Phil Dike was more than a gifted watercolorist. He was an influential educator who inspired students and challenged them — and himself — to continually expand their understanding of nature, light, and shadow.
In connection with the Laguna Art Museum’s current exhibition “Phil Dike: The Wave and Malibu Set Series, 1968–1981,” the Laguna College of Art and Design features a number of watercolors by Dike dated circa 1940 through 1982 as well as prints, ceramics, photography, and illustrations by others to highlight his influence. Many of the watercolors in “Phil Dike: Of Light, Shadow, and Beyond” have never been exhibited before.

Phil Dike, “Young Pine, Cambria,” 1963, watercolor on board, (c) Laguna College of Art and Design.

Phil Dike (1906–1990) was born in Redlands, California, and studied at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, Arts Students League in New York, and American Academy in France. Around 1930, Dike was teaching for the Chouinard Art Institute, and he’d begun exhibiting all over America, earning acclaim. By 1935, he was working and teaching with Walt Disney Studios, working on notable films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, and The Three Caballeros. His work became increasingly abstract after World War II, when he left Disney and continued to teach and paint.

Phil Dike, “Evening Light, Newport Harbor,” ca. 1950, lithograph, (c) Laguna College of Art and Design.

“Young Pine, Cambria” is a moving example and highlight of the exhibition. There is a boldness and energy in Dike’s brushwork that recalls Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh. The watercolor displays the dramatic growth patterns of branches within a large tree. There is additionally a great balance of color, light, and dark between the upper left and lower right of the page. Another, “Birds and Sea Sculpture,” is equally splendid. The image shows an empty beach with flocks of seagulls, driftwood, and a rocky projection. Similar to “Young Pine, Cambria,” Dike has balanced the composition diagonally, showing the beach in deep blue shadow to the lower left and a sun-drenched yellow and orange sea to the upper right. Upon first glance, the picture appears geometric, with bold horizontal lines and simple forms. However, closer inspection reveals a detailed touch that gives the piece a lovely finish.
“Phil Dike: Of Light, Shadow, and Beyond” opened on July 16 and will be on view until August 15 at the Laguna College of Art and Design’s main campus conference room.
To learn more, visit Laguna College of Art and Design.
This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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