Ken Phillips, Canadian artist

Canadian artist Ken Phillips (1909-1983) attended the Ontario College of Art during the dynamic years of 1928-1933, as well as classes in New York in 1930. His teachers included Group of Seven’s Arthur Lismer and J.E.H. Macdonald as well as Emanuel Hahn.

While at the College of Art he met and fell in love with fellow artist Marie Cecilia Guard. While the pair studied art in New York in 1930, they married.

Phillips’ story includes a childhood during a fascinating golden age in Toronto, his experience in New York in 1930, and his successes during the Depression years. It also is a story of a rare artist couple who were supportive of and inspired by each others’ work.

Over his lifetime, Ken painted and drew landscapes, architectural studies, figures and still lifes, perhaps most significant were his eloquent pictures of Toronto landscapes before they were demolished and his late oil landscapes.

Although Phillips and Guard were trained in the Group of Seven style, they continued to explore and evolve throughout sixty years of work. As husband and wife, they frequently painted the same subjects, but from different (but complimentary) perspectives. In later years as well as painting in water color and oil, Phillips taught art, participated in art exhibitions, and made almost yearly sketching trips to Europe in the seventies and eighties.

For more information about Ken Phillips, contact Peri Phillips McQuay

9 thoughts on “Ken Phillips, Canadian artist

  1. Joanne Howes

    Hi, just went to an auction at my favorite stone house, here just outside Erin, Ont. Purchased a drawing of the house done by Ken Phillips. I just love it & would love to find out more about it. When it was done, etc. Thanks, look forward to hearing from you.

    1. phillipsandguard Post author

      Dear Joanne,

      I am delighted that you got in touch with me about your new drawing. I believe this would have been done shortly after I left home, in the late sixties or early seventies. Because of its time it is not in the catalog of Ken Phillips and his artist wife Marie Cecilia Guard’s work. Here’s what I think, though. As well as being a lifelong professional artist, my father worked in the art advertising department at Simpson’s, where he became known for his skill as an artist and passion for Toronto architecture. The President, G. Allan Burton, became interested in his work and commissioned him to come to his home and created a portrait of it for him and his new wife Betty Kennedy (a tv personality of the time). I’m thinking the sketch might have been in addition to an oil painting, but I don’t know. Allan Burton was so interested in the process that he commissioned my father Ken to create a Christmas card for him and took art lessons himself, which inspired him to make his own cards. It is typical of my father that the picture is roughly matted. He firmly believed in mats for every work.

      Interestingly, when my parents moved to eastern Ontario later, they bought a handsome stone house of their own.

      Based on recent interest in these forgotten, Group of Seven trained artists I believe that with time this work of art will have significant value.

      It’s a pleasure to see this handsome drawing and I thank you for contacting me.
      If you have any further questions, please get in touch.

      Peri Phillips McQuay

  2. Susan Ginn

    I would like to correspond with Ken Philips daughter to learn more more about Ken Philip’s work at Simpsons art dept.
    My father Walter Brown and mother Olive Peebles graduated from the Ontario College of Art in 1939.
    My father then went on to work at Simpson’s Art Dept as Manager.
    Please forward my request to her.
    Susan Ginn

    1. phillipsandguard Post author

      Dear Susan,

      Thank you for getting in touch with me. Likely my father, Ken Phillips, began work a decade before your father. He worked in Simpson’s Art Advertising Department, doing advertisement illustrations for various departments. He had spent a year in New York in 1930 working for a New York advertising department. He supported my mother Marie Cecilia Guard so she could do a post-graduate year at OCA. They felt she would be able to earn money as an illustrator. I believe he was offered a department headship, probably in the fifties, but declined because he didn’t want to be involved in politics. I remember his head for a long while was called Mark Bosey sp?. The hours were long, and war time made his commute to Cooksville difficult. When I was a child, he even worked Saturday mornings.

      When my father was studying, it was common for artists to work in advertising to support their work, and in fact I have a high school essay of my father’s about the excitement and power of advertising work. Doubtless this was inspired by his OCA teachers, where he took part time classes at that time. Over time, inevitably he became disillusioned by the field. His passion was his art, and although he never did less than his best with his Simpson’s work, it definitely hampered his life work. In the seventies, Simpson’s realized what a resource they had in my father and his lively drawings of old Toronto architecture. They commissioned some of his pictures to be reproduced as prints and souvenir items, such as silk scarves.

      You also must have many interesting stories about OCA and the teachers there during the dynamic thirties.

      I appreciate your interest.

  3. Jamie Burton

    As a “budding” member of the Burton family, Ken Phillips to me was a big figure in the Advertising dept.You may not know this but he was highly thought of at all times in the company. My father was an artist in his own right, and held Mr. Phillips, and his work, in great esteem.In fact ,many members of the family, my Grand Father, my parents, my family, my sister’s family ,and others throughout the main store, received hand drawn Christmas cards each year. All were ink caricatures ,of the city, and timely topics ,with a short personal line under most.They were big enough to frame, as are my three.
    They are highly cherished as, at one point in time, he worked with me . My father had a few of his Toronto paintings which he very much loved.
    Ken Phillips work in any form was one of the things that made Simpsons, Simpsons

    1. phillipsandguard Post author

      Jamie, I was greatly touched by your getting touch to let me know. As I’m sure you know, my father was passionate about his art, never letting a day go by without sketching. His relationship with the Burtons, and their appreciation of what mattered to him was a bright point in his life. I had moved on to university by that time, but I do remember Ken remarking on your father as an artist and his happiness in working with him. Thank you for your remembramces.

  4. James Vella

    Peri, I acquired a drawing of Augusta Ave Kensington Market, I think it’s a print and not likely an original but can’t tell, did he have many prints made?

    Would it be valuable?

    Kensington is one of my favourite areas so I bought it for myself
    but there was a 2nd one that I did not buy and would go back to
    see if it is still there if it has value but its of ?University Ave, If I
    recall correctly.

    look forward to your response,


  5. Elaine George

    Hello Peri,
    We have owned a painting by Ken and will be passing it on to a friend as a gift.
    It is a lovely image of kitchen vegetables in a colourful oil description. Did he
    ever live in Port Credit? Did he ever mention the artist Peter Clapham Sheppard?
    This painting is one of our earliest finds and is an excellent image. Hope to find
    more if his work someday.

  6. phillipsandguard Post author

    Hello Elaine,
    Thank you for your interest in my father, Ken Phillips’, art. My artist parents, Ken Phillips and Marie Cecilia Guard, in 1939 bought 3 acres of land in what was then Cooksville and is now Mississauga. They lived there for many years in the house they built, surrounded by woods . Although what was then 182 Harborn Trail was technically in Cooksville, being just north of the Queen Elizabeth Highway, my father commuted by way of the Port Credit train to his art advertising job in Toronto. Port Credit was our main centre. I remember the dairy, hardware, Wickens’ bakery and Hooper’s Drugstore. One of his paintings is of “the gasworks”, just west of Clarkson. My maternal grandparents lived for some years in Lorne Park by the lake, so we visited them there often, having shore picnics beside Lake Ontario.

    When I was a teenager, my parents had two successful exhibitions at the Port Credit Library.

    As a girl, my mother lived on the Credit River, just south of the train tracks. When my parents met at the College of Art, my father would take the street car to the Mimico train station. My mother would paddle her canoe to the station to pick him up, and they would then spend the day at my mother’s Port Credit house.

    If it isn’t too much to ask, I would love to see a photo of your still life, with the dimensions. I suspect that this painting is not in the catalog of my father’s art. (You could send this to me at

    Thanks, Peri


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