Tuesday night The Art Directors Club hosted a New York City memorial for Phil Hays. There were some great stories from Phil’s contemporaries, former students and classmates. He really did live that fabulous life he loved to tell stories about. Flashy sports cars, fur coats, sunglasses, moving to Hollywood.
There were also hints of sadness I never knew about, Silas Rhodes mentioned that Phil’s parents had shunned him for being gay. Perhaps Phil’s painful relationship with his family helped adversely turn him into one of the most supportive, encouraging people I’ve known. But then again, maybe some people are just born with a good heart.
I didn’t have anything prepared, but I wanted to say something and was thankful when Paul Davis opened the podium to anyone who wanted to speak. As near as I can remember, here is the main part of what I said with some prosaic re-workings and less rambling:
I was an illustration student at Art Center in the early 90s. It was an interesting time, the first Gulf War began in my first term, the Soviet Union collapsed during my last term. Six months after I graduated, Netscape released the first real web browser and the Internet as we know it was born.
Phil’s class was in the middle of Art Center, and was something of a gateway. Students spent the first half honing their skills and working towards a basic skill set. But Phil’s class was the breaking point, the explosion. We all went into that class knowing what we were capable of, having completed the same assignments, the same challenges with the same tools. But in Phil’s class we focused those skills on discovering what made each of us unique. It’s been said many times tonight and it’s was my experience as well, Phil had an amazing gift for seeing and encouraging the unique genius in each student.
I don’t know how many of my classmates went on to do illustration per se, but a many of us have succeeded in a variety of different fields. I think that’s also Phil’s legacy, he helped us be better at being ourselves and succeed on whatever paths we’ve chosen to travel.
There were a lot of other things that came to mind that I would have liked to have mentioned.
Phil encouraged competition, but in a wonderfully self-measured way. We were all trying to outdo each other, but within ourselves. One piece wasn’t necessarily better than another, we pushed each other by who worked hardest, made more or created something closest to those beautifully rare moments of truth.
The stories Phil told about New York City definitely contributed to my wanting to move here. He wasn’t exaggerating the magic, but he definitely undersold the existential challenges.
There weren’t many other ACCD grads there which was disappointing, I was hoping to see some old faces, trade stories and catch up. Gilbert couldn’t make it but Tom came with me. I did enjoy meeting and talking with illustrator David Brinley, who recently relocated to NYC after five years teaching in Delaware. David graduated ACCD after I did and we never crossed over during school. I also briefly met Art Center’s new illustration chair Ann Field who seemed very nice.
Many great teachers have passed away. Burne Hogarth, Richard Bunkall, Dwight Harmon and now Phil too. In life there are debts that can never be repaid, owing teachers is one of those debts. The only way to begin to pay back, is to pass on what we’ve learned.
Here are my earlier thoughts about Phil Hays.