Photo by Heather Douglas
Bold, colorful, uplifting, fierce: Visual artist Mica Still’s artworks often feature bears, tigers, wolves and other animals that frequent her dreams. Known for her murals that have appeared all over the world, Still recently held a solo exhibition in New Zealand entitled “Hope Land” — the first solo show for the Astoria-born-and-raised artist in five years.
Though she’s now based in New Zealand, the Astoria-Megler Bridge brought Still’s family to Astoria in the first place. Her grandfather worked on the concrete pillars, while other family members worked in the mills and as fishermen. Still notes, “My grandmother worked the ‘green belt’ at the plywood mill — in fact, she was the very first woman to work at the plant.”
Fairly recently, Still’s stepfather retired from over 30 years of working at Astoria Warehousing, and many Astorians might remember Paper Moon Scrapbooking, a shop run by Still’s mother and her business partner from 1998 to 2005.
At Astoria High School, Still found encouragement from her art teacher, Nancy Kem, especially during her last few years in school.
“I’ve always had good teachers that encouraged me,” Still says. “Mrs. Kem took me under her wing and pushed me to take art history at Clatsop Community College during my junior year; she also set up a meeting for me at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland.”
Still graduated high school in 1993 and left for Portland the same year. In 1994, she began to attend Pacific Northwest College of Art.
When Still left Astoria — a place she characterized as “very depressed with very few outlets for a creative teen” — she described herself as a “kid in a candy store” when a drawing professor at PNCA encouraged her to attend a summer art program in France. In 1995, she found herself doing on-site sculpture on the streets of Pont-Aven, and cold rainy Astoria seemed far away.
From France, she traveled to Scotland, where she met a boyfriend. She followed him to New Zealand in 1998 — but soon the boyfriend was an ex, and Still fell in love with the area’s vibrant art scene.
These days, Still is settled in New Zealand with her partner and young daughter enjoying a thriving art career. She speaks fondly of her hometown. “I think we were very lucky to grow up here,” she says wistfully.
Still has memories of her father, a commercial fisherman based in Oregon and Alaska leaving for months at a time.
“During the Cold War era, my father would come back with amazing stories, like the time he was fishing near the Aleutian Islands and his boat drifted over the Russian border,” she recalls.
Still also notes how Astoria has changed during each of her biannual visits: “The first thing that happens when places get popular is the prices climb and artists can’t live; it happened in Wellington — all the studios got priced out of the town. I think Astoria’s created something quite awesome with the evening artwalks, and there seems to be a bit of community built around fighting to keeping art alive in Astoria.”
Still’s admiring fan base has grown through the internet, yet sharing something as personal as art can foster both positive and negative experience.
“I think we should get old school and learn to have some manners and respect,” she says. “I’m a bit of an idealist; my art is mine, not yours. I’ve always been like that. I share it when I want to. I don’t mean it to sound arrogant, but at the end of the day, if you don’t like it that’s not my problem. I’m not a commercial item. And that has always been my stance.”
Still first began painting murals when she was pregnant with her daughter, as a work that she could accomplish in a short amount of time.
Two of Still’s murals can be found in Astoria — if you have the eye to spot them. Although she won’t give the exact location, she gives a hint: “It’s on the back of a gas station.”
The other can be encountered around Astoria. It’s a “moving mural” on the side panel of her uncle’s work truck, Scott Still’s Home Remodeling. Still painted the mural last summer inside the old Columbia Produce building on Seventh Street, which was recently sold by Still’s family.
When speaking of her drive to create art, she notes “fortune favors the brave.”
It is a mantra that Still lives by. “It’s always important to enjoy the process and stay true to your art,” she says. “I have never tried it any other way.”