,1174:141175,1386:142171,1410:161610,1686:170826,1818:182749,1954:186686,1995:240530,2454:240822,2459:253906,2573:256490,2612:273029,2816:273645,2831:293400,3095:293800,3101:310150,3310$0,0:3785,65:4748,79:25204,193:27756,228:42868,378:43808,389:128818,1468:131567,1473:161169,1793:161792,1805:177010,1938:182350,1969
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of James Phillips' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - James Phillips lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - James Phillips talks about his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - James Phillips describes his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - James Phillips talks about his father

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - James Phillips talks about his family

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - James Phillips describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - James Phillips describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - James Phillips talks about attending Northside School in Gretna, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - James Phillips talks about his parents' relationship

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - James Phillips talks about his affinity for art as a child at Northside School in Gretna, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - James Phillips talks about moving from Gretna, Virginia to Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - James Phillips describes the differences between Gretna, Virginia and Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - James Phillips talks about going to school in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - James Phillips describes his childhood interests and activities

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - James Phillips describes life in Gretna, Virginia and living next door to white sharecroppers

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - James Phillips describes his experience of racial discrimination in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - James Phillips talks about how he became involved with the March on Washington in 1963

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - James Phillips describes his teenage years in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - James Phillips talks about his activities at Harriton High School in Rosemont, Pennsylvania, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - James Phillips talks about his activities at Harriton High School in Rosemont, Pennsylvania, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - James Phillips remembers meeting HistoryMakers A.B. Spellman and Amiri Baraka, and Ted Jones

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - James Phillips talks about the origins of black art

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - James Phillips talks about his experience at the Philadelphia College of Art

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - James Phillips talks about moving to New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - James Phillips describes the music scene in New York City during the late 1960s

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - James Phillips talks about the music he listens to while painting

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - James Phillips describes becoming serious about creating visual art

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - James Phillips talks about his brief return to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and his involvement with the Lee Cultural Center

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - James Phillips talks about his return to New York City and his work as an opaquer and printer

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - James Phillips describes meeting members of the Weusi Artists Collective

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - James Phillips describes the origins of the Weusi Artists Collective which preceded the East Community Center

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - James Phillips talks about the East Educational and Cultural Center for People of African Descent

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - James Phillips talks about The Last Poets as well as other poets and musicians in New York City during the late 1960s

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - James Phillips talks about his artwork and meeting HistoryMaker A.B. Spellman

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - James Phillips talks about his painting "The Dealer"

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - James Phillips talks about Harlem, New York in the mid-1970s

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - James Phillips talks about artistic influences on the development of his painting style

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - James Phillips describes the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - James Phillips talks about the Studio Museum, the Weusi Artists Collective, and AfriCOBRA

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - James Phillips talks about incorporating African motifs and color contrast into his artwork

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - James Phillips remembers painting a backdrop for a John Coltrane award concert at Town Hall in 1973

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - James Phillips describes his art exhibitions in the 1970s

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - James Phillips gives a history of AfriCOBRA

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - James Phillips talks about AfriCOBRA and the evolution of his painting style while an artist-in-residence at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - James Phillips talks about HistoryMaker Jeff Donaldson

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - James Phillips talks about musician Donald Byrd

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - James Phillips describes the atmosphere at Howard University in Washington, D.C. during the 1970s

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - James Phillips talks about the pitfalls of making album cover artwork

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - James Phillips talks about his time as an artist-in-residence for the CETA Arts Program

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - James Phillips talks about his experience as an artist-in-residence at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - James Phillips talks about his NEA fellowship experience in Japan and his interest in mandalas, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - James Phillips talks about his NEA fellowship experience in Japan and his interest in mandalas, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - James Phillips talks about exploring new ways to present his ideas through art

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - James Phillips talks about the relationship between cosmograms across cultures

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - James Phillips talks about his time living in California

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - James Phillips describes his commissioned mural for Philadelphia International Airport, "Gateways to the World"

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - James Phillips talks about the logistics of government-funded public art, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - James Phillips talks about the logistics of government-funded public art, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - James Phillips describes earning his M.F.A. degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - James Phillips talks about the requirements for an M.F.A. degree at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - James Phillips describes earning his M.F.A. degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - James Phillips talks about his early teaching career

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - James Phillips talks about teaching at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and his career highlights

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - James Phillips describes highlights from his time at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - James Phillips talks about his students' artistic philosophies

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - James Phillips talks about his own artistic philosophy and practices

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - James Phillips reflects on his life

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - James Phillips reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - James Phillips talks about his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - James Phillips talks about his family

