Patrick Skoff is a visual artist who resides in Glen Ellyn, Illinois
Artist at Large
When did you become interested in creating art?
I have been interested in painting as far back as I can remember. I went through a lot of tragedy as a child and art became my outlet to deal with it. Luckily, I had a mother who was very supportive and let me pursue my ideas, including making graffiti on our basement walls.
Did you have any artist mentors when you were younger?
When I got to high school, my art teacher, Steve Lappe, pretty much let me do anything I wanted. He threw the curriculum out the window. From then on, I just fell in love with making stuff. It was Steve’s first year as a teacher and I was passionate about the subject matter. It sparked a friendship. The experience inspired me to consider teaching as a career.
When did you start painting?
My first attempt to make a real painting was in a scholastic program. I had a real “fuck it” attitude towards how my art would be judged: try it out, don’t stress. And it turned out that the first thing I made won regional and national Gold Key awards and ended up on display in New York for a year. Hillary Clinton gave a speech for all the award winners.
What was your next career move?
I decided to submit my work to galleries during my senior year in high school. All the pictures I took of my work had to be submitted as slides. It was such a massive undertaking and ultimately I realized that it was kind of bullshit. The galleries have people they like and you’re not likely to break into the system by submitting unsolicited work. I lost faith in the existing gallery system, which felt like a closed loop.
What jobs have you worked and how did they impact your art career?
I worked in food service – pizza delivery. I learned how to deal with people and petty cash. I also waited tables, which was like operating my own micro-business. You have to manage your section, pay your supplier – the kitchen – for food; you have to up-sell your product and collect the money.
I also worked in a hotel for six months, where I learned more about customer service. Afterwards, my brother, who was a really good car salesman, said I should sell cars, because it’s a great way to learn about people. Selling cars taught me how to choose the right words to use during a pitch and how to close the deal. I gained a lot of confidence from these experiences.
For a while, art moved onto the back burner. I decided to get a “real life” and started a landscaping company. I ran it successfully for nine years.
Was running your business a fulfilling experience?
I felt empty at the time. I was throwing my money away. I turned my house into a play land for all my friends and I was spending a lot of money trying to buy happiness. I bought a lot of material things. I lived hard and played hard but I got tired of it. Eventually, I wanted to make less money and enjoy every part of my life, so I sold my business and walked out. There’s a point you reach where it’s not scary to take this type of risk because you don’t care anymore. You know that you’re not doing the right thing with your life, so you have to change.
How did you change careers?
I got rid of all the hard labor work with the landscaping business but kept little jobs while transitioning into doing art.
How did you transition into art?
When I was a teenager, my brother had a Native American friend who gave away all his worldly possessions as a rite of passage. I thought it was insane at the time but I remembered it when I was getting back into art, so I decided to give away all of the art I’d been making in my spare time and start over.
I began putting my artwork out in the streets for people to find. I also left a little info on the back of the paintings about who I was. People started contacting me and asking if I was going to do more artwork. They said they liked my stuff.
I created a big email list and then sent people info to tell them where I left new work. I would take pictures and upload them to a laptop and then I would find free WIFI and upload the pictures and do mass emails. This was about the time Facebook opened to the public, so I started putting my info on Facebook.
What other social media did you use?
A friend turned me on to twitter. We would use twitter to send out clues so people could find the art. Twitter would send a text message to someone’s phone, then they would go home and look at Facebook to see where the artwork was. People were really starting to chase down the artwork. It became a fun game. Everything got easier when social media came along.
How long have you been giving away art?
It has been going on since early 2007. Over 1000 paintings have been put out for people to find. Some times the artwork is worth a few thousand dollars. If I can get a painting done for $20 worth of materials, then I don’t freak out about giving it away for free because I’m doing what I love to do. Sometimes I put out 8′ x 4′ paintings, gigantic pieces that I sell for a lot of money. I put those in the street.
How did giving away your work affect your career?
The feedback of how much people liked my work gave me the confidence to sell it. I never intended for the free art to be a marketing campaign but it turned into a very successful one. The most rewarding part was that I put it out there for people to love and that’s what happened. People wanted more work because they realized why I was putting it on the street.
