Phil Hays

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Illustrator Phil Hays created a series of seminal blues and rock & roll LP covers in the early '70s, employing evocative watercolors to capture the regal decadence of performers including Billie Holiday…
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Illustrator Phil Hays created a series of seminal blues and rock & roll LP covers in the early '70s, employing evocative watercolors to capture the regal decadence of performers including Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith. Born March 14, 1931, in Sherman, TX, Hays spent the majority of his adolescence in Shreveport, LA, joining the U.S. Air Force upon graduating high school. In 1952 he enrolled in Pasadena's Art Center College of Design, relocating to New York City three years later. His free-flowing yet detailed watercolors earned Hays steady freelance work throughout the formative years of his career, and as his powers of interpretation grew more powerful, he earned notice alongside rivals like Robert Weaver and Jack Potter for popularizing a more expressive and less literal form of illustration that previously popular in magazines and other media. By 1957 Hays was teaching at New York's School of Visual Arts while appearing regularly in the pages of Esquire, Cosmopolitan, and McCall's. He also accepted advertising commissions from Coca-Cola, but by the mid-'60s alienated some prospective clients by steering his work into darker, more solemn territory. This approach proved exactly what Columbia Records was looking for as it reissued classic blues sessions from singers like Holiday and Smith, and Hays' covers remain iconic representations of the performers in question. He returned to the Art Center College of Design in 1979 to serve as the school's chairman, retiring from the position in 2002. Hays died October 24, 2005, at the age of 74.