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“Nassau Hall to Hoagie Haven: Paintings by James McPhillips” on Display at PPL

“McPhillips Self Portrait”

No matter where Princeton-natives live, James McPhillips’ paintings will take you home.

By Sarah Emily Gilbert 

If you don’t already have James (Jay) McPhillips’ Princeton rebus on your car, you’ve likely seen the bright orange bumper sticker around town. McPhillips’ pop rebus graphics have certainly made their mark on Princeton, and most recently, the Princeton Public Library (PPL). In conjunction with the redesign of the library’s second floor, McPhillips debuted his biggest art show to date, “Nassau Hall to Hoagie Haven.” On display in the Reading Room until July 31, the body of work features paintings of Princeton and the surrounding areas, along with the pop rebus graphics synonymous with McPhillips’ name.

Commissioned by the Arts Council of Princeton, the exhibit includes 27 paintings of familiar scenes around town ranging from local businesses to campus buildings. Some even provide insightful quotes like his rebus painting just outside the PPL’s second floor Reading Room that suggests, “Let’s all get a masters degree in compassion.” While half of the paintings were already complete when he was asked to exhibit his work at the grand opening of the second floor, McPhillips had to complete the rest rather quickly, staying up until 3 or 4 a.m. painting.

“You name it, I’ve painted it,” says McPhillips. When I’m walking through town, I usually notice the lighting around a particular scene that really makes it stand out. I’ll take a picture of it, and work from the photos to recreate the image using oil paints. I’ve found that the paintings work better if I know the place well.”

“Nassau Hall Square Print”

Indeed, McPhillips knows the town. After working as a Comedy Central TV staffer and ad agency art director in New York, he worked for many years as a graphic designer for McCarter Theatre, where he grew to know and love Princeton.

Featuring everything from Nassau Hall to the Robertson Hall Fountain, McPhillips’ paintings can’t help but pull at Princetonians’ heartstrings, but he’s found that people are particularly drawn to his scenes of social places. McPhillips’ most popular paintings are of Hoagie Haven and Small World Coffee, and he’s been commissioned to paint the Ivy Inn not once, but twice. This might evidence locals’ proclivity for eating and drinking, but McPhillips credits their popularity to the increased tourism in town.

“It seems that there’s more tourism in Princeton than ever,” notes McPhillips. “The town’s architecture and social and cultural centers are starting to draw people from around the world. It brings good vibes to the town and makes everything more attractive to paint.” It also makes quintessential Princeton places like Hoagie Haven and the Nassau Inn more than local hotspots, but tourist attractions.

“Robertson Hall Freedom Fountain”

Whether you’re a native or an out-of-towner, McPhillips’ paintings allow you to bring a piece of Princeton to your home. All the paintings from “Nassau Hall to Hoagie Haven” are available for purchase with proceeds going towards the Arts Council of Princeton, The Princeton Public Library, and the artist.

McPhillips currently resides in Doylestown, Pa. where he works independently selling his paintings, t-shirts, stickers, and posters through his website They can also be found locally at jane Consignment located on 7 Spring Street in Princeton, or online at Princeton Magazine Online Store. The Princeton Public Library is located at 65 Witherspoon Street and is open Monday – Friday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m; Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sundays 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. For more information call the library at (609) 924-9529 or email McPhillips at

“2 B Painting”

“Prince-Ton Painting”

“Princeton Chapel 2017”

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