Phil Dike, Wave Echo, 1972, watercolor on paper, 21-1/2 x 29-1/2 inches, The E. Gene Crain Collection


What's it all about?

Philip Latimer Dike (1906–1990) grew up in Redlands, California, and studied at the Chouinard School of Art from 1924 to 1927. There, he met artist Millard Sheets, who would become a lifelong friend. Dike went to New York in 1929 to study at the Art Students League, and also studied in the studio of artist George Luks and exhibited at the New York Water Color Club. He returned to Los Angeles and taught at Chouinard for a year before traveling to Europe and studying in France at the American Academy of Fontainebleau. He resumed teaching at Chouinard in 1931.

In 1935, Dike became a color coordinator and story designer for Walt Disney Studios, contributing to such animated classics as Fantasia and Snow White. His tenure with Disney lasted until 1945. With an educational background grounded in realism, Dike was a prominent member of the California regionalist movement of the 1930s and 1940s.

Bustling beach and harbor scenes dominated Dike’s work in the 1930s and 1940s. One of his best-known interpretations of the area is California Holiday, painted from watercolor sketches he made on Labor Day, and published in Life magazine in September 1941. Of the painting he said: “This is the entrance to Newport Harbor…. The pageant of continuous activity, with more than the usual pictorial setting, has made it an exciting place to look and contemplate, if not to paint…. Maybe the exhilaration of wind, sun, and sea—sunburn, sailboats, and hot dogs may recreate moments for some of us.”

During the 1940s Dike began to abandon a strictly realist approach to incorporate semiabstract forms. In 1947, he and artist Rex Brandt founded the Brandt-Dike Summer School in Corona del Mar, and in 1950 Dike joined the faculty of Scripps College and the Claremont Graduate Schools. By the late 1960s, his work reached nearly pure abstraction, but the dominant subject matter remained the sea and man’s relationship to it. He established a summer home and studio in Cambria, California, and began painting bold, semiabstract scenes of the rugged central and northern California coast.

By the 1970s, as Dike’s work became more abstract, human elements were reduced to mystical forms, and the elements of sky, sea, and sand were reduced to striated, textured patterns. These works—collectively referred to as his Wave series—represent Dike’s mature style and powerfully express his passion for the sea. Dike retired from teaching in 1970 but continued to make his home in Claremont. As a professor emeritus, he influenced many young artists long after his retirement. In his last decades, Dike wrote poetry that expressed his feelings about the sea and man’s relationship to it.

“The days I walk on the beach,” he said, “are not just a search for a subject to paint, or to fill a notebook of facts and ideas, but to somehow reawaken the sensations of pleasure and wonder that I have felt for the sea in the years I have been painting. There is a deep satisfaction in the rhythm of the waves, the light, the smells, the sand and rock pieces that change from day to day….”

The exhibition at Laguna Art Museum will be the first comprehensive museum exhibition in over forty years of works by this prominent member of the California regionalist movement of the 1930s and 1940s, with more than sixty of his paintings that span from the 1920s through the early 1980s. Works exhibited will be from private and public collections from around California, including many that have never been exhibited before. The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication highlighting the versatility of the native California artist, reproducing not only the paintings in the exhibition, but additional works in all media.


Generous support for Phil Dike: At the Edge of the Sea was provided by E. Gene and Diane Crain, James and Martha Newkirk, Bram and Sandra Dijkstra, Woody and Judie Dike, The Hilbert Collection, Kenneth and Jan Kaplan, John Moran Auctioneers, James and Katherine Moule, Peter and Gail Ochs, and the Redfern Gallery.

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