Born in Los Angeles in 1926, Phil Burns joined the Army at 17 (WWII). After the war, he stayed in Paris and studied at the Académie Julian on the GI Bill. When Phil returned to the United States, he was invited to spend a few days at the Connecticut estate of Alice De Lamar, a Palm Beach socialite who cultivated artists. One of her other guests was the Russian surrealist artist Pavel Tchelitchew. Phil asked Tchelitchew what he could do to be a better artist - he said to draw an egg every day. Returning to Los Angeles, Phil’s uncle got him a job at in the art department at Universal International Pictures. He became an art director at CBS, then NBC, designing sets for the early days of live television. After his television days, he did interior design and showrooms. Phil moved to “Rancho Motherclucker,” his house in Fallbrook, CA in 1982. Decades later, recovering from unsuccessful back surgery, Phil remembered Tchelitchew's advice to 'draw an egg every day', and from 1995-2008 he drew over 3,400 variations on the egg while suffering from chronic back pain. Phil also wrote more than 35 plays during this same period. Read more about the plays on the blog. Artist Statement: “I started doing these drawings in 1995 when I couldn’t sleep thru the night and would wake up hurting at 3am. So I’d get up, slip into my sweats and draw with a crow quill pen and India ink on light weight illustration board cut into 7-1/2” x 8” pieces. The size was dictated by cutting 30” x 40” sheets, the cutting with a mat knife was the hardest part because my left hand couldn’t hold the board. I have learned to love the world at 3am, the stillness and newness. And I’m glad to have found a way to distract myself from the pain that would make 4am a nightmare. I draw until 7 or 8, eat some breakfast, feed the chickens and nap. These drawings… don’t mean anything, there’s no message or theme or plan. They’re drawn for me and if anyone is amused or diverted…that’s OK too. I had fun and they kept me from thinking of myself and cursing the old body. I’m lucky to have been able to do them.” Phil Burns, 20 December 1996.
Phil died at his home on the evening of April 22, 2014, one month shy of this 88th birthday. He was working on his play 'Do You Remember Sex.'
Phil Burns: In His Own Words
Phil Burns Egg Artwork