Remembering Phil Hays

I remember spending many wonderful hours talking with Phil outside of classes at Art Center. Cigarettes were his cadence, coughing his punctuation. He used to stress that no one should ever leave their apartment without a pen and change for several calls on a pay-phone. He loved to tell stories about parties, rock stars, The Life. Phil made it all seem so glamorous, he’d lived his dream and he seemed to want the same for all of us too. His stories about New York City contributed to the myth and wonder that helped lead me here.

But those stories are only part of made Phil special for me. Phil was one of the most consistently encouraging and giving people at Art Center. Too often teachers try to mold students into copies of themselves, but Phil taught his students to recognize and better use their own innate strengths. He pushed us to outdo ourselves, as ourselves. His own life was an example of succeeding on one’s own unique merits, more than anything else, this was the greatest lesson he could offer.

Phil Hays died last week at the age of 74, he’ll be fondly remembered.

In the mid-1950’s Mr. Hays was one of a young band of expressive and interpretative illustrators, including Robert Weaver, Jack Potter, Tom Allen and Robert Andrew Parker, who, rather than paint or draw literal scenes based entirely on an author’s prose, interpreted texts with an eye toward expressive license. Mr. Hays said that representational illustration was an art of nuance, and his work routinely dug below the surface, drawing on Impressionist, Expressionist and Surrealist influences. In 1957, Mr. Hays was hired by Silas H. Rhodes, a founder of the School of Visual Arts in New York, to teach his first illustration class, and later he became chairman of the illustration department.

As a teacher he introduced novels, plays and films to students as a way to increase their visual and verbal literacy. “Phil’s favorite expression is ‘Why not?,’ ” wrote the poster artist Paul Davis, a former student of his, on the occasion of Mr. Hays’s being awarded the Society of Illustrators 2000 Distinguished Educators in the Arts award. “He welcomes experimentation and innovation.” […]

In 1979 Mr. Hays moved back to California to become chairman of the illustration department at the Art Center College of Design. He retired in 2002.