Patric Stillman: Committed to his creativityFeature Story, Latest Issue, Section 4A Thursday, September 14th, 2017
Patric Stillman has been active in the local art scene for over 30 years and is a self-taught artist. He is the founder and director of The Studio Door here in San Diego located in North Park at 3750 30th Street.
Stillman grew up in Minnesota and as he explains, his love of art came directly from a close family member.
“No doubt that my mom passed along the energy and creativity,” Stillman said. “I look back now and I realize she really was fearless. When she wasn’t busy handling the family, the cooking and house, she was in the basement where she had set up a hair salon and work studio. She loved creative challenges. She knew how to knit, quilt, crochet, paint and more. She made a stain glass window for the front door, hung plants on the patio in homemade jute plant hangers and the holidays were filled with gifts of pottery that she painted and baked. Her enthusiasm for being creative was endless. She was remarkable.”
Stillman has said that he’s had an awakening regarding his work as an artist and that it made him who he is today.
“I grew up with parents who encouraged my creativity,” Stillman said. “I believe the arts helped me find the confidence to define who I wanted to be. As an adult, I struggled quite a bit with my career jumping back and forth between business, community service and the arts. My portfolio grew but seemed to be full of sketches and ideas for some larger work that never really happened. After the turn of the century, I consciously sat myself down to contemplate what I wanted out of my life and made a real commitment to my creativity.”
Over the years Stillman has dabbled in many different types of art. His work ranges from paintings to sculpture and even photography. He made his way to San Diego after spending years in San Francisco as a young artist in the ’80s.
“San Francisco was very different in the ‘80s. The hippie thing had receded by then but the city was still filled with liberal, creative people. Outside of the legitimate galleries and the city funded organizations, the motto for art seemed to be anything goes. It was a real education for me. In spite of being well traveled, I still was just a boy from the rural part of Minnesota. I was constantly surprised by finding new murals, pop up performances and festival sized works in Golden Gate Park. We lost so many artists to AIDS by then so there was quite a bit of confusion as well.
“San Francisco was a very social city. People took an interest in each other. It was a fantastic Gay Mecca with endless possibilities. Even then you could hold hands or steal a kiss on the street in most neighborhoods without any trouble. When I saw something go down with the police in the Castro, strangers would intervene to make sure that things didn’t get out of hand. The most difficult part of that time for me was that it was hard to make friends because everyone was feeling so much loss due to the AIDS epidemic but even with their grief, the community pulled itself together to take care of our own. I volunteered with The Shanti Project not realizing how much I would be involved in AIDS organizations throughout my career.”
Stillman came out when he was a young man but as with most men, he struggled to find the right time to share his news with his family.
“Coming out is never an easy process,” Stillman admitted. “I was very fortunate. I sort of had to come out twice. I came out to my parents while I was in high school but was too shy to admit to having had sex so they held out some hope that it was a phase. They made it clear that they loved me but didn’t want that kind of life for me. In true Midwestern fashion, we all sort of tiptoed around the subject and struggled with it on our own. By the time college rolled around, I fell in love and decided to move to San Francisco so that required another talk. When that relationship went south, my mother soothed my worries by talking about how difficult things were when she first married my father. It was a huge step for both of us, which was very healing and brought us closer.”
Given his life experiences Stillman has drawn from those experiences and it has become his palate for his artwork.
I believe that my best work is personal,” Stillman confided. “Gay themes come naturally to my viewpoint as an artist. I get new ideas and techniques when I play with different media. I approach visual art much like an actor who may be known for doing dramatic theater but also knows how to act to the camera, model, sing and dance. When I made the decision to focus on my creativity, Brotherhood Tarot was the first project. Using the tradition of the Tarot and mixing it up with the gay male experience, I was able to express my spirituality, my sexuality, my wanderlust and my creativity for the first time. This year, I have come full circle with my art returning to these themes but now they are taking on a cinematic form influenced heavily by film noir.”
It’s clear that Stillman’s work is personal. Living in San Francisco during the ‘80s gave him firsthand experience in watching the AIDS epidemic unfold. Many of Stillman’s friends, like so many during that time, succumbed to the disease and are featured in some of his works.
“My loved ones often appear in my work,” Stillman admitted. “I lost so many friends over the years that I dedicated a good deal of my life working in HIV/AIDS services. In recent works, they are popping up in my 55 Project. While I was working on my solo show, I wanted to hide those works until they were ready to be seen but I didn’t want people to forget that I’m an artist. Often, people just see me as a gallery owner or businessman. So I came up with the idea that I would paint one year of my life each week for 55 weeks, which will lead to my 55th birthday later this year. Friends who are no longer alive pop up, for sure. Impossible to forget the love, the friendships and the heartbreak.”
Last year Stillman’s work was seen in Paris and he was also commissioned to paint a life-size cow for the Got Milk campaign. This year his work has been seen locally.
“This year, my work was exhibited locally at the Oceanside Museum of Art and Poway Performing Arts Center among others,” Stillman said. “My self-portrait was just accepted into L Street Gallery for the Best of the Oceanside Museum of Art Artist Alliance, which I am very excited about. I spent the first half of the year preparing for my solo show Person Place or Thing. While I continue to work on that series, I’ve been building relationships to get my work seen in other cities. It takes time and I hope that next year, the work will find its way to Toronto, New York or San Francisco.”
There is one thing that comes across when listening to Stillman speak of his work and his life and that is that he is a humble man. He’s accomplished quite a bit thus far but is more than aware that he can’t rest on his laurels. Humble indeed.
“Being an active artist in today’s world requires a lot of work outside of the studio,” Stillman confessed. “You never really know what will happen next. There is a great deal of competition and nearly as many gatekeepers.”
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