One of Langley’s most beloved artists has died.
Murray Phillips passed away last week at Langley Hospice after battling a brain tumour.
Phillips was known across the country for his paintings of the Canadian wilderness. He would spend several months each year camping in remote areas of B.C. to paint beautiful landscapes on location.
In addition to his 45-year art career, Phillips also held graduate degrees in theology and cultural anthropology, and for more than 20 years taught at a number of colleges and universities.
“He was probably the kindest guy that I’ve ever met,” said artist Brian Croft, a close friend of Phillips.
“He would help anyone who needed help. He would go out of his way, particularly if somebody was emotionally distraught or there was an illness in the family. He was often the person that people would call, because he had a great empathy and a way of looking at life that seemed to soothe people.”
Croft first met Phillips in 1996, when Phillips ran an art gallery in downtown Langley. Croft was just starting out as an artist, and had brought in a few of his paintings for Phillips to see.
“They weren’t very good paintings, but he was always a very generous guy, he would never say a bad word about anything,” Croft recalled.
“He encouraged me to keep on working. He taught me how to frame it up to keep the costs down, and within a few years, he would say that I was his best selling artist. It was quite a remarkable thing, I would not have probably continued. I probably would have picked up golf clubs or something.”
A few year later, Phillips changed gears and pursued his own art full time. He became very successful in Alberta, and was one of the feature artists at the Calgary Stampede Art Show — western Canada’s largest art event — for several years.
“He transitioned from running the gallery in Langley to a successful business as being an artist, which is very, very hard to do, and not that common,” Croft said.
“There’s lots of artist, but not so many who make a living out of it and do well.”
In recent years Phillip spearheaded his own prestigious event — the West Fine Art Show — where he combined beautiful art with charity fundraisers.
Several of the shows were dedicated to his first wife, Betty, who passed away at Langley Hospice in 2013.
“Neither Betty nor Murray knew very much about hospice, but away they went. And she was there for a period of time. And I think that had a great effect on Murray, and on Betty, because it was a wonderful way for them to go through the last days of her life,” Croft said.
“And so Murray has always been one of the greatest supporters of Langley Hospice, and of course, when we do one of our art shows each year, the proceeds go to Langley Hospice. But I know he’s had a personal commitment to that society as well.”
Phillips went on to raise more than $45,000 for the Langley Hospice Society, both through the art show and privately.
“He was an incredible friend to Hospice, and we will miss him dearly,” said Shannon Todd Booth, communications and funds director with the Langley Hospice Society.
“I think he’s probably the beginning of really our opportunity to engage the public in a broader conversation about the importance of hospice and pallative care in our community. He gave us one of the first vehicles.”
The legacy of the West Fine Art Show continues, with the next show, organized by Croft, set for this weekend at Yorkson Creek Middle School.
Croft plans to speak about Phillips and his contributions during the opening reception on Friday.
“This all happened really quickly, so what we’re doing is we’re just going ahead — as I know he’d be pleased to see us do — with the show,” Croft said.
A celebration of life for Phillips is being held today (March 7) at 2 p.m. at White Rock Baptist Church, 1657 140 St.
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