Artist Spotlight: Stephen Bach November 21 2020
Describe an early experience with art and what led to your interest in painting?
I didn’t paint until after arriving in NY for art school. Truthfully, I was intimidated by the process. I went to art school to become an automobile designer. After a freshman foundation year of broad exposure, I was drawn by the potential of being an illustrator. I changed my major to painting and illustration and never looked back.
Who are some of your influences in the art world?
In the 70s, during the heyday of editorial illustration, I was awed by the greats of the day; Bernie Fuchs, Bob Heindel, Mark English, Bob Peak. Being in New York also meant that I got to see some of the best fine art masterpieces in the world, which also helped draw me towards my interest in painting.
What mediums, techniques, and subject matter have you explored in your paintings and how has your work changed over time?
Being a freelance artist means learning to be versatile and I have certainly done that. Pen and ink, gouache, watercolor, acrylic; I have learned to use it all. Each one enriched my experience but at some point, it is important to choose one area to focus on full time. That was oils for me.
How did painting murals for Olive Garden Restaurants affect your career?
I painted nearly 1500 wall murals for this restaurant chain in 15 years. That was in nearly 500 locations. More than anything, this adventure taught me to be disciplined in my work. I also learned how to solve creative problems. I often didn’t know what spaces would require murals until I arrived on site. If I was given a 5’ x 30’ wall area to compose a painting on, I had to think on my feet. The paintings were my own creations and at times that made it quite difficult.
Do you have an idea in mind when you begin a new piece, or do you work more intuitively?
Perhaps I’m odd but I work both ways. Sometimes I have a specific idea and a self-taken photo that guides me. Sometimes (and these can be the best ones) I riff like a jazz musician. I play the notes that come to me. A painting emerges from layers of intuitive expression - building on each brushstroke. Occasionally it’s a bust, but when it works, it results in some of my best work. I think unplanned successes are the essence of being an artist.
What led you to your interest in painting the Florida landscape?
The obvious answer is that I live here in the state, however, I don’t have to paint it for that reason. I enjoy painting atmospheric scenes, particularly skies. Florida is all about big skies and they are endlessly different and challenging. Water is also fascinating to paint since it moves and reflects what is around it.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
It might sound trite, but do what you love. You’ll never be better at anything else. At the same time, it is important to understand that art is a hard profession. One of my instructors at Pratt Institute once said that only 10 percent of our class would succeed as professional artists long term. I presumed that by being there, we were among those with the best chances, so to keep from being discouraged, I tried not to think of that warning very often. My advice is to understand that there will be sacrifices but there are also wonderful stops that make up the journey.
Pick one of your favorite pieces at Arts on Douglas. Can you share a story about it or offer additional insight as to why it is your favorite?
Everyone has their reasons to like a piece of art and every opinion is valid. For me, Evening Walk may be my favorite. In this painting, our daughter was home from the Midwest for a visit. It was just nice to paint her in her happy place. I don’t often paint figures into my pieces but in this one, it worked and I’m proud of the results.