We had the good fortune of connecting with Stefan Geissbühler and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Stefan, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
When you put your heart and soul into your work, how can you go wrong? The love of creating art, from the initial spark of inspiration to the finished piece, is a journey that is magical to me, but it is not always easy! When working to make a living as a full-time, established artist, outside influences that try to steer me away from my inner voice and vision can be very tempting. I avoid that as much as I possibly can. Art to me is a way to communicate my hopes, love, wishes, dreams, emotions, philosophy, life experience and ideas. For me, my work is only truly meaningful when I can express all of these things through my art. Art is about the connection. My greatest sense of success comes from witnessing a palpable connection and in inaudible conversation between a viewer and one of my paintings.
When I still worked as a trained chef in Switzerland and Canada, I combined ingredients, flavors, textures and colors to create dishes that were enticing not only to the palate but also to the eye. I use that same approach to create my art. I experiment with combining different shapes, colors and textures to create paintings that are enticing … paintings that I would love to have hanging in my own home.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Since my inspiration continues to evolve as I journey through my life, my paintings change to reflect that evolution. I enjoy creating a set of paintings in various series, and one series can be quite different from the next. In response to a concern I had expressed that I was not sure if my body of artwork was cohesive enough, one of my artist friends once said: “No matter what you paint, I can always tell that it’s a Stefan Geissbühler!” He told me that my confident use of color, and my preferred technique of using stiff palette knives and rollers (brayers) made my artwork immediately recognizable. Since that came from a very talented artist who had gained significant stature in the art world, I felt reassured that I was doing the right thing by allowing my work to evolve rather than following art-world trends and recommendations to “brand” my work. This reaffirmed for me that other people help to make you who you are; they guide you along when uncertainty creeps in!
I think that my insistence to remain self-taught has actually been a blessing, because I can work more freely, without putting restrictions on myself to conform to someone else’s vision of what art should be. Perhaps my art is as unique as it is because of the “uneducated” way I create my work! I value learning and experimenting with new techniques, compositions, and color combinations, but above all else, I want my artwork to reflect who I am, and what I think and feel.
Stiff palette knives and brayers of various sizes, and acrylic paints are my tools of choice in creating my paintings. I find that these tools allow me to better control the layering of colors and textures. They enable me to create both multi-colored translucent layers to pull the viewer’s eyes deeply into the painting, and opaque layers of saturated color adding emphasis and contrast, to encourage the viewer’s eye to journey around the painting. I also prefer a surface that is both smooth, to allow me to better control texture, and relatively ridged and durable, to better tolerate some of my sharp-edged tools and the physical nature of my technique. My preference is 1/8” hardboard panels that I prepare by sanding and then priming with black Gesso. I always start with a quick pencil sketch to reflect my initial inspiration for the composition, and follow with an underpainting, using a color that makes the subsequent color layers come alive. From there, the scraping and rolling begins, to achieve the textures I want, combining thinner layers with areas of thicker paint (impasto) to ad visual interest and depth to the painting. I finish by adding some lines of emphasis with paint on the edge of a palette knife or occasionally using a paintbrush.
To overcome challenges and put to use the lessons I’ve learned, my strategy is to stick to my vision, with an overall goal of creating something that makes me feel fulfilled and happy as an artist! I strive to listen to the advice others give me, but I only apply it if the advice fits my vision. It is paramount that I remain true to my inspiration, and that I allow myself to be brave and to remain open to the impulse to change. Life is a journey, and art should reflect that journey. I also feel it is important to do the work! I believe that we only grow and improve when we are willing to keep working at it. It can take years to hone a skill, but enjoying the journey makes reaching a goal all the more likely and rewarding!
If I could start over again, I would add a focus on the business side of art. I had to learn what I now know by picking up bits and pieces along the way. When I see parents nervously observing that their child wants to be an artist, I encourage them to nurture their child’s creativity but to perhaps suggest education in business, including sales and marketing.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
It’s great to live in the Denver area when people come to visit since there is so much to do. I would take them to mountain towns like, Crested Butte, Salida, and Breckenridge. If they enjoy nature and animals, I would choose visits to Roxborough State Park, Elk Meadow Park, the Denver Botanic Gardens and the Denver Zoo. As a former chef, I would primarily invite them to my place! However, for my favorite restaurants, I would take them to Cafe Jordano and Namaste in Lakewood; Wild Ginger in Littleton; Zaidy’s, Cucina Colore and La Merise in Cherry Creek; and Bistro Vendôme and Pizza Republica in Denver. I would take them to a performance at one of the great the local theaters, like the Lakewood Cultural Center, the Arvada Center, the Newman Center, and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. For a one-of-a-kind musical experience, it’s also hard to beat a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater during the summer months! For art, I would take them to the Denver Art Museum, the Clifford Still Museum, and my favorite, the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Nobody is “self-made.” It always takes others to “make you” and guide you along. First and foremost, the person who deserves the most credit is my wife, Chris! She was the one who suggested that I become a full-time artist. She encouraged me to make the change from chef to working as a professional artist after a cliff-diving accident left me with a shattered right ankle and unable to be on my feet for long periods of time. Almost 30 years later, I am still making my living as a professional artist, and I am so grateful and happy that I followed her kind and caring advice!
I also want to express my gratitude to all of the people, collectors, and art-enthusiasts out there who have supported not only me, but who also keep supporting the arts in general, recognizing the humanizing, cultural value the arts play in our modernized, increasingly “technologized” world!