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October 18, 2019 |Written by Tiffany Razzano-From an Interview by Marcea Cazel

Artist Christopher Stills: boutique hotels ‘another type of art museum’

Tarpon Springs artist Christopher Still discusses how Pinellas County artists can work with regional boutique hotels and impact local tourism.

For much of his work, Tarpon Springs artist Christopher Still finds inspiration in Florida’s natural beauty. Beach landscapes. Gorgeous sunsets. Native flora and fauna. Even Florida history.

Born in Clearwater and raised in Dunedin, this love of both art and his home state was instilled within him at a young age. He eventually left the Sunshine State to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, though, and later moved to Europe, where he honed his skills and built his career in fine arts.

It was when he returned to Pinellas County that he set his sights on depicting the imagery of natural Florida, marking a significant shift in his work.

“When I came back from Europe, which is where serious art is from, I sold all the paintings I made there,” Still says. “I began painting mullet, palmetto and pine. People were confused. ‘Is this serious art or not?’ For many years, people did not think of Florida and fine art. I found that it’s not what you paint, but how you paint it.”

While his paintings can be found in museums and private collections around the world, since his return to Florida, he’s completed numerous public works of art. He was commissioned by the Florida House of Representatives to paint 10 murals and is the artist in residence for the Florida Legislature. His work can also be found at Tampa International Airport, St. Petersburg City Hall and Ruth Eckerd Hall.

With his artwork featured at local hotels, including the Sandpearl Resort, the Opal Sands Resort and the Belleview Inn, Still realized the impact the arts can have on local tourism.

His work with local hotels began through his relationship with friend and patron J. Michael Cheezem of JMC Communities, the development company behind the Belleview Inn, which led to other opportunities for Still.

“He hired me with the goal of creating beautiful works of fine art that celebrate our local history as well as the unique beauty of the Gulf Coast,” Still says. “He wanted the hotel to be something more. It’s an interesting venue. It’s another type of art museum in an interesting way.”

Tourists have more money to spend on travel these days, he says, not just in Florida, but across the globe. Boutique hotels are more popular than ever, and these small, stylish hotels typically have “a better collection of local art.”

He says, “You used to hear people say hotel art is not great. Well, we’re in the golden age of travel, again. People are building beautiful hotels decorated beautifully with art…People are traveling, and people are paying for nicer places. This means more opportunities for local artists.”

Like his other work, the work that Still paints for area hotels relies heavily on Florida imagery and local history.

“I want people to view the paintings and know more about Tampa Bay,” he says. “When travelers come to these hotels, I want them to see the items in the painting and connect them to places. That is the idea behind it. You’re at the Belleview (Inn), (you) view my painting and (you) want to go out and explore.”

Still relies on regional museums for research and access to historic items when working on these paintings. The history is important, he says. “I want it to be as accurate as possible.”

He also creates a corresponding pamphlet for each public art piece. These handouts include the history behind the work as well as a guide to various items depicted in each painting. 

“The items have symbolic meaning. Some are obscure to anyone but the artist,” he says. “I’m not expecting people to completely figure it out on their own.”

These keys are helpful to tourists because “they lead visitors to other things in the area,” he adds. “I’m a lifetime resident of the area. This is my opportunity to include the many wonderful things we have in Tampa Bay.”

Still has one message for local hotel owners: hire artists from your community. After all, he’s seen firsthand how successful these relationships can be.

“The art is a meaningful addition to the hotel. It gives people a feel for the area they’re in and inspires them to go out and explore, and it’s a 24-hour-a-day venue for the artists,” he says. “It’s win-win for everyone.”

Where to find Christopher Still’s artwork:

Opal Sands Resort, 430 S. Gulfview Blvd., Clearwater Beach

Sandpearl Resort, 500 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach

Belleview Inn, 25 Belleview Blvd., Belleair