An artist recently took up the task of capturing the residents of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in Palo Alto, California, with magnificent results.
Featuring within the “Front Yard/Backstreet” group exhibition at the Palo Alto Art Center are a number of outstanding charcoal and graphite drawings by artist Joel Daniel Phillips. From June 2015 through August, Phillips was honored as the Palo Alto Art Center’s artist in residence, a distinction that required him to create a body of work aimed at the city of Palo Alto, California.

Joel Phillips, “Don,” 2015, charcoal and graphite on paper, 20 x 27 in. (c) Joel Phillips 2015

Phillips decided to turn his artistic lens on the residents of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, which remains the last of its kind as poorer residents become increasingly displaced due to the rapid growth of the middle class in the Bay Area. Embroiled in a legal battle, the park has fought to survive and has evolved into a symbol in the long-running debate over gentrification.
The resulting body of work highlights not just the character of each individual mobile home, but the people who inhabit them. Phillips’s large drawings are, from a formal perspective, absolutely marvelous in their photographic realism. “Fred” displays the range of the artist’s skill, with every plant and texture rendered with extreme care. In the drawing we find Fred and his black Labrador companion. Standing at center with his home behind, Fred gazes out at the viewer with a welcoming smile.

Joel Phillips, “Amanda,” 2015, charcoal and graphite on paper, 60 x 90 in. (c) Joel Phillips 2015

Of his mission, Phillips writes, “In these drawings my goal was to explore the relationship between the tenants and their wonderfully varied homes. Buena Vista is a deeply unique space, both culturally and aesthetically, and it seemed to me that much of the debate around the potential closure has focused on just about everything but the residents themselves.” He adds, “The works are meant to investigate a small part of the cultural fabric that is this unique park, which sits in such contrast to much of the rather curated and sculpted perfection that is Palo Alto proper.”
“Front Yard/Backstreet” opened on September 18 and will be on view through December 13.
To learn more, visit the Palo Alto Art Center.
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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