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By Sandra Arteaga

Phil Paradise created somber watercolors of rural and urban scenes and received national credited attention by major art critics in the 1930s. His ambition and love for the arts led him to become one of the greatest artists of the California Watercolor school.

Table of Contents


Phillip Herschel Paradise was born on August 26, 1905 in Ontario, Oregon. At an early age, Paradise moved with his family to Bakersfield, CA where he lived most of his childhood. At an early age, Paradise demonstrated a strong work ethic which became even more apparent during his teenage years. While he was in high school, Paradise worked several jobs as a chauffer, mechanic assistant, and a soda jerk. In addition, Paradise worked for the Standard Oil Company, where he was taught the skill of sign painting. Although he enjoyed his job as a sign painter, Paradise was determined to pursue a profession that would allow him to express his artistic creativity.

After leaving his job as a sign painter, Paradise studied architectural drawing with Clarence Cullimore. Furthermore, while studying architectural drawing, Paradise was convinced that he wanted to develop his artistic skills even further through formal art training. However, he knew that his chances of obtaining a good education in Bakersfield were very slim. With the advice of his friend, Ruth Heil, Paradise decided to move to Los Angeles soon after completing high school.

In 1923, Paradise enrolled at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, where he studied under prominent artists such as Frank Tolles Chamberlain, Rico Lebrun, and Leon Kroll. These artists came to be a major influence in Paradise’s work. Unfortunately, in 1925, Paradise’s studies were interrupted by his father’s new business in Santa Barbara, CA. His father had just opened up a combined service station and coffee shop and needed Paradise’s assistance. As a result, Paradise moved to Santa Barbara, CA, where he enrolled in a few courses at the Santa Barbara School of Art.

After a couple of years of working part time at his father’s business, Paradise returned to Los Angeles and resumed his art training at Chouinard from 1927 to 1931. That same year, Paradise joined the California Watercolor Society. Then in 1928, Paradise held his first exhibition with Milliard Sheets at the Hollywood Public Library. The exhibition was reviewed by the renowned art critic, Arthur Miller, who gave the exhibition his approval. The following year, one of his paintings was exhibited at the Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. By 1930, Paradise was greatly recognized as a Regionalist, and was actively selling his work in both New York City and Los Angeles.

Fascinated by Latin American culture, Phil Paradise spent a significant portion of his career traveling to places like Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. In 1930, Paradise took his first trip to Mexico, where he stayed in the southern city of Mazatlán. During this same period, Paradise became an instructor and the Director of Fine Arts at Chouinard Art Institute from 1931 to 1940. Then in 1936, Paradise married his first wife Virginia, who accompanied him on his many trips to Mexico.

While continuing to expand his career achievements, Paradise became the President of the California Watercolor Society in 1939. In addition, that same year Paradise moved with his wife to Pasadena, CA. The following year, Paradise opened a print shop in Cambria, CA while still living in Pasadena. His career took a new turn as he became an art director and production designer at Paramount Studios from 1944 to 1948. However, his ambition did not end there and from 1946 to 1960, Paradise was an illustrator for notable magazines such as Fortune, Westways, and True.

During his late forties and into his early fifties, Paradise was a lecturer at various colleges. In 1952, he taught at the University of Texas in El Paso. Then, he went on to teach at Scripps College for one year. While lecturing, Paradise also completed other projects. For instance, in 1955, Paradise began to experiment with serigraphs and then with sculpture a few years later. Paradise was the director at Greystone Gallery from 1962 until 1970. Then on February 7th, 1997, Paradise died at the age of 91 in Santa Barbara, CA.


Although Phil Paradise is often defined as a Regionalist, perhaps the most fitting term for him should be “innovator”. Not only did Paradise constantly explore new subject matter in his works throughout his career, but he also explored many mediums such as watercolor, lithography, serigraphs, and ceramics. Most importantly, Paradise was able to successfully develop his artistic skills within many of these mediums.

Phil Paradise was an important member of the American Regionalist Art Movement in the late 1920s and 1930s. Regionalism was different from other art movements in the sense that it portrayed rural and urban life in an idealized manner. Paradise’s early works were influenced by this style and focused on everyday subject matter such as cityscapes and life in the country.

During his involvement in the Regionalist Art Movement, Paradise worked predominantly with watercolors. As part of the California Watercolor movement, Paradise’s watercolor works consisted of dark tones and a subtle use of light in the chiaroscuro style. However, unlike other artists in the Regionalist Art movement, Paradise is most widely known for his paintings of horses. In fact, Paradise’s interest for horses was greatly influenced by Lawrence Murphy, an artist and teacher who convinced Paradise to study and draw Arabian horses. Some of his most famous watercolor paintings include, Corral (1935) and Indians Threshing (date unknown), both images of rural scenes. In these early works, Paradise used a dry brush technique, which involved dragging a dry brush with paint across the canvas, creating a scratchy appearance instead of the traditional blended effect.

From the time Paradise started painting with watercolors, his talent did not go unnoticed. While studying at Chouinard Art Institute, Paradise held his first art exhibition in 1928. With the success of the exhibition, Paradise gained national recognition as a prominent watercolorist.

During the late 1940s, after traveling to Mexico and Central America, Paradise’s work changed extensively in terms of subject matter. While on these trips, Paradise was most intrigued by the people and the culture that he encountered, in particular, indigenous people. As a result, Paradise began to paint people more than any other subject. He once stated, “[…] people interest me more than buildings and landscape” (Penney 35).

