The last stroke has been painted, leaving some projects forever unfinished. The sudden loss of the artist has meant the abrupt end to works started and others yet to be conceived.
Bill Paskewitz was many things. As an artist, a teacher and a father, Paskewitz touched the lives of many people, affecting them not only through art but through his unforgettable character and passion.
On Thursday Nov. 20, while loading paintings into his truck for an open gallery art show, Paskewitz fell and sustained severe injuries to his head, inducing a heart attack. He passed away that night in the Sutter Delta Memorial Hospital.
His all-too-sudden passing shocked the Las Positas College community as well as the many who knew him. But while Paskewitz is gone, he is not forgotten. His memory will forever live on through his artistry as well as the legacy he left through his students.
Born in in the state of New York in 1953, Paskewitz had a fascination with art from a young age. He began his career as an artist by locking himself away in his room and tracing figures done by the old masters, then later doing yearly self-portraits, beginning at age 18.
From these simple beginnings, Paskewitz’ love of art became his focus and passion. He attended a few art schools, including Cooper Union in New York City. Even in applying to this school, his instinct was to think outside the box.
For the entrance exam, he was asked to draw various pictures and logos from memory. One such challenge was to draw the Coca Cola logo. Instead he left a berating note and drew the 7Up logo. He was accepted.
In his time as a student, Paskewitz learned to view the world in a different way. He gave many accounts of his educational experiences to his friends and later his students. From creating art using only fire and water to spending a whole day with a fish on his hand, Paskewitz’ education was anything but conventional.
Through his passion and curiosity, Paskewitz went to great lengths for his art. He experimented with creating his own supplies, drying and smoking vines to make charcoal in his own backyard. Every medium was a new challenge to him.
Over time, Paskewitz’ bold personality and unique view of the world would be translated into his artwork. His works ranged from classical watercolors to abstract oil paintings. He drew his influences from all around him. He once said about his art, “I paint with varying brush pressures and gestures and I control transparent puddles of color. I produce a memory of my experience. The images are the efforts made visible from my experiences.”
Paskewitz’ love for art and its history took him all around the world to see how it evolved from Egyptian hieroglyphs and Roman sculpture on through the renaissance to romanticism, impressionism to modern.
Even after all his travels around the globe, Paskewitz was always highly involved in the local Tri-Valley art community. He has been featured in many shows around the area. Joining local art leagues and communities, Paskewitz made connections with artists from all over, even meeting people who had been New York artists at the same time as he had been.
Some of his favorite art showings were open galleries, most recently in the Brentwood and Antioch areas.
But while he enjoyed showing his art, Paskewitz would always attend the annual Livermore Artwalk to see past students of his and see how they had improved over the years.
Through his years of experience, Paskewitz learned to view the world with an artist’s eyes and to translate what he saw into his work, using it to bring people together. He taught his students to do the same.
Paskewitz came to the Las Positas College campus in 1988. It was not long before he had established himself in the art department. Drawing from his own experiences as a student of the arts, he taught students how to see.
In his early drawing classes, students were given an hour to draw whatever they wanted just to show Paskewitz where their abilities were. No matter the skill level of the student, he was able to find strengths to build on and weaknesses to improve. He thoroughly enjoyed teaching those with no prior art experience because they had no preconceived notions.
In those classes, some of Paskewitz’ favorite phrases were “Draw what you see, not what you know.” As well as, “K-I-S-S, keep it simple stupid.” These phrases would follow students from beginning to advanced classes and on through graduation, and although they could grow sick of hearing them, they never forgot.
Students taking art for an easy A were always thoroughly shut down by the first class critique. Paskewitz was sure to weed out anyone who did not take art seriously, bent on changing their mind or removing them from the class.
Former student and current art history instructor Pamela Howell said, “Once you got to know him though, he was great, but he scared the hell out of me the first day of class. I remember my first day of class going, ‘Oh what have I gotten myself into?'”
Although he could be hard, if not somewhat brutal, in his critiques, Paskewitz could always find something positive to say about a student’s work. As rough around the edges as he could be, Paskewitz was a caring teacher who wanted each and every student to succeed.
But he expected everyone in his classes to put in their all and was never afraid to give them a push when needed. Never comparing one student’s work to another, he graded on individual improvement. He enjoyed taking students out of their comfort zones and seeing what they could come up with when faced with a challenge.
Throughout each semester, Paskewitz would present numerous opportunities for art majors to visit galleries or have their work critiqued by other schools. He was continually telling them what it would do for their resumes, so concerned was he for the future artists he taught.
For years, Paskewitz had been in charge of the Las Positas Art Festival, a chance for students to enter their class work into an art show. Besides the cash prizes, the most coveted prize was a scholarship for art majors that he sometimes raised the money for. This was just one more way he contributed to the future of artistry.
As head of the art department, Paskewitz knew that not everything could be learned in the classroom. So he gave his students the chance to see the world through his EF art education tours of famous art museums and cities.
These trips became unforgettable moments for his students through the years, every one of them having some memory of these special times they had with him. It was one thing to teach art history and quite another to be able to show it to his students first hand.
Through his harsh criticism, passion and love for the future of art, Paskewitz taught his students more than just how to see. He taught them to dedicate everything they had into their passions. Although his students never stopped learning from him, in time, Paskewitz became less of a teacher and more of a friend to many.
Howell said, “He was the same person whether I was his student or his colleague.”
After 26 years of his life spent as a teacher at Las Positas, Paskewitz was going to retire after just one more semester. His sudden passing changed that plan, causing many Las Positas students and alumni to grieve. But even in this sad time, his tenacious students were driven to act.
A group of former art students traveled to attend the open galleries in the Miguel Flores gallery in Brentwood It would be Paskewitz’ last show.
Upon arrival, the students were told that Paskewitz daughter Aliza had wanted to bring her father’s paintings to the show saying that that was what he would have wanted, but she could not make it there. At that moment, according to hostess Sayra Flores, his former students made a decision.
“They went off like a band of pirates, determined to bring his paintings back. Then they arrived back and my husband quickly hung Bill’s beautiful paintings so everybody could enjoy them.” Said Flores.
That day, Paskewitz former students showed some of his determination and passion. He had taught them to love art and what it stood for, and they took that advice to heart.
The legacy Paskewitz left both to his students and the over all community is a great one. Not only did he teach budding artists for over two decades, but also he wanted to give something back to the community before he left.
“Because I’m retiring on June 1, I wanted to do something back to a community that’s really given me a lot for 26 years.” Paskewitz said of his We Can show in October.
Through this show, Paskewitz revealed how much he loved and cared for the community and the school he had been a part of for so long. He gave over $2000 dollars to the local food banks with the donations the student paintings brought in.
He proved that art was more than just something to look at, he used it to benefit those in need. Paskewitz said, “I have a growing realization that life is more about people than great works or grand pieces.”
The last thing Paskewitz left for the school was his daughter, Aliza. Aliza has stepped in to help the faculty of Las Positas College to find exactly where her father had left off, helping the dean of arts and letters as well as substitute teachers find grades and get classes back on track. The transition will be hard for many, but with her help, the college has been able to recover enough to keep moving.
Paskewitz was also survived by his father William Paskewitz Sr. and was very close to extended family, who honored him at his memorial service, and will be missed and remembered by them.
Paskewitz’ quick temper, bold personality and caring heart will be sorely missed both on and off campus. But his art and teachings live on through his students who loved him and a community that celebrated his craft.