By Gina McGalliard
Exploring the intersection of jazz music and visual art
You might think of jazz music as being a purely auditory art form, but the upcoming “Deliberate Distortions” exhibition — a jazz-themed art showcase held this September at the North Park gallery The Studio Door — may change your mind.
Artist and gallery owner Patric Stillman became an avid jazz fan around the age of 20 when someone introduced him to the tunes of jazz trumpet player and vocalist Chet Baker.
“I fell in love with him,” said Stillman, who now also enjoys the music of Charles Mingus. “In the late ’50s he was kind of a James Dean heartthrob … I just found his whole life to be fascinating and it drew me into jazz. From there I think I started off with California light jazz and enjoyed sort of the easy, accessible jazz. Then as I matured, so did my tastes, and I started discovering not only some of the classic jazz artists but started enjoying things that are not always easy to hear.
“To me the sound of jazz is almost like painting the colors on a canvas. There’s so much life,” he said.
And it wouldn’t be a very good art exhibition about jazz without some actual live jazz music, right?
“Because of the nature of music being tied to visual art, we were able to bring in some great entertainment,” Stillman said.
Playing at the artist’s reception on Sept. 2 will be the Nathan Hubbard Quartet and the trumpet-and-guitar duo Tin/Bag. A few days later, on North Park’s Block Art night, Sept. 5, The Studio Door will host Stage 4, a contemporary jazz band.
For Stillman, a Minnesota native, the spirit of jazz lends itself perfectly to contemporary visual art.
“The idea is that jazz as an American art form brings so much life and vitality to the sounds because of the way that it is created,” Stillman explained. “And what I mean is that the musicians working in a jazz quartet play off of each other. Even though they may all have a common reference point — which is the song — the way that it’s played is different and unique every time.
“So what I wanted to see was a connection to jazz,” he continued. “In the ’50s and early-’60s, jazz and art seemed to be married together — very iconic visuals, whether it was album covers or movie posters or concert posters. And I wanted to see what today’s artists were feeling about art visually.”
“Distortions” will feature 33-juried artists, 10 of them local, all selected by Melissa Inez Walker from Escondido’s Distinction Gallery.
Stillman is particularly excited to have an artist from Norway included, Trygve Amundsen.
“It’s not the first time we’ve had international pieces here, but I’m always extra-pleased when the message goes beyond the national call,” Stillman said.
Also of note is Ally Benbrook, a watercolorist from El Cajon, who has the distinction of making the The Studio Door’s “50 to Watch” showcase.
“She’s definitely a rising star in San Diego and does amazing work,” Stillman said, adding that she was recently accepted into master watercolor exhibitions in China, Arizona, Mississippi and California. “She’s the total package, a real creative inspiration.”
Benbrook is looking forward to the exhibition and explained her inspiration.
“In outward appearance, I’m a ridiculously happy 63-year-old grandma,” Benbrook said. “It’s in my art where I can unleash the sultry, smoky, mysterious notes, that lonely spot inside, the place that celebrates the sound of that lonely sax … the sound of jazz.”
Other local artists include Bonnie Owens, Crisinda, DC Langer, Steven Paulsen and Cecelia Linayao of San Diego, Susan Gesell of Carlsbad, Bonnie Ruth of Oceanside, Kathleen McLaughlin of La Mesa, Jane O’Shields-Hayner of Corona and Richard Wynne of Lake Elsinore.
Though creative all his life, Stillman said he finally refocused his artistic energies in 2004 and produced the Brotherhood Tarot, “a digitally manipulated photographic deck that draws its inspiration from gay history and mythology,” and is proud to say it is still shipping. After several years as a member of the San Diego Art Department’s Ray Street Artist’s Group, which culminated in the publication of a book profiling their work, “Ray Street Artists,” [GSD profiled this here: “The ‘visual voices’ of North Park,” Feb. 21, 2014,or visit tinyurl.com/visualvoices] Stillman decided it was time to set off on his own.
In November 2014, a full 10 years after making that refocused commitment to his art, Stillman launched his own studio just a few blocks from SDAD, which has now closed. Described on its website as an “arts incubator,” The Studio Door includes a gallery, studio spaces, a thriving arts community, and “art to market” programming and instruction. There, he also shares studio space with his partner of 10 years, Danne Sadler, a designer who moonlights as a stained glass artist and quilter, and Sadler’s mother, Evelyn Loss, a fused glass artist.
The upcoming jazz-influenced exhibition will feature diverse mediums of visual art.
“I think it just creates a very interesting environment when you have that kind of diversity,” Stillman said. “Paintings, oils and acrylics, and then different forms of sculpture. Instead of going to a show where you see a lot of the same type of art, you get people coming to one of these shows and they start talking about, ‘Oh, I really love this, this is good art,’ or ‘I don’t like this.’ And then they start defining why they like art and what art is to them.
“I find that to be so much more rewarding as an artist, to see that the shows are actually giving people something to talk about that is relevant to the work I do,” he said.
“Deliberate Distortions” will run from Sept. 1 – 26 at The Studio Door, located at 3750 30th St. in North Park. An artists’ reception will be held on the evening of Sept. 4 at 6 p.m. For more information, visit thestudiodoor.com.
—Editor Morgan M. Hurley contributed to this report.