VIA – SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL
A classic example of Jimbo Phillips’ Santa Cruz surf art appears on a signal control box on Soquel Avenue. The artist and son Colby stopped by for a photo. (Bill Lovejoy/Sentinel)
The wild, aggressive artwork of Jimbo Phillips carries on a well-known Santa Cruz dynasty
He loves protruding eyeballs, flapping tongues, sweat, snot and saliva. He loves broken, yellowing teeth and melting faces, brains breaking out of skulls, bones dripping in blood, lurid flesh in green and blue. He loves exaggerated, cartoonish gore rendered so ridiculous it slips past horror into high comedy.
Jimbo Phillips, in short, loves what a teenage skate-rat might love. And that has made him if not the most celebrated artist in Santa Cruz County, then certainly one of the most prominent.
If you keep your eyes open, you’ll see the work of Phillips all over the place — on skateboards mostly, but also surfboards, snowboards, posters and bike helmets. The snarling babe with the skull-face knee pads that serves as the logo for the Santa Cruz Derby Girls? That’s Jimbo’s. So are the posters for the Coldwater Classic, intricate little slices of Santa Cruz life where in the crowd gathered to watch the surfers at Steamer Lane, you’re bound to see everyone from Zippy the Pinhead to the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
The Phillips family virtuosity is on display in Jimbo’s poster for the most recent Coldwater Classic. (Bill Lovejoy/Sentinel)
Of course, he can dial it down too, and create less, uh, aggressive images such as serene beach scenes and waggish comic strips. In this category, comes Phillips’s latest creation, the comical images accompanying the latest exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium called “The Jellies Experience,” educational panels on jellyfish, their stings and their interaction with humans.
“I couldn’t get too crazy with it,” said Phillips, 43, of the new aquarium exhibit from the comfort of his home studio. “But people can recognize it as my style.”
As distinctive and alluring as that style is, Phillips is still often mistaken for another artist — his dad Jim. If anyone were to write the history of Santa Cruz surf/skate graphic arts, Jimbo would take a back seat only to his father. Jim Phillips was a pioneer in skateboard graphics dating back to the 1970s and is the creator of two of the most recognizable surf/skate icons in the world — yes, the world — the famous “red dot” logo of and the blue “screaming hand” logo, both of Santa Cruz Skateboards.
In his own right, Jimbo has created a tidal wave of illustrations for many companies including Santa Cruz Skateboards, Fox Racing, Sessions and Bell Helmets. His art has been featured in national advertising campaigns and he’s even shown his work in European art galleries.
In the circles of Santa Cruz commercial art, Jim and Jimbo represent a dynasty.
“I’m so fortunate to be able to make a living this way, and he paved the way for me to be able to do that,” said Jimbo of his father. “And he was really ahead of his time, too, because I don’t remember his art being appreciated that much back then. But now I get emails every day about it.”
Jim Phillips, whose artwork helped launch Santa Cruz Skateboards, said of his son: “I’m really proud of him and what he’s been able to do. It’s a hard business to make a living in, and he’s done it by finding his own niche, which is putting in a lot of humor in his work. That can’t be taught.”
The styles of the two men are quite similar, both deeply influenced by the edgy underground comic-book style of the 1960s. Their primary difference is generational. Jim is a product of the 1960s and thus, his work is reminiscent of the age of psychedelia, while Jimbo grew up in the 1980s and his style grew up out of the punk-rock scene of the period.
Jimbo’s graphic influences growing up included album covers of the punk recordings emerging in the late ’70s and early ’80s, as well as the subversive humor of MAD magazine.
Growing up, he was surrounded by his dad’s work, but didn’t immediately make the decision of following his dad’s lead. “My dad discouraged me from doing it,” he said, “just because it was risky. There wasn’t much money in it. It was hard work. And, for a while, it looked like I would do something else.”
But the kid could draw and shortly after high school, Jim took in his 18-year-old son as a part-timer in his business. It was shortly thereafter when Jimbo landed a gig doing a comic strip about skateboarding.
“It was my first paying job,” he said. “That was the spark.”
Soon, Jimbo was breaking off into his own business, designing logos and other illustrations for local companies. Like his dad, he was fond of doing screenprinted rock posters and has been designing posters for years for various punk, ska and rock bands, including his own. For years, many of Jimbo’s posters hung across the ceiling at Streetlight Records.
His career encompassed the digital revolution in graphic arts. “He was trained to do art the way I do it,” said Jim Phillips. That meant, traditional off-set and screenprinting using a photo-negative and color separations, technologies rendered obsolete by computer technology.
“Before computers, everything was hands-on,” said Jimbo. “There were no computer fixes if you messed up. Your art had to be really precise on paper, because whatever was on that paper was going to be reproduced. Now, you can scan it in, flip it, erase things, whatever. The computer is a great tool, but at the same time, there’s something that can be said for those old techniques…”
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