Giacomo Patri Biography

Giacomo Patri




Printmaker, illustrator, and graphic artist Giacomo Giuseppe Patri was born in Arquata Scrivia, Piedmont, Italy, in 1898. Childhood polio left him with a limp, making him reliant on a cane throughout his life; however, it did not deter him. In 1916 he emigrated with his family to San Francisco, California, where he found work as a tailor, elevator operator, and in a mattress factory. In 1917 he cofounded a literary and drama club in the basement of his parents' home and took up fencing, winning third place in the Pacific Coast Division of the Amateur Fencing League of America in 1923 despite his limp.

Patri enrolled in courses at the California School of the Arts in 1925, where he was mentored by Spencer Macky, Ralph Stackpole, Horatio Nelson Poole, and Gottardo Piazzoni. He married artist Stella Nicole and briefly paused his studies after landing an illustrator job in the San Francisco Examiner's advertising department. He soon returned to school full time, however, and also taugh art basics at Potrero Hill School and started exhibiting. Graduating in 1929 at the onset of the Great Depression, he was unable to begin his intended career in the advertising industry, but survived by teaching art, fencing, and Italian, taking gigs as a cartoonist for the Call Bulletin, and working as a sign painter and muralist for local shops.

In 1937 he took up a teaching post at the California Labor School, offering drawing courses to both men and women utilizing his philosophy that "creativity is present in everyone" and that "its expression is a basic human need...". At this time he also began working for the San Francisco Chronicle - newly unionized - as an illustrator. At the start of WWII he was given a page of his own to graphically dramatize the war effort, affording him time to perfect his preferred medium: the scratchboard technique.

Beginning in 1937 and throughout the 1940s, Patri created illustrations for many labor union publications including the Marine Cooks and Stewards Association, ILWU Warehouse Local 6, and the Pile Drivers, Bridge, Wharf and Dock Builders Local 34. In 1940, Patri published White Collar, a "wordless novel" (the early rendition of the graphic novel) featuring his linocut illustrations of the plight of workers during the Great Depression. Meanwhile he continued to teach at the Labor School where he would eventually become head of the Art Department until the school's forced closure due to the pressures of McCarthyism.

In 1948 Patri founded the Patri School of Art Fundamentals based on his teaching philosophy, which remained in operation until his retirement in 1966. He remarried in 1969 to artist Tamara Ret Patri, and the two remained active in the arts scene. Patri died on May 5, 1978.

Exhibitions: San Francisco Art Association, 1935; AIC, 1935; SFMA, 1937; Raymond & Raymond Gallery (SF), 1940 (solo); SF Art Festivals, 1946-65; Marin Art & Garden Center, 1949; Portrero Hill Artists Show, 1968-78; Diablo Valley College, 1976 (solo); San Jose Museum, 1980 (solo).