skate away with a new olde master

Jim Phillips artwork on skate decks, speed wheels and the low five:  permeating the veil of culture…

Art Chantry (

More people likly have the artwork of Jim Phillips on their skate decks than any other artist. Whenever they write long articles (or short books) on the history of surf/skate/psychedelic/70′s airbrush/underground comic/tshirt/sticker/gigposter etc. etc. art and design, they always leave Jim Phillips out. He’s a christian. izzat why? I dunno.

Jim’s work emerged on surfboards in the early sixties (he was still a kid). As the world shifted gears into the psychedelic era, he was front and center working on everything from hot rod graphics and CARtoons to actually taking on the “art director” gig at the Family Dog Productions in San Francisco, doing all their concert posters toward the end. He produced comic strips that ran in alternative underground papers and entire comic books (christian AND underground). He was doing it all. Yet, we never seem to include him in the list of period masters.

AC:go find that book (called 'surf, skate & rock art of jim phillips" published by Schiffer Books. you can find it on amazon. it's a great warehouse of info and repros. a good overview. a must have.

His output branched into the commercial word in serious way in the 70′s when he started doing magazine covers, commercial posters, advertising art, massive amounts of tshirt artwork (iron-on and otherwise). It’s also when he hooked up with Santa Cruz skateboards. from the mid-70′s until today he’s produced the core stylings of virtually every hipster cool skate punk style that emerged from underground skate culture.

His style kept alive the flavors of Griffin and Roth and Dutch. His homages to those older masters appeared unknowingly on skate decks for several generations of young hipsters, turning them on to the old masters without even realizing it. Jim Phillips may have kept the dream alive for every one else to “re-discover” those guys. If nothing else, we need to thank him for that alone.

During the punk rock era, he was active on anything skate as well as posters and record covers and tshirts and logos. He’s one of the very few artists out there to actually survive (and prosper) through each succeeding quantum shift in underground pop culture – surf to beat to hot rod to hippie to arena to glam to punk to to thrash to skate and on and on. Still there, still producing, still selling like nothing ever changes.. his current work still looks like it was done by a contemporary artist and not and ‘ol’ skool’ dude. He’s as relevant and fresh and influential toady as when he started out 50 years ago.

---This is a piece of art by Jim Phillips who was a skateboard graphic designer in the 1980′s. This piece is called “Screaming Hand” and was created for Santa Cruz skateboards. It is what made Jim Phillips a household name and the hand was used as one of Santa Cruz’s main graphics.--- click image for more

There’s too many classic pieces to cite in a tiny essay. There have been books published about his work (on ‘collector’ publishers – like Schiffer. so strange it’s not a on a ‘legit’ art book imprint). So, to give you a tiny taste of what this guy has done ‘to’ all of us, I’m showing you one of his iconic ‘greatest hits’. it’s a sticker/logo/everything for a line of Santa Cruz’s (then) newly invented skateboard wheels, called “speed wheels”. Everybody has seen this over and over to the point that we assume it’s apiece of clip art or something. It’s actually Jim Phillips.

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This image has been ripped and copied and stolen so many times that it’s become virtual ‘happy face’ of underground culture. It’s beyond perfect – it’s iconic.

I think it’s high time that Jim Phillips finally be recognized as the living master he deserves to be seen as. How come we never study these pop culture designers in the ‘graphic design’ textbooks and college classes? makes no sense. They are such American masters.

---Jim Phillips is a graphic artist known for his rock posters, surf and skateboard art. Jim has created more than 100 rock posters since 1967 begining with Lothar and the Handpeople, at the Crosstown Bus in Boston. His second poster was for the first east coast appearance of The Doors. Jim spent that summer working as a studio artist at the club, and worked the light show with an assistant named Dolly that Jim later married. Jim created surfing cartoons way back in the early 60's, but he supported himself, and later his family by working in various surfboard shops, manufacturing surfboards. Later, Jim began his free lance art service and resumed creating rock posters and other forms of advertising. From the mid-seventies to late eighties Jim rode the skateboard craze as Art Director for Santa Cruz Skateboards. In 87 & 88 alone, eight million stickers of his designs were sold internationally.--- click image for more

AC:this jim phillips guy was so prolific that he even had a line of really cool BELT BUCKLES back in the 70′s! all of it every bit as great as this sticker. he did posters for the grateful dead and more mainstream bands, too. his very first poster was for lothar & the hand people! i mean, can you get any cooler than that?…well, i don’t mean to say he’s FORGOTTEN. he’s just overlooked inside circles that aren’t specifically “skate”. like graphic design culture” or “academia”, or even more mainstream POP culture. he’s still hidden in that niche that only is well known to those others who dwell there. get my point? he should be a household name, not a subcultural reference point.

i guess i’m saying he isn’t famous ENOUGH….

---Huge hand printed 12 color silk screen by Phillips and French. These things are selling for $100. Contact the Volcom Art Loft for information. And check out their photos on their blog too. I mean, if you want. No pressure. -Volcom Art Loft.---click image for more...

…i would really love to see a decent, well researched book on the history of skate graphics. it’s so wonderful and influential. it needs to be documented accurately. like hat guy who started decorating decks for all the z-boys back at the beginning (he was mentioned in that movie). he needs to be properly documented alongside guys like jim phillips and so many other greats of that scene. who were these people?…

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