Hill's unique, hand-painted photographs and prints reveal an urban landscape burning brightly from behind its own cattle-and-cowpokes mythology. His surreal, color-drenched views of midtown bowling alleys and space-age Sunnyslope banks telegraph a truer Phoenix to folks who think we're still a cow town. And his love affair with the Financial Center has brought us a series of acrylic-enhanced images that speak of a city established not on a tumbleweed-strewn desert plain, but on the cusp of the technological age. His art speaks of a city with a unique sense of place, a tranquil, organized urban environment that was standing tall back when all those postcards and cigarette ads wanted outsiders to believe we were a parched, sand-colored wasteland.

Artist Laura Spalding wasn't fooled by all the cowboy stuff in the first place. She came here from Chicago to go to ASU about a decade ago, and stayed to paint mundane fixtures of city life: power lines snaking through sunny suburban skies; stark traffic lights against a smoggy sunset. Like Hill's, hers is a more sincere picture of Phoenix, one that flies in the face of yesterday's cowboy claptrap.

"The idea behind these paintings was just to admit that we live here," Spalding says, "and not in some quaint old artist's notion of a desert landscape. If you stand in the middle of Phoenix, you're not going to see a cactus wren and a prickly pair. You're going to see streetlights and the tops of palm trees against an urban skyline. That's what Phoenix actually looks like."

Frances Boutique proprietess, Georganne Bryant .
Jamie Peachey
Frances Boutique proprietess, Georganne Bryant .
Frances Boutique
Jamie Peachey
Frances Boutique
MoPho queen Alison King.
Jamie Peachey
MoPho queen Alison King.
Ralph Haver home.
Jamie Peachey
Ralph Haver home.
Red owner Jonathan Wayne
Jamie Peachey
Red owner Jonathan Wayne
Red Modern Furniture in its home, a recently rehabbed Ralph Haver building.
Jamie Peachey
Red Modern Furniture in its home, a recently rehabbed Ralph Haver building.
Phoenix booster Kimber Lanning helped kick-start local cool with Stinkweeds.
Jamie Peachey
Phoenix booster Kimber Lanning helped kick-start local cool with Stinkweeds.
New shops on Roosevelt Row.
New shops on Roosevelt Row.
One of several new light-rail stops.
One of several new light-rail stops.
ASU Downtown
Jamie Peachey
ASU Downtown
Cindy Dach and Greg Esser launched downtown staples eye lounge and MADE.
Jamie Peachey
Cindy Dach and Greg Esser launched downtown staples eye lounge and MADE.
MADE
Jamie Peachey
MADE
MADE
Jamie Peachey
MADE

These sincere snapshots of the city are helping to overhaul Phoenix's antiquated image. Greg Esser thinks so, anyway. He ought to know; Esser once ran the city's public arts program and, along with wife Cindy Dach, now owns several successful spots along what's known as Roosevelt Row, a former blighted area that's now a thriving block of mixed-use bungalows, home to artist studios, boutiques, and galleries. He and Dach are high on a list of Phoenix boosters who've been instrumental in resurrecting downtown.

"Instead of marketing our tourist assets, like golfing and sunny weather, we're acknowledging that people live here year-round," Esser says of the grassroots movement that's helped to haul Phoenix into the 21st century. "We're talking about our ability to grow things the community wants, rather than what visitors might spend tourism dollars on before going back home."

Georganne Bryant isn't worried. She thinks the "Leave Phoenix" part of her message will eventually always be trumped by the "Love Phoenix" part. She sees a new day dawning, one in which people come to Phoenix to play golf and go home only long enough to pack their belongings and move here. "It's a kind of energy — you can feel that something's happening here," she says. "A year from now, people will get here and see what we have going on," she says, "and they won't want to be anyplace else."

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4 comments
Giulio Sciorio
Giulio Sciorio

I've been here since 81 and the development of down town has been super slow almost going backwards in some areas.

At one time we had F1 races in down town now you have to hunt to get a meal after 6pm.

I love it here but as a working artist and someone who lives and works down town I can tell you there is not shit to do in downtown. Everything closes early, its boring if you don't like sports but we have a few theaters.

Things like the slow speed limit and shutting down service of the light rail make it a joke. Who's gonna leave a bar at 11pm so that they can make the light rail? Not me and not any I know of.

There's very little incentive to open a business in down town. The city gov could give a shit less about the artists. They waited just long enough before tearing down so many beautiful homes so that ASU could move in and save us. Has anyone paid attention to the Westward Ho? It should be this amazing boutique hotel but instead its where old people go to die.

The art scene is good if you know where to look but people still think of LA or NYC as the place to get good art. I can't even count how many jobs local artists loose to some douche from LA or NYC. Even the book PHX by Edward Booth-Clibborn has all photography by a Japanese photographer. WTF??

Newton got a LA phone number and its helped him get more clients in town. WTF to that too.

I'm not hating on ptown I love it here. I'm hating on the fuckers that don't pay attention to Phoenix artists. We're here and we're kicking ass.

Maybe when I had my fill and move to LA I'll get more work in Phoenix 'cause you know I'm fucken rad cause I'm like, ya know from LA.

Native Arizonan since 1956
Native Arizonan since 1956

Has Phoenix finally arrived? I had no idea it needed to "arrive". Some people said it arrived with the addition of an NFL franchise (we know the truth about that). Some say it arrived when the DBacks won the World Series. Some say it arrived when we surpassed Philly for 5th largest city in America.Me? I don't think it needs to arrive and yet, I know in some people's eyes Phoenix will always be "almost there", needing that one more missing ingredient to put it on the map or make it culturally significant. I was born here and have lived here most of my life. It was good enough then and it's good enough now.

Donna
Donna

You said it.

George
George

Phoenix is a hole.

 
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