Discovery and Dedication: An Interview with Patric Stillman

Discovery and Dedication: An Interview with Patric Stillman

Patric Stillman

A life’s journey can take many paths.  For Patric Stillman that journey has sometimes taken the parallel paths of artist, administrator and mentor. His accomplishments as an artist and and mentor have influenced many in the San Diego art community, and as director of The Studio Door has given exposure to many other artists.

I chatted online with Patric this week to find out where that journey started and where is has taken him.

Brian Baxter, Art Guide San Diego: Hi Patric. Thanks for spending some time with us.

Patric Stillman: You know I’m glad to do anything for the arts. I appreciate everything that you are doing to get the word to the people too.

AGSD: What you do for the arts is very apparent by all the hats you wear; artist, founder and director of The Studio Door, educator and arts champion. I’m sure I missed a couple there.

P.S.: Sidewalk sweeper, window washer, the list goes on. Unfortunately, all part of the real life of an artist.

AGSD: That is so true! So, how did you get started in art? Where did it begin for you?

P.S.: I grew up with a woman who always encouraged my creativity. My mother, Gertie, was a crafty woman who spent much of her time on creative projects for herself, her family and friends. So, at a young age I dabbled.

In high school I was named “most creative” by my class. By the time college rolled around I explored the arts, but didn’t feel challenged. I felt it all came too easy.

I left the midwest and landed my first full time job at the now defunct Wolf Schultz Gallery off of Union Square in San Francisco. I was an administrative assistant surrounded with works by Chagall, Matisse, Picasso, Tamayo, Zúñiga and other masters. The business skills that I learned were more easily marketable to get a job and pay the bills, so I focused on that eventually dedicating myself to community work because of the AIDS epidemic.

You could say I had a left brain – right brain struggle most of my life. Fighting against what I could do and what I should do. The muse kept calling but I didn’t believe in myself enough to nurture it or take risks.

By 2004, I sat myself down. I asked what I really wanted out of life and looked at why I was denying my talents. I began a personal walkabout for a year. My wanderlust pushed me into exploring California, dispelling unreasonable fears and photographing everything. I found focus by creating Brotherhood Tarot, a gay-themed Tarot deck manipulating my own photography and utilizing found objects to express gay male identity. I consider this period as the true start to my creative life going strong 13 years later.

AGSD: That is quite a journey of exploration. Your adventures eventually led you to San Diego. What did you do when you first arrived here?

P.S.: In search of warmer weather, I made it down the coastline over the years finally settling in San Diego.

As an artist, you have to let your work go at some point and allow it to have its own life. After I launched Brotherhood Tarot, these works made their way across the globe. I mailed off works to 11 countries and 38 states in the first year. I was knocked off my chair when I saw that artist and Son Tarot creator Christopher Butler in England dedicate his Tarot Deck, in part, to me due to the inspiration he found using the art that I had created. I’m proud to say that it continues to resonate with gay men today who contact me with stories of how the cards have made their way into their lives.

The success of Brotherhood lead to two exhibitions in Los Angeles of my photography at Sunset Orange in Silver Lake and provided the basis of my first solo show exhibiting my paintings at the San Diego Art Department, which was on Ray Street in North Park.

Through all of this, I found an acceptance within myself to share my personal voice. I continued to push myself deeper into the life of an artist with classes, education and studio time. All of this opening doors to new ideas and thoughts that come from making connections with other artists.

“Original Hipsters” by Patric Stillman, showing at the Museum 2017 exhibition, March 4th through August 27th, at the Oceanside Museum of Art

AGSD: Did your deeper exploration into your own art and new connections lead you to expanding into your own studio?

P.S.: Like most artists, I am often ‘in my head.’ Creating art is often very personal and internal. It can even become lonely at times. Because of this, I found it necessary to get out among “my people” to experience their art, discuss ideas and expand my own knowledge.

By getting out of the studio, I found something unexpected and delightfully organic occurred. My artwork and my career as an artist accelerated. Looking around, I saw that this wasn’t unique to me. I began to balance my time in and out of the studio to embrace my fellow artists and share my own insights. I guess you could say this was the spark of the idea that would eventually become The Studio Door.

I gave myself a year to brainstorm while building a business plan to create a community arts space. It helped that I was one of the founding officers of both Media Arts Center San Diego and San Diego Film Consortium, where I saw how communities could come together to create wonderful opportunities.

It was a rocky start as I found myself renovating North Park “one gallery at a time”. The third time was the charm and I landed in the current space where I was given free reign to see the vision through. The Studio Door gave me an artist studio of my own to work out of while the gallery allowed me to create opportunities for other artists.

AGSD: How did the name “The Studio Door” come about, and how long have the ‘doors’ been open?

P.S.: In my mind, THE STUDIO DOOR indicates a entry into a creative space where artists are creating and sharing work.

The name didn’t come easily. I have at least two typed pages of potential names. It was agonizing. You have to consider if it’s memorable, easy to spell, if a domain is available and whether is holds any magic. Over time, everything else fell away and this one held firm. It really came into its own when my life partner, Danné Sadler designed the logo and video designer Al Lopez, designed the animated logo.

We held a soft launch of The Studio Door in November 2014 and a grand opening in March 2015. We are about to enter into our third year. It took some elbow grease to get it all right.

