PJ Patten

PJ Patten
Region: New Westminster BC
Generation: Nisei
Born 1977, Fussa, Japan


PJ Patten is a self-taught graphic illustrator, tattoo artist, and poet whose work is influenced by the intersection of his Japanese heritage with his American military upbringing.

Patten’s parents met in Japan where his father was stationed, and the family was raised in Huntington Beach, California where he started airbrushing surfboards in the popular surfing community.

Patten’s own lived experience of homelessness and addiction as a young adult led to the publishing of his first published book “Tower25: Strung Out, Homeless, and Standing Up Again.”

The evocative and emotional illustrations in the book are inspired by the traditional Japanese artform of Haiga, which blends watercolour painting and haiku. Patten uses inkstone and brushes that belonged to his Oba-chan (Japanese for “grandmother”) that she herself used to create art.

His preferred mediums are acrylic paints on canvas, pen, ink, watercolours on paper, and will soon launch his first NFT batch, the sale of which he wants to use to launch arts community engagement programs like doing cover-up tattoos for free for survivors of domestic abuse and the formerly incarcerated.

As part of his mental health journey, Patten spent ten years living at a buddhist retreat center, immediately after which he began working on his graphic novel “Tower 25”.

Patten has led graphic novel workshops for at-risk youth and given talks on comics and his own recovery story. He has had his paintings and drawings exhibited in and around Vancouver B.C., and is currently working on a new project with Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa of the Tashme Project- also a graphic novel - telling the stories of the children who spent time in Canada's Japanese Internment Camps.

Patten is a grateful resident on the unceded and stolen lands of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueum peoples who have been here since time immemorial. He operates out of his studio in Burnaby, where he also makes his home with his wife and two stepsons. You can find him on Instagram at @mr.pjpatten

Artist Statement

Much of my work explores my Japanese background and heritage, and its influence on my upbringing in an American military family. In my work I examine what it means for me to come from these two distinct cultures.

Also intrinsic to my work is the exploration of mental health through art.

My latest graphic memoir “Tower25: Strung Out, Homeless, and Standing Up Again” explores the intersections of mental health and graphic arts, bringing my own lived experience of homelessness and addiction to the page. My intention is to help people going through similar experiences feel less alone.

I am also deeply interested in the fusion and contrasts of the old and new.

I found that Kokeshi dolls were the perfect medium for this artistic syncretism. In the second year of my tattooing, I wanted a shape that was instantly recognizable, but also gave me creative freedom. I thought Kokeshi dolls would be perfect for this. The wooden dolls are a centuries-old tradition, simple figurines depicting everything from scenes of daily life to revered deities. My interpretation started with adding Japanese tattoo motifs, eventually merging cyberpunk colors and sci-fi elements to bring Kokeshi into the future.

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