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - James Phillips reflects on how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - James Phillips narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$7

DAStory

7$2

DATitle
James Phillips describes life in Gretna, Virginia and living next door to white sharecroppers
James Phillips talks about exploring new ways to present his ideas through art
Transcript
Okay. So, now you're in school and, you're in high school, and you graduated in '62 [1962] or '63 [1963]?$$Sixty-four [1964].$$Sixty-four, [1964], okay, '64 [1964]. Now, you're in school when the March on Washington takes place [in 1963].$$Oh, yeah, I was here.$$Okay. So, you actually came to the March?$$Yeah.$$Well, tell us about that. How did you get a chance to go to the March?$$Well, I actually didn't finish talking about things when I was in [Gretna] Virginia.$$Okay, well, go ahead.$$Like I said, I was saying we had our farm. We had what I thought was our forty acres, which turns out to be twenty-two acres. And there was this white family, and they had a sharecropper. And the sharecroppers that they had, they had about three of them during the time that I was there, they were all white. Now, the house that I grew up in, it was basically a log cabin. And then they added on a kitchen, and a porch, and several other rooms, and upstairs. The house that the sharecroppers lived in was about the same. The only difference was, I mean, what I saw visually was they, they kept it painted. They painted the logs white, and where the dirt--they painted that brown. So, you had this brown and white posh looking cabin. Ours was just a cabin. And then later on, they would put that brick siding on it to uplift, spiff it up. So, so, the sharecroppers, they would have families, they had kids. And then of course, the Ingram [ph.] family, which owned--where the sharecroppers worked from--they had kids. And they were all a little older than me. So, they'd want to play, or I'd want to play, because I had nobody else to play with unless I went into town. And wasn't old enough at that time to go into town on my own, which was about a mile away. So, we would play. And we would have these little incidents. And they'd, of course, end up using the "N" word, right, and we'd end up fighting. So, and they would come back the next day. "Can..." they called me Jimmy then. "Can Jimmy come out and play?" So, this went on. And of course, if they saw me in town, you know, they'd look the other way, and I'd ignore them, too. So, this went on back and forth. And then the old--Mr. Ingram, the old man, he used to work for the railroad, and he only had one arm, so he was scary. There was another family called the Clays [ph.] that lived at the end of the road, and I used to play with their two sons. And Miss Ingram was very nice. She would invite me in the house, and he'd come home and chase me out. He had a son, Frank, Jr., he was a schoolteacher; I used to play with his kids. And his wife, I was okay with. But he'd come home and he'd chase me out. (Laughter). So, this thing went on. It was either--somebody--the mother or the father, it was either one or the other. Like, the Clay kids, the mother didn't like me associating with them, but I kind of grew on her, so then she said it was alright. So, I had this back and forth thing. And like I said, the town was a mile away. So as I got older, I started going into town hanging out with the black kids. And of course, I went, I would see them in school. And of course, we'd go, we all went to church together. So--$$Was that--you said it was, what kind of church was it?$$Baptist.$$Baptist, okay.$$Yeah.$All right.$$All right. So, this, we're talking about--but we're talking about what you learned in Japan.$$Oh, I just started to see a different direction for me to take my work. Because even back in the days when I was in New York [City], I had somewhat of a problem. Because I didn't really fit--the way I was working, with the work-- even though, you know, it had a strong connection with the African imagery and had a strong connection with the music--I had, I didn't fit in, because the uptown artists felt that it wasn't political enough. So, they had issues with it. The downtown artists--because there's two divisions of artists in New York [City], probably in Chicago [Illinois], too. You got the uptown artists and you got the downtown artists. And the downtown artists, most of them are in the galleries, and then people in uptown at the time were more political. They felt that my work was too African and too political. So I didn't really fit, because they weren't really looking at what I was doing, or they weren't aware of what I was doing. And the same thing happened when I did the mural at Cramton [Hall at Howard University in Washington, D.C.]. So, I was looking at this new way of presenting my ideas and making my statement, and still maintaining my sense of abstractionism. And see, one of the things--since I was in this limbo, one of the things that attracted me to AfriCOBRA [African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists] was the fact that they were very much into abstraction. Because they had--one of their principles is mid-point mimesis, which means that it's like a place between realism and abstraction. So, that was one of the reasons why I gravitated towards them and eventually stopped associating with Weusi [Artists Collective]. Well, one of the reasons was distance, particularly when I got to California, you know, it was too far away. So, this was a new--I guess you would call it a new search, a new direction for me.