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Philip Latimer Dike 1906 - 1990 Photograph of Phil Dike
Phil Dike, After Sailing, Balboa Harbor
After Sailing, Balboa Harbor
Phil Dike, Urban Shore
Urban Shore

In his Forward to Phil Dike's biography, fellow artist and life long friend Millard Sheets says Phil Dike loved light, color, and atmosphere. Every picture is carefully conceived, and is never just a recording of a particular moment.

His work is a fusion of abstract qualities used to express a love of life and reality. Phil Dike grew up in Redlands, California, in a Victorian mansion where walls were adorned by paintings done by his maternal grandmother, Eliza Sophia Twigg, whom he never met.

At Redlands High School, his teacher, Mary Louise Arnold, encouraged him to enter a competition for a scholarship to the Chouinard School of Art in Los Angeles. At Chouinard in the late 1920's, young Dike was quiet, but students and faculty respected his talent and dedication. One of his friends was Millard Sheets. In the early 1930's, Dike moved to New York to study at the Art Student's League.

He produced many works of New York, and also took advantage of the city's other arts, learning much of classical music, dance, opera, and theater. He developed a long friendship with Ted Geisel, who later became the famed author and illustrator, Dr. Seuss.

Phil Dike Sunday Afternoon in th Plaza de Los Angeles 1939
Sunday Afternoon in the Plaza de Los Angels, Phil Dike 1939
recently part of the California Regionalist Exhibition
at Santa Monica's California Heritage Museum

Next stop in his art education was near Paris, where he studied at the American Academy of Art at Fountainbleau, followed by a time in Paris where he studied lithographic techniques. While in Europe, he traveled extensively, seeing the cities and countryside of Western Europe and North Africa.When the Great Depression hit, Dike corresponded with Mrs. Nelbert Chouinard in Los Angeles, who offered Dike a teaching position which he held for the next twenty years.

Happy to have a paying job in bad times, Phil Dike returned to California. During the depression, American art severed ties with European influences, and regional groupings of artists produced new and wholly American work. This activity was in part encouraged and financed by the government's new WPA project. Having been in other parts of the nation, Phil knew that the depression didn't hit California particularly hard, and rather than painting the depression's pain, he painted more positive scenes; children playing in parks, fishermen working their boats, and and sights in nearby Arizona, New Mexico, and Sonora.

Dike's achieved success as an artist early on, and was involved with the California Water Color Society, which included Millard Sheets, Lee Blair, Hardie Gramatky, Ralph Hulett, Emil Kosa, Phil Paradise, Milford Zornes, Paul Sample, and Barse Miller. The members of the society captured California light and color. Transparent watercolor paint was their favored medium.

Between 1927 and 1955, Phil Dike exhibited his works more than any other California Water Color Society member. His work won many awards. At this time, California gave birth to another art form: full color animated cartoons. One company managed to corner exclusive rights to having animated color film developed, and that company was lead by Walt Disney.

Disney gained fame and with it, huge expectations to produce top quality films. He hired top artists from across the country such as recent Chicago Art Institute graduate Joshua Meador. In 1935, Disney also hired Phil Dike to teach advanced drawing and composition to Disney Studio artists. Dike did work on some Disney films including Snow White and Fantasia. He said of artists working for Disney, "One of the greatest things Disney has to offer an artist is the discipline of having to sell his stuff by making definite and difficult statements, in simple and uncomplicated language, pictorially speaking."

Today, Phil Dike's work is in many museums, most notably, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Sources: Janice Lavoos and Gordon T. McClelland, Phil Dike, 1988; Edan Milton Hughes, Artists in California 1786 - 1940, 3rd ed., 2002.