If you’ve ever felt intimidated to walk into an art gallery, you’re not alone. As local artist Patrick Skoff laments, the art world can be a difficult circle to crack. “There’s the first Fridays, the wine tastings,” he says. “Galleries are intimidating; I don’t feel like I belong there.”
His solution? Make art accessible by giving it away for free. Skoff, who is from Franklin Park and now lives in Glen Ellyn, has been leaving his paintings around Chicago for the past couple years. He offers them for free to art hunters who follow his Twitter and Facebook pages. He’ll tweet a location—for example, “Piece E-2 is ‘at ease’ at Smith Park!” along with a photo—and followers race to be the first on the scene.
Starting this fall, Skoff is taking his project across the country. He’s currently raising money and rehabbing a bus so he can offer his art for free in all 50 states.
CBSChicago.com: How did you start the art hunts?
Patrick Skoff: I started when I decided to purge all the art I had lying around. I had stuff that I had painted but never pushed hard to sell, so I figured I’d get it out there. So I put the paintings on the street with a note telling people they could keep it.
CBSChicago.com: How did it expand from there to using social media?
PS: People who found the paintings contacted me to ask how often I did it or where they could get another one. So I started using email and Craigslist and turned it into a game. Then I met Sam Brown at an Obama rally downtown. She had found one of my pieces, and we started working together. She got us on Twitter and Facebook to send out messages. It started to get us noticed—we’ve been on TV and people are asking us to do art hunts across the country.
CBSChicago.com: How often do you do the events?
PS: For a while we did them every Sunday, but that took away how special it was. But we’re planning four or five this summer, including a really big one with other Chicago artists.
CBSChicago.com: How would you describe your painting style?
PS: Everything, I would say. I pretty much do anything and everything. If I get an idea I’ll paint it—everything from photorealism to crazy bold and bright abstracts to one solid color. I don’t have one technique and am not known for one style.
CBSChicago.com: Do you give away any specific type of paintings? How many do you usually give away?
PS: There’s a mix, but whatever we have on hand. Some are ones we’d charge a lot for, others are ones that we just had blank canvases lying around and we work out ideas on. I usually give away about 10 pieces. For the big one this summer we may get 20 or 25, since we’ve had a great response from artists who want to be involved.
CBSChicago.com: What inspired you to take the art hunts nationwide?
PS: Ever since I saw a retired couple driving down the highway in an RV, I’ve wanted to travel the country. I’ve always thought how wonderful it would be to get a rock star bus and do it. I’ve wanted to find a way to make that possible, and I realized my art could be something other people in states would want. If I can sell art in Chicago, why can’t I do that elsewhere?
CBSChicago.com: Do you have a route mapped out yet?
PS: We’re going to do it free form. We hope to get on radio shows in rural areas to say ‘we’ll be in your town in a couple days.’ Then we’ll take off from there based on where we can get on the radio or local programs.
CBSChicago.com: How are you raising money for your project?
PS: We cut a workshop table into a giant puzzle and are selling the individual pieces. If you buy a piece you also get your name on the bus. I cut it into 252 pieces, and am selling $150 for $130 apiece, giving 100 away free in hunts along the way and keeping two.
CBSChicago.com: You’re spending the summer in Chicago, then hitting the road. What’s left to prepare?
PS: The main stuff is test running the bus. We’ve been doing events here, painting live and just test running everything.
CBSChicago.com: Besides the paintings you give away for free, do you show other art?
PS: One thing we don’t do is galleries. Ever since I started in the art world after high school, galleries have discouraged me from being an artist. They’re so formal and you feel like you need to know someone to succeed. So I ended up starting a landscaping company and got out of art.
Now I want to put the power back in the artists’ hands. If you’re serious about selling your work and becoming an artist, just be creative. You don’t have to be celebrated by a gallery. Just get art in front of people. The project has become a platform to speak about art and how important it is in the world. The art hunts are making people realize the power of art.