I like to think of The Studio Door as an arts incubator dedicated to the creative marketplace. The core activities include spaces to create, instruction to grow and exhibitions to share. It’s a space that is inclusive to all forms of visual arts. I like to mix things up: emerging artists hanging alongside of professional artists, local artists next to national artists, traditional art presented with contemporary works, and so on. I’m most proud of our business lab for artists, the biennial 50 To Watch exhibition that offers national exposure for local artists, and the annual Open Studios San Diego that encourages artists across the region to bring the public into their sacred spaces. I must be doing something right because the studio artists around me are flourishing. Some 50 To Watch artists are picking up exhibitions outside of the region and Professional Artist magazine named me as Mentor of the Year for my work at The Studio Door. All of this makes me simply want to work harder to see how far it can all go.

I’m fortunate that I have the mind and the heart to do the work. It certainly helps to be close to my own studio, which gives me a space to center myself. In addition to managing The Studio Door, I have kept my own art in my sights. Somehow during this same period of time, I’ve had the great fortune to exhibit in the Musée du Louvre and SCOPE Miami Beach as well as receive a commission by Got Milk? (California Milk Processing Board) to paint a life-sized cow for their charity work. It takes a lot of work but after so many years of denying myself, I’m happy to be living a creative life that utilizes everything that has come before.

AGSD: Your work has given exposure to so many artists through exhibitions and the other outlets. How many artists have studios at The Studio Door?

P.S.: Including me, ten of us are creating and showcasing our individual bodies of work. Another 200 artists have come through for lectures, workshops and classes. Over 400 artists have exhibited with us in the gallery and online.

AGSD: That’s amazing. What is in store for this year for Patric Stillman, the artist?

P.S.: Next month I’m sending out two recent works from my Ancestral series to exhibit at Oceanside Museum of Art and Poway Performing Arts/San Diego Museum of Art Artists Guild.

In terms of new work, I’m dedicating myself these days to a series that will return to the themes of ‘Identity’ that first arose in Brotherhood Tarot. After two years of supporting other artists in the gallery, I decided it was time that I take advantage of what I have built and will hold a solo show PERSON PLACE OR THING in July at The Studio Door.

Since those works are off the grid for now, I’m sharing an online weekly series that I call ’55 Project.’ One painting a week, each representing one year of my life, to be completed in 55 weeks when I will celebrate my 55th birthday. The years are in no particular order and I’m just allowing myself to have fun with it. Little stories go along with each painting that I post on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Other than that, I just keep myself open to the possibilities.

“Year Seventeen” from the 55 Project by Patric Stillman


‘Family of Eight 1937’ by Patric Stillman, to be exhibited in The San Diego Museum of Art Artists Guild exhibit DOCUMENTS & PICTURES at Poway Center for the Performing Arts on February 1st through 28th

AGSD: You wrote an op-ed in The Voice of San Diego as a response to John Raymond Mireles’s op-ed in the same publication critical of artistic opportunities and support in San Diego. Both articles have started quite a conversation in the San Diego art community. What hopes do you have for the outcome of this conversation?

P.S.: If artists weren’t passionate, it would make for a boring world. I’m thankful to be working with an arts community that is looking to improve itself. When you take the time to read through the threads, you’ll find all kinds of other thoughts have popped up because of the initial commentaries. I think that is healthy but we can’t stop there.

My hopes for San Diego’s art scene lies in the next step, which is for the arts community to be actively involved. As I mentioned in my commentary, I think that it’s better to be engaged in the opportunities that we have to make it better for artists, art galleries, art lovers and patrons. Relationships need to be nourished. Existing resources need to be utilized. We need to lift each other up more. For some that may sound like a sappy sentiment but I’m an optimist. I sincerely believe that together we can do great things. It takes focus and thoughtful action.

I see that Bread & Salt has set up a community forum tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 11. I think that’s right on target if it results in more participation.

AGSD: You also recently published “Art to Market Moment: The Artist’s Road Map Part 1” on YouTube. Was this created in part for the need of artist to get more involved with all the aspects of their career?

P.S.: Absolutely. In today’s world, professional artists need to not only master their talent but also understand basic business and marketing skills to help them succeed in the creative marketplace. The Art to Market Moment video series is an extension of the incubator lab that I oversee at The Studio Door.

The Artist’s Road Map offers a simply way for an artist to think about what they really want to accomplish. There is sort of this misnomer that all artists want the same thing but the truth is as complex as the art they are creating. Who we are as artists, the reasons we create art and what results we want are important for us to understand. This particular video is a tool to help point an artist towards personal achievement by starting off with some self-guided direction.

The series will include other topics in coming months, including what “gallery ready” really means and how to ship your artwork. Sometime simple, practical advice can help an artist stand out from the competition. I’ll explore those type of things as well.

AGSD: Well, it has been a pleasure and an honor chatting with you, Patric. Is there anything I missed?

P.S.: Thanks, Brian. I appreciate the ear. Hope that your work with Art Guide San Diego continues to grow into the hearty voice that our arts community needs. Keep up the great work and look forward to seeing you in the galleries.

Contact Info for Patric

The Studio Door

Brian Baxter
January 29, 2016

Art Guide San Diego

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