PROFILE: Patricia Christakos

March 21, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

BY T MICHELE WALKER – When COVID-19 struck our world last year and we were all forced into lockdown, the reactions were as varied as the people themselves, serving as an impromptu Rorschach personality test. Some embraced the much-needed rest and solitude. Others controlled their environment by cleaning and organizing, some exercised and set fitness goals while others tried recipes they had never tried before, gaining what is commonly referred to as the “COVID-15.” Patricia Christakos earned her MFA in Media Arts at Maine Media College in Rockport, Maine from her home in Boca Grande.
“I had a thesis show in my bedroom. I was supposed to have had a show in Maine, but because of COVID, I was here and so I did the show upstairs in my house. I called it the “Hallways Gallery” and I presented my art on Zoom. I also wrote my thesis during COVID, so it was a beautiful time.”
For Patricia, the COVID-19 lockdown was made easier because of the beautiful Boca Grande.
“My husband wasn’t able to travel, and that’s how I made the connection with the girls at the bakery. I would go there because Hudson’s was closed and I could get coffee and milk and the newspaper at the bakery. Those girls were so wonderful. I feel so blessed to be here, writing, doing my work alone. I even had my show alone.”
Getting her master’s was not something that Patricia planned but came from taking photos at the school in Maine. “I started taking photos and then I just stayed on. They had a wonderful marketing campaign that asked, ‘Would you like to make this a three-year conversation?’ And so I did, in a low residency program.”
Even Patricia’s college in Maine had unexpected Boca Grande ties.
“One thing that was interesting is that we had so many connections on the island from people from Maine. Some of our very closest friends are from that town, Mike and Grace Ott and their mom, for example. It’s been a lovely connection. Even though I earned my degree in Maine, I haven’t been able to travel there, but I will.”
Growing up in Cazenovia, New York, a town close to Syracuse, Patricia, and her husband Sparky’s story is something out of a Nicholas Sparks novel.
“My husband and I grew up in Cazenovia and we met in junior high school. I asked him to a Sadie Hawkins dance in seventh or eighth grade. We went to separate colleges but then got together after college. During high school, we wrote love letters because he went away to prep school. It was a long distance romance. It’s funny, because we saved and photographed the letters.”
Finding their way to Boca Grande was a family affair. “My husband Sparky’s parents, they came here about 35 years ago. My husband’s brother John came with some college friends to visit and he fell in love with Boca Grande. At the time, my in-laws were looking at Jekyll Island, they were looking in Georgia, and John said, ‘You have to come to see this, you have to see this island.’ It’s very reminiscent of our town in central New York, in terms of the village atmosphere. It’s just such a unique part of Florida and is so special. So my in-laws built a house and my mother-in-law is still here. She’s a year-rounder now. We’re all very happy that John found it here and we thank John. You know, I’m so fair skinned and I’m not even a beach person except for early in the morning. But I still just love it here. It’s a very special place.”
After studying journalism and then working for Boston Magazine after college, Patricia didn’t discover her passion for photography until after she had children.
“It wasn’t until after our third child that I got a good camera again. The story is our son played football as a field goal kicker and I needed a new camera lens. Once I discovered what you could do with the lens and the artistic freedom that gave me, it opened a whole new way of looking at what I could do, to discover that I could be useful with a creative eye.”
Self-portraiture followed and a world of creative freedom and exploration was the result.
“I started to make self portraits. When I did that, I really got into the artistry because then I had a lot of stories to tell. They were my own stories and that was really fun. I enjoy portraiture and I just wanted to practice on myself. I have a sense of humor and it made me laugh. On my first self portrait, I couldn’t set up the focus the way I wanted to. I used a blender with a pillow in it. That was my first portrait. It wasn’t me, but my surrogate self.”
Using herself to tell the story was just the tip of the iceberg, as Patricia’s method took shape.
“That idea of using surrogates for me, such as the slip form I use in my work is a surrogate for me. That’s how I evolved into telling stories. I create fantasy more than I document reality, so once I learned that I could do that with my camera, that’s when the artistry came in and the light bulb went off. The technology is interesting but I like the magic I create by doing layers of lighting. I ask myself, how can you make a mystery out of something concrete. I’m into the mystery, the mystery of life, of everything.”
Patricia’s work, “A Slip Story” series, was recently displayed at J. McLaughlin’s “Sip n Shop” event on Thursday, March 18 with 15 percent of all sales going to benefit the C.A.R.E. organization of Englewood. A Slip Story originated from a recollection from childhood, a myth surrounding a mother’s broken arm. As Patricia describes the tale, both mother and daughter find ways and opportunities to escape and soar.
Best described as free-form performance art, Patricia utilizes multi-media including film, theatrical monologue, and music, ultimating telling a story while using herself as the subject.
“I started appearing in my work so I would dress up. I would develop these personas,” Patricia explained, as she showed some photos of her self-portraiture, dressed in different costumes, wigs, personas. “This is me. I was doing the elements and this is fire, and this is me as air. I used a story, a fairytale as my inspiration. So many times, it’s myth and fairytale that I work with or mix in pop culture. This photo is Ginger from Gilligan’s Island. I was always Mary Ann, I’m much more Mary Ann than I ever was Ginger, but I longed to be Ginger. However, it wasn’t going to happen, so this is me as Ginger.”
With a career that started in journalism and writing, then morphing into a visual medium, Patricia now embraces the opportunity to combine both forms.
“I do monologues, so I’m able to combine my writing to create a theatrical take. It really is performance art.”
It is clear looking through Patricia’s work, that it’s based on whimsy and fun.
“I love the humor. I can’t help myself and the irony. I’m a little bit subversive in that way.”
Yet it is always with a deeper meaning and profound cultural message, especially when it pertains to women.
“This is Karen Carpenter,” Patricia began to explain as she showed more of her work. “I think she is such a tragic figure, but beautiful and inspirational, so I use her and put myself in her world. The message of the piece is to listen to what she was saying. I think the tragedy of Karen Carpenter is that we didn’t hear her, you know, hear the pain. We heard her beautiful voice but it’s the next layer, we didn’t see the pain.”
Less than an indictment, and more of a reflection of the times, Patricia is quick to explain.
“I’m not saying anyone did anything wrong, but it was the culture of the time that led to her tragic end. But it’s still an issue, to listen to what a woman is saying, not just their words or voice. But that it is such a story of the patriarchy in our culture, and it all goes back to my slips. The imagery reflects freedom, and it reflects the feminine spirit of freedom. What that looks like, so that’s what I love to celebrate, the light and dark and to embrace and love both.”
Every artist has goals for the future. When asked, Patricia laughed, “Goals? For the day? Rake the field and pick up bottles outside in the yard.”
But more seriously.
“In terms of the art is to really put my work out in the world. You see, I just love the process and could just tinker and work on something forever. But I know part of my journey is to share it, because I know when I do, other people pick up on it and it reverberates. I want the work in the world and I want it seen. I want to be on a museum wall which is why I love the projections, having the art in a space. They’re not just pretty pictures. There’s no sense in playing it safe.”