Draw like there’s no tomorrow: Long Beach community remembers local artist Katie Phillips


Artworks by Katie Phillips displayed throughout the Expo Arts Center for guests to see on Saturday, Nov. 16 during a celebration of life event for the late artist.

Emotions of sadness and love filled the Expo Art Center on Nov. 17 as Long Beach residents remembered the late local artist Katie Phillips at a public reception celebrating her life.

Phillips painted multiple murals across Long Beach, including one commissioned to beautify the Aquarium of the Pacific when it was undergoing construction, and founded the local art collective Squeeze.

“From the time she was a little girl she was an artist. She always liked to sketch–– she always liked to draw,” Katie’s older sister Margaret Phillips told the Signal Tribune.”[…] She communicated through her art that beauty that she found in this world. Everything that she did was reflected in her art. So whatever phase she was going through, like musical phases or artistic phases or whatever she was reading, it just influenced her art, and you can kind of see that in the gallery over there.”

One wing of the Expo Arts Center displayed Katie’s artwork while another had a series of photos from Katie’s life as well as an ongoing slideshow that showed Katie with her husband, family members, friends and pets.

Margaret recalled how Katie had used art as an outlet for her sense of humor since they were children.

“When we were little Katie always laughed, she laughed at everything, even when she wasn’t supposed to. It started from the time she was born [until] her final days. We used to have to go to church as kids, and so we would sit there and draw pictures to get through the sermon,” Margaret told the Signal Tribune. “And we would start drawing pictures of the people around us, who was singing off key and stuff like that, and we would get in trouble because Katie would start laughing or she would just look at me and I would start laughing. Then our parents would get upset with us and we’d quite down, then we’d start doing it again. And it just got to the point that we were no longer allowed to sit next to each other. So my younger sister started doing the same thing with her, and then she got separated. You couldn’t go to church without laughing, and that was Katie in a nutshell.”

Although she had previously gone into remission, cancer was detected in Katie’s liver in 2017. While battling the disease for the final two years of her life, Katie was still active in the local artist community, continued to create and was teaching herself Japanese.

“It’s almost like she sped up her life, like she really took control of every situation she could to make art, and impactful art, no matter where she was,” Margaret said. “Even though she fought it with her entire being and refused to acknowledge the fact that this could take her life, she just wanted to do as much as she could. That’s where the Aquarium of the Pacific mural started. She began a job here at the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association and loved it. She loved doing even more public art, she loved designing really fun events for people to come to, to bring them together, to lift up the community. And she did all that stuff even after going through horrific treatments that would knock an ordinary person right off their feet.”

Among Katie’s collection of work is the mural “A Life of Possibilities,” located at 1639 E. South St. in north Long Beach. The mural is a colorful, geometric rendering of three diverse smiling children. According to the Arts Council for Long Beach’s website, the mural “represents all the choices and chances children have to shine as they grow into adulthood.”

Katie’s family has asked that those who wish to make a donation in her memory contribute to a scholarship fund created by the Arts Council for Long Beach.

“She would want any child that wants to draw, to draw,” Margaret told the Signal Tribune.

“It doesn’t matter if its the back of your homework,” she said. “Start sketching. Nobody can stop anybody from doing that. If it’s in your heart, do it, because that’s what she did.”