William Stoehr left his career to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming an artist. In his previous career incarnation, Stoehr was president of National Geographic Maps, the entity responsible for all things cartographical for the international magazine. Although gratifying on many levels. Stoehr yearned to explore a different sort of terrain, the infinite territory of canvas and paint.
Speaking with him from his Boulder, Colorado studio, one gets the feeling Stoehr is in his element judging from the excitement with which he speaks about his recent works. This interview finds him midway through his newest series. For many modern artists and explorers alike, this is the dreaded moment of “what do I do next?”, a critical junction between a momentous start full of ideas and fervent work and the gradual waning of drive and longing for the next frontier. Surrounded by canvases many of which are on the verge of the final brush-stroke, Stoehr finds opportunity for new discoveries in the paint already applied and inspiration for the forms not yet realized.
Stoehr’s aptitude in rendering the human figure is astounding, not withstanding the fact that he has only been a “career artist” for four years. The ability with which he coaxes the form from within the canvas has earned Stoehr accolades from domestic and foreign galleries.
Focusing on the elements of portraiture that interest him most, Stoehr directed his attention to expressive qualities of the human face with intense concentration on the subjects’ eyes. Stoehr details the model’s features with precision, each planer variation expertly drafted with dramatic shadows and highlights.
Stoehr’s models are ethnically diverse providing a comprehensive array of varying bone structures and features. The selection of models enhances the universality of the collection as a whole.
The monochromatic palette with which he initially renders the visage freezes the form in a dramatic likeness of the model while imbuing the canvas with an almost sculptural reflection. Although the face is frozen in a sort of suspended reality, the subjects’ eyes are vibrant and engaging. Stoehr’s application of dramatic sweeps of red across the canvas accentuates and abstracts certain details of his figure, enhancing the tension and movement of the subjects’ eyes. With varying coverage of color, Stoehr amplifies the figure’s intensity and presence.
While drawn to the pragmatism of representational mark-making, Stoehr is enthralled by the freedom of intuitive abstract compositions. Stoehr describes the first time he approached a detailed canvas with a red brush questioning, “Should I put the paint in certain places… or let the painting go?” A moment of conflicted desire to control was met with his instinctive reaction to press the brush to the canvas; Stoehr standing on the precipice, decided to leap. With a distinct portion of the journey relying on intuitive happenstance, has Stoehr experienced any missteps? He answers, yes, explaining a situation with one of his first canvases, an over-energized brush stroke produced a foot-long gash across the surface of the painting. Aware but not overly conscious, Stoehr continues to allow the brush the ability to create at will.
While some of his canvases are lightly touched with color, others integrate color intensely into the matrix of the composition. Stoehr juxtaposes translucent washes of color with opaque brush-strokes varying the figure’s presence on the canvas.
In some portraits the color closely contours the facial features, pleasantly accentuating the form. In other portraits in this series, swaths of color seemingly dissect the image, abruptly cropping and intensely abstracting the figure.
At the time of this interview, Stoehr is investigating new techniques of color application. Having recently read a biography on Francis Bacon, Stoehr is interested in Bacon’s use of spray paint. Drawn to its immediacy, limitless intensity, and unpredictability, Bacon used spray paint and other unconventional coloring tools as a distraction from intentional mark-making stating, “Half my painting activity is disrupting what I can do with ease.” With an unwavering sense of adventure and a taste for the unknown, Stoehr picks up a spray can and charges forward.