Paul Jeffrey Sharits was born in Denver, Colorado on February 7, 1943. His parents were Paul Edward Sharits and Florence May Romeo-Sharits. He had only one younger sibling; Gregg Leigh Sharits.
He grew up in Denver near the rest of the tight knit Italian “Romeo” family. At a very early age, maybe 2 years old or so, he was exposed to 16mm film as the Romeo family chronicled the children playing, the talented and extremely artistic music of nearly all of his aunts and uncles. His mother played the violin.
In high school, his paintings were already being recognized as he won first place with his painting “Warhorses” that became part of a traveling exhibition. He graduated from South Denver High School at the age of 17 and married Frances Trujillo that July.
He went to The University of Denver’s School of Art on full scholarship where he earned a BFA in Painting. It didn’t take him very long to pick up the ever so familiar 16mm camera and produce his earliest film “Wintercourse” in 1962. He became very attracted and influenced to experimental filmmaker and Colorado University professor Stan Brakhage. Through his extensive letter exchanges to Stan one can see a relatively pedestrian relationship develop into a lifelong friendship.
In 1964, he went to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana for his MFA in visual design. It was there that on March 19, 1965 Frances gave birth to me; Christopher.
Bliss turned to anguish when his mother Florence took her own life that August in 1965. It profoundly changed him and his Brother Gregg’s life. Gregg, who was also an artist and filmmaker, turned to drugs and he became deeply depressed and struggled to continue through repeated suicide attempts.
After my dad received his MFA, he moved to Baltimore, Maryland he became instrumental in the development in the Maryland Art Institute’s media studies program. From there he went to continue his work in Yellow Springs, Ohio’s Antioch College.
My parents separated and eventually divorced when I was four. My mother remarried, but my dad never did. I spent summers and holidays with him in Yellow Springs and later Buffalo, New York and he visited me in Denver and later in San Francisco whenever he could. Throughout the all the years of my life there wasn’t more than two weeks that he and I didn’t speak on the phone when he was in the States and we always exchanged post cards and letters from his trips abroad.
In 1970, Dr. Gerry O’Grady, at The University of Buffalo Center for Media Studies, recruited the most progressive experimental filmmakers from around the country to teach and produce cutting edge works of film and art including Paul, James Blue, Hollis Framton, Tony Bannon, Tony Conrad, Woody and Stenia Vasulka and Peter Weibel.
In 1980 he went on sabbatical and lived in Positano, Italy, where I was lucky enough to spent the winter-spring with him when he began to draw and paint his serene series of Positano and Posalo work.
On September 6, 1980, his brother Gregg committed suicide. My dad was extremely close to Gregg and the loss profoundly affected him and his art. As if it possible, his alcoholism and drug abuse became worse. His work took on a certain level of despair and near violence as in his artwork and films such as 3rd Degree Film that, while the three projector installation holds great beauty and hypnotic allure, also holds the element of the destruction and violence. Oddly enough it is my favorite installation as my 3rd degree tattoo would attest.
In December 1992 he spent Christmas with me and my wife and two of his grandsons (my third son was born after my dad’s death) It was the last time we saw him alive.
On July 4th, 1993, his favorite party holiday, he quietly took his own life by overdose in his home in Buffalo. His body was found by Dr. O’Grady on the 8th. Paul was survived by me, my grandfather, Paul E. Sharits (deceased 2004), my wife and two of his grandsons. There isn’t a day go by that I wish he was here to see what wonderful and talented men his grandsons have grown into.
Then there begs the question, if not obvious at this point, why has so much tragedy bestrode in one family? His mother wasn’t the first or obviously the last, to commit suicide. The tragic and painful mental illness of manic depressive; or as it is called today Bipolar Disorder runs deep in our family. I put the “B” in bipolar, but, while I fall occasionally, I have much better care and a wife of 30 years that takes care of me. I am now 50 and within a few short months will have outlived the rest of my family and I have way too much stuff to do to go anywhere. Primarily; eventually I would like to see my grandchildren grow up. I like the idea of spoiling them and then letting their parents deal with them when they go home.
It is well established that many artists, actors, musicians, prominent Politian’s, and even scientists like Einstein were or, thankfully, still are touched with this mental illness. I believe that those with Bipolar Disorder are wired in such a way that thinking inside the box is nearly impossible. I choose to believe that the world is far more interesting with Bipolars like Van Gogh, Lincoln, Churchill, Sting, Robin Williams… and the list historically continues seemingly endlessly, including my father. I guess as a parting note to people is that bipolar disorder, much like schizophrenia, is a chemical imbalance and not treatable through therapy like depression. It requires proper psychiatrists, therapy, medication, and, perhaps the most important, a strong support system. There will never be a day that I wake up without Bipolar Disorder, but there may be better medications and psychological support, so there is hope.
“PAUL SHARITS was not one to silently tiptoe through life and art. He was driven, he wrote in one of his many notations, by “inescapable anxiety.” He guessed that anxiety was what kept him working, kept him leaping from one creative project to another.“
-Buffalo News July 18, 1993 Richard Huntington