Artist Jefferson Stillwell Creates Contagious Fun
Vanessa Wolf is a Maui-based writer who once took a tour of Annapolis with Neil Diamond, although he didn’t seem to realize she was there.
By Vanessa Wolf
“When dealing with aliens, I gave them everything except the kitchen sink.”
This is how artist Jefferson Stillwell summarizes his painting; “Aliens Want My Donut.”
Stillwell arrived here on Maui eight years ago.
“The island breezes, the colors of the water, the smell of the air: it was invigorating. Moving from Carlsbad, California home of the June gloom, we (my beautiful wife Patricia and I) felt – like many others – that ‘one of these days this would be a great place to call home.’ We decided to make one of these days now. We closed down our Carlsbad scene and moved…and have never looked back.”
Stillwell was first inspired to become an artist by Mad Magazine. “I could draw every character in every issue. I even wanted move to New York to be on their art staff when I got out of school. When I was still in high school, one of my close friends and I were always drawing on anything and everything. We created volumes of art; so much that I started my sketchbooks just to keep track of all our ideas. I still do that process today. Sort of a guy diary, but it is the cornerstone of where all my paintings come from.”
Stillwell’s style is whimsical and fun, with references to everyone from Picasso to R. Crumb. If you didn’t get the joke from the image, the short descriptions pull you in the loop. His enamel paint piece “Winner”? “This painting helps remind you that 2nd place is the first loser.”
“Hi Neighbor” is summarized succinctly: “privacy issues in the backyard.”
Stillwell’s stated army of influences and inspirations run the gamut. “My list is huge…but to give you a sampler pack, I think the top influences are artists like Klee, Miro, Max Ernst, Robert Williams, Ralph Steadman, Saul Steinberg, Ben Shawn, Walt Disney, Picasso, Tim Burton, David Chow, Mexican Art, Frank Lloyd Wright, Sally Cruikshank, Devo, and the Beatles!” He pauses and adds, “Everybody on my old tag crew.”
Stillwell has been creating characters since his childhood. When asked how the last eight years on this island have influenced his body of work, he answers quickly. “Maui has had a very strong influence on not only my painting, but more importantly my creativity.”
“I definitely have adventured into new areas of exploring different materials, and have created a whole new population of my zany characters to take on the world…as we know it. I have never been short on introducing the community to a new glimpse of my imagination laced with a damp sense of humor, the command of color, and luring curiosity to give the viewer a refreshing moment of visual treats.”
The recurring characters and themes are all named: canines J Dog and Ladmo make regular appearances. When asked if dogs he once owned inspired them, Stillwell’s eyes widen. “No! We’ve always had cats.”
Felines make an appearance as well, along with cows, fish, and even the occasional hippopotamus. Throughout the years, Stillwell has worked with animal, human and tribal themes and brought them to life utilizing virtually every medium under the sun.
Currently, he’s experimenting with three-dimensional work. Using pressed wood from Home Depot as the basis, Stillwell is venturing into a “new frontier of weight and awkwardness.”
“I am into a new area for me. I am creating a super fun new series with my characters going 3-D. I have always felt that I wanted my guys to just jump off the page and hang around the studio. Now I’m making some new pieces that do that. A little bite of trial and error but they are starting to show their cute little personalities. I feel like a proud parent.”
The large pieces fit together and will eventually be installations, something between a painting and a sculpture. “I’m hoping these will be seen in Art Maui,” Stillwell says.
Where do the ideas come from?
“At Safeway in the fresh produce section. They happen all the time to where I always have my sketchbook to capture the moment. When they are discovered it is very exciting. It is like Christmas and this idea needs to be opened and instantly I know what to do.”
Next time you’re in Safeway and see a man hurriedly scribbling while standing near the won bok, take a peek. If there’s a drawing of a cat wearing a duck outfit, you may very well be looking at Jefferson Stillwell.
Are you a local artist – singer, storyteller, fire dancer, fashion designer, playwright, taiko drummer, chef, tiki carver or cartoonist – with an interesting story to tell? Know of a great band, artist, author, filmmaker, or event coming to town? Have an idea for a fun or thought-provoking story? Get in touch: we want to hear from you! Vanessa(@mauinow.com)