Tuesday, January 29, 2013


This post is one in a series on the artists featured in the upcoming exhibition at the Delaware Art Museum, State of the Art: Illustration 100 Years After Howard Pyle.

Phil Hale is internationally acclaimed for his powerful illustrations.  His dark, brooding covers for the novels of Joseph Conrad brilliantly complemented Conrad's psychologically complex work.

Cover to Joseph Conrad's Nostromo

Cover to Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim

Hale's own character, Johnny Badhair, has also been the subject of a series of vivid paintings:

Hale works large (the above painting is over five feet wide) using the traditional artist materials of oil paint on stretched canvas or linen.

Hale is a prime example of an artist who can move fluidly between the fields of illustration and "fine" art or gallery painting.  In his personal Artist's Statement for the exhibition catalog, Hale writes thoughtfully:
My career in illustration stretched from 1981 to 2000 with a few later forays and lapses.... [T]he more illustration work I did, the more its necessary strictures and compromises became trouble....My unhappiness with the illustration work I was producing pushed me into portraiture and then fine art (though that is a dumb misnomer in many ways).  But as I progressed, an unexpected element that is normally associated with illustration turned out to be at the center of the newer work: narrative.  In a way I stayed true to my original and unself-conscious love of illustration.

These and other original works by Hale will be on display at the exhibition.


Matthew Harwood said...

David - Thank you for sharing. I'm always learning from your posts. In your Delaware Art Museum exhibition, do you show contemporary influences as well? For example, Rick Berry's influence on Phil Hale.

bill said...

Hard pressed to find a greater influence in certain illustration circles over the last 20 years. I really love his paintings and enjoyed his treatment of the Tony Blair portrait.

Anonymous said...

Hale is so influential, he has dozens of imitators. It's amazing that he gave it all up for fine art.


David Apatoff said...

Matthew Harwood--The written materials for the show touch upon Hale's apprenticeship with Berry; I think the stories of his training, and of his family's background in art, are very interesting. But we don't show any of Berry's work, or the work of hundreds of other artists whose work I admire. We tried to get 8 choice works by 8 choice artists, representing the larger aspects of illustration today.

bill-- Agreed. And his paintings are even more potent when you stand in front of the originals on the wall. We have a strong selection for the show. Many thanks to Phil and to the other owners who have loaned their art for this show.

JSL-- Phil's "fine" art, combined with his candid and thoughtful assessment of the continuing role of his roots in illustration, make him the perfect artist to exemplify the marriage of these two fields.

WWick said...

Stunning art no matter what you call it. I assume the contrast of the second painting should look more like the first? These I'd love to see in the flesh.

Reminiscent of Belgian painter Michael Borremans, particularly the restricted palette of the two Conrad illustrations. Or maybe I should say Borremans is reminiscent of Hale. Either way, Borremans falls under the (often derided) Contemporary Art label. Hale should be hailed (sorry) for helping to blur the distinctions between Illustration and Fine Art.

Anonymous said...

I have loved Hale for a long time, and found him sort of through Berry and my love of his work. The great podcast site, Sidebar, has an interview with him (and many others), which can be seen at http://sidebar.typepad.com/my_weblog/2012/01/phil-hale.html . The guys there are illustration fans, knowledgeable and enthusiastic.

Ken Meyer Jr.

Jesse Hamm said...

I find "gallery art" to be a good substitute for the term "fine art." It covers works sold through brick & mortar galleries as well as online galleries and the ad hoc "galleries" of fairs and conventions, without the implicit value judgment of the term "fine art."

Hale's great; one of Frazetta's few rivals in the fantasy milieu. Another artist due for a big fat "Art of" book!

jamesnobel said...

Phil Hale is, to me, a much greater artist than Frank Frazetta. In the end, Frazetta couldn't escape the comic book cover mentality. Some of his early work suggested that he would—but instead of moving forward, he went backward. Very sad, because Frazetta was, in many ways, a kind of organic genius. He just wasn't bright enough or courageous enough to see what to do with that amazing gift. On the other hand, Phil Hale is not only technically impressive, he is most obviously a deeply probing and provocative artist. I love his work.