Do a lot of artists give away their art?
A lot of people do the free art thing. Free art is sometimes put out as just promotional materials with a logo on it, like a business card. That’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to put something out that people would normally have purchased. My work is not about self-promotion. It’s about fun.
What sort of images have you used in your artwork?
I’ve done some things with pigeons. A pigeon is the same class as a dove and the dove is the symbol of peace. A pigeon is sort of like a colorful dove. I created something called “Pijen” that has a backward letter “e.” I left these paintings all across the country. The idea was to “give people the bird,” which means “give them the bird of peace.” It means that, even if people step on your toes, give them the bird, give them peace. Turn the other cheek.
I’ve also made life-size versions of monkeys, the kind that are in the Barrel of Monkeys game. I see these monkeys as a bunch of guys trying to get out of their shitty situations but they are also trying to help the other people with the exact same amount of effort – pull yourself up while you help others. I hid these monkey paintings in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York.
How did your life experiences influence your art?
When I was 15, my grandmother passed away on my birthday, and that was the day I was supposed to get my driver’s license, which I had always dreamed about. I was going to get it at 8 a.m., when they opened. My family rallied together: they took me to the DMV and I still got my driver’s license. Three months later, we had to put our dog down because she had diabetes. A month after that, my brother was killed by a drunk driver, on St. Patrick’s day, and my name is Patrick. You try to not think that there is a connection but you never know. We don’t really know anything about our lives, about how long we’ll be here, so if you’re not enjoying every moment, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
Did these terrible experiences teach you to appreciate life?
I don’t think the deaths I mentioned are terrible. It was their path, their time. It would be terrible if I didn’t learn anything from the experiences. You have to try to teach and grow and live. I’m trying to make something that will live on.
My brother died at 26. My next brother, when he was 26, had a vessel in his brain rupture that made him handicapped. After I turned 26, my appendix became septic. At the time, I thought there was a curse on my family. I already feel like I’m on borrowed time, but life is awesome. You have to appreciate every single part of it.
Do you use your art to give back to the community?
Someone emailed me once and said they had found a piece of mine and put it on eBay. He was a former drug addict and he sold if for $350 and then used that money in a positive way. This guy who was down on his luck found my painting and used it to help improve his life. I’m just trying to do as much for others in my community as I do for myself. You get more fulfillment from giving things than from buying them.
I give free artwork to local hospitals, like Mount Sinai in Chicago. I just donate paintings, so people who are getting cancer treatment can be in a better-looking place.
What do you find rewarding about giving away your art?
I left a piece on a park bench once and my girlfriend and I went to lunch across the street. There was an old guy sitting on the bench and the painting was right next to him. We saw someone come running down the street and grab the painting. He jumped up and started cheering and waving it over his head.
How much art do you give away?
I give away more than half of it. The part that I sell just keeps me going. The work I give away makes me rich and the work I sell keeps me from living in a box.
Where do you sell your art?
I sell everything through Facebook. It’s the perfect medium for an artist to sell their work.
What have you been up to recently?
I converted a van into a mobile art studio and put quite a few miles on it. I went to Art Basel in Miami Beach last December and then did a three-month road trip from Chicago to Park City, Utah, to perform at Sundance Film Festival. Next I drove to San Fransisco and then I traveled down the coast to stay at a celebrity’s house and create custom work for their place. I then drove to San Diego, where I did an art hunt for a major hotel. After that, I went to the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, where I painted live.
What are your goals with your artwork?
My main goal is to travel the country and do artwork, like I’ve been doing recently. I like the idea of doing artwork for a hospital out in the hospital parking lot. Art makes you feel human. If I can make art for people who feel sick, it might make them feel better. If your mind’s in the wrong spot, if it’s about making a ton of money, that makes you a dick.
The world will go on and I’d like to make my mark on it. Otherwise, what is the point of anything, if you don’t try to change things and make them nice? Artists have done that since the beginning of time. Some artists get recognition by luck, or by their drive, or by death. I’ve learned how to not get ignored and people like my message. The way that you live life is the art and the paintings are just the tokens you leave behind.
Please click on the images below to view a selection of Patrick Skoff’s artwork. You can see more of his work on Facebook.