In addition, Paradise no longer painted in a Regionalist style or in a chiaroscuro manner; instead, his new style consisted of light colors done with a wet brush. Works like, Gathering Water, Lining up the Horses and The Market Tree, San Lucas, Atitlan are full of light, vibrant colors. Although these paintings showcase the brilliant, multicolor garments of the indigenous people, Paradise was more interested in capturing the mood of the place in his watercolor paintings.

While traveling, Paradise produced many sketches recording his observations that he later transformed into paintings. Some of the paintings that derived from these sketches were later painted using mixed-media such as tempera. By this time, Paradise was a successful, as well as experienced artist, which allowed him to work at a rapid pace. For instance, on his trip to Guatemala in 1949, Paradise produced about 150 sketches and 10 watercolors in just two weeks. Moreover, due to the popularity of this subject matter at the time, Paradise received even greater admiration from art critics.

In 1955, Paradise decided to try serigraphy, a medium which he had briefly used in the past but had not had the opportunity to seriously undertake. The fact that the process of producing a serigraph required no exterior assistance as the lithography process does, appealed to Paradise the most due to his autonomous personality. In fact, Paradise attempted to learn all he could about serigraphy on his own which only caused him extreme frustration. Paradise was not content with his early serigraphs and often destroyed them. Nevertheless, Paradise found a way to overcome this challenge and finally grew fond of his serigraphs. In addition, he received several commissions from Scripps College and New York Graphics. By 1969, Paradise mastered serigraphy and was finally able to achieve his dream of supporting his family through his art. Speaking of his venture into serigraphy, he stated, “I was searching for a way to make a living solely from my own work” (Lovoos 44-45).


  • 1905 Born on August 26 in Ontario, Oregon
  • 1923 Studies at Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles
  • 1925 Stops studying at Chouinard and moves to Santa Barbara, CA; Continues his art training at the Santa Barbara School of Art
  • 1927 Joins Watercolor Society
  • 1927-1931 Resumes his art education at Chouinard Art Institute
  • 1928 First exhibition at the Hollywood Public Art Library with Milliard Sheets
  • 1930 Actively sells his works in both New York and Los Angeles and visits Mazatlán, Mexico
  • 1931 Exhibits his watercolors of Mexico
  • 1931-1940 Instructs at Chouinard
  • 1932 Visits Mexico City
  • 1936 Marries his first wife Virginia
  • 1939 Becomes president of California Watercolor Society and moves to Pasadena, CA
  • 1940 Opens a print workshop in Cambria, CA
  • 1944-48 Becomes art director and production designer at Paramount Studios
  • 1946-1960 Illustrates for Fortune, Westways, and True Magazines
  • 1949 Visits Guatemala in September
  • 1952 Lectures at University of Texas
  • 1953 Becomes associate member of the National Academy of Design.
  • 1955 Begins to produce serigraphs
  • 1956-57 Lectures at Scripps College
  • 1962-70 Directs Greystone Gallery
  • 1964 Starts sculpting in the fall
  • 1997 February 7th, dies in Santa Barbara, CA

  • Bakersfield College, CA
  • California School of Arts and Crafts, CA
  • Cornell University, NY
  • Denver Art Museum, CO
  • Laguna Art Museum, CA
  • Library of Congress, Washington D.C.
  • Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, PA
  • San Diego Museum of Art, CA
  • Spokane Art Association, WA

  • 1928 Hollywood Public Library, CA
  • 1939 Los Angeles Museum Exposition Park, CA
  • 1939-45 Art Institute of Chicago, IL
  • 1946 Ferargil Galleries, NY
  • 1968 El Paso Museum of Art, TX
  • 1972 Phoenix Art Museum, AZ
  • 1988 Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA
  • 1991 Todd Madigan Gallery, CA
  • 1998 The Charleston Renaissance Gallery, SC
  • Laguna Art Museum, CA
  • 2008 Claremont Museum of Art, CA

  • American Watercolor Society
  • California Watercolor Society
  • Foundation of Western Design
  • National Academy of Design
  • Philadelphia Watercolor Club

  • 1934 Merit Award, Los Angeles Art Association
  • 1934 Second Prize, Oil, Los Angeles County Fair
  • Honorable Mention, California Watercolor Society
  • 1938 Second Prize, Oakland Art Gallery
  • 1939 Dana Water Color Medal, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
  • 1940 First Prize, Watercolors, Golden Gate International Exposition
  • 1941 Purchase Prize, San Francisco International Exposition
  • 1942Award, Artists for Victory Exhibition, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • 1945 Award, Art in America Exhibition, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • 1945 Pepsi Cola Award
  • 1949 Second Prize, Oil, California State Fair
  • VIII. Bibliography

    1. 1. Anderson, S.M. (1998). Regionalism The California View: Watercolors 1929-1945. [exhibition catalog] place: Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
    2. 2.
    3. 3. Falk, P.H. (1985). Who’s Who in American Art 1564-1975. Madison, CT: Sound View Press.
    4. 4. Hughes, E.M. (1989). Artist’s in California, 1786-1940. San Francisco, CA: Hughes Publishing Company.
    5. 5. Lovoos, J. (1969). The Seriographs of Phil Paradise. American Artist, 33, 43-8+.
    6. 6. Lovoos, J. (1989). Paradise Revisited. American Artist, 53.2, 64-67.
    7. 7. Penney, J. (1950). Phil Paradise in Guatemala. American Artist, 14, 33-7+.
    8. 8. Scott, A. (Ed.). (2006). Yosemite: Art of an American Icon. [exhibition Catelog] Place: Autry National Center in Los Angeles.
    9. 9. Westphal, R., & Dominik, J.B. (Eds.). (1991). American Scene Painting California, 1930’s and 1940’s. Irvine, CA: Westphal Publications.