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Opening the Window - A Look Into The Creative Mind of World-Renowned Artist William Stoehr

By Kaylyn Aznavorian - Reality Serum Magazine


According to William Shakespeare, "The eyes are the window to your soul." We see things, feel things, and experience things in a variety of ways, forever making human interaction with one another and the world an incredibly fascinating subject. To some, the work of world-renowned artist William Stoehr is simply a series of faces or people, but to the hundreds of thousands of individuals who view his paintings as a brilliant work of art, his work is so much more than just paint upon a canvas.


It is this idea of human interpretation that fuels Stoehr to create his masterpieces. Stoehr tells us, "My art starts with the recognition that I lose control of the painting the minute I quit working on it and it is seen, experienced and interpreted by others. I want to probe and unleash subjective emotions spanning a lifetime of experiences. I want you to have new and different experiences, over time; each time you re-create my portraits with your own mental image, narrative, and emotions." For some, paintings of his such as "Thea 3" could inflict feelings of sorrow or pain, as though tears are welling up in the dark eyes of such a fair face. For others, the image could be interpreted as haunting, as though she's gone, looking into the depths of your soul. From Stoehr's perspective, the role of an artist is to more or less allow the viewers an opportunity to question themselves, rather than serve his own ideas to an audience hungry for understanding.


As for what we do understand regarding William Stoehr, it's that he's a man who has followed his childhood dreams to success. From the age of 16, William Stoehr has had a strong passion for art, and dreamt of turning this passion into a career as an artist. However, this dream was put on hold for a while - 40 years, to be exact - but one day he had his wake-up-call, saying, "...I decided I had plenty of life to do what I wanted to do when I was in high school, so I resigned from the best job I ever had to become an artist." It took some practice to get back into the swing of things, but according to Stoehr, he managed to find his artistic voice and now feels as though he's doing what he was meant to do.


For the last decade now, William Stoehr has been turning out massive creations using a very limited palette of acrylic paint. His artistic process is different from what many of us are taught in any Art 101 class in high school or college. According to Stoehr, he begins by pouring a mixture of metallic paints directly on the canvas, and then following it up by pouring, dripping, splattering, and brushing watered-down acrylic paint on the surface. He purposefully varies the coverage of paint, moving the canvas around and utilizing tools such as kitchen sponges, paper towels, brushes, a silkscreen squeegee, and sandpaper to create works of art that are both unique and eye-catching. His paintings take anywhere from 20 to 60 hours to complete, and frequently are layers upon layers of what many artists may call mistakes or re-do's in their own work. His reason? ‘Many of my paintings tend to be layers of fresh starts. I believe I may have a finished painting one day after maybe 20 hours, but soon I brush, flow, or spill paint all over the surface, leaving traces- a template to guide the next iteration and before you know it I have worked 60 hours on the same painting."


With that being said, why faces? Where did the inspiration for painting these faces come from?" I rarely have an idea in mind when I start a new portrait other than I am going to paint a face. I force myself to continually paint faces - same composition, same relative dimensions, but produced in a different way" Stoehr says. "I want to dig deeper and more fully explore faces because I am not where I want to be yet. Faces are my vehicles to explore human emotion." 


More recently he's been adding hands into the equation, in an effort to get more practice in his drawing ability and showcase the variety of expressions one can demonstrate with their hands.


As far as William Stoehr's creative process goes, he typically will begin with a model seated in front of him for a couple hours, and will finish by referring to photographs. He strategically uses metallic paint in his works so that depending on how you look at his work, facial structure and features can change, creating different moods that depend on your visual perspective of the piece. He treats his works like an experiment almost, purposefully creating problems so he forces himself to get inventive. In his own words, Stoehr said, "Creativity (is) the practice of making in the moment as a response to something; a stimulus, an idea, a challenge, maybe a drip of paint. That drip of paint running down my canvas may be a random occurrence but my reaction to it is not. What matters most to me is recognizing which accident or experiment might be useful and then how to exploit it now and decide if I want to replicate it later."

When it comes to depth and meaning to his work, up until some recent works, William Stoehr left the meaning of a painting up to the viewer. He paints with this in mind: "If I create ambiguity with abstraction and a few naturalistic cues then maybe you create reality. That is because you complete the image, you create the narrative, and you project your own emotions. You will do a better job with your own perfect mental image than I can. The message is your message to create."

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It's this idea that lingers behind Stoehr's favorite piece, 'Destiny 7". When asked to elaborate, he said, "I tried to make an abstract image feel like a very real person. She is also a good example of some of my favorite techniques." With this work, he used the technique of illusion, creating masks and shrouds with her face. Stoehr said, "I think we are drawn to alternately try to peek behind the shroud, to penetrate this veneer trying to grasp what lies behind the mask and peer out. The mask can provide safety and shield us or it can restrict us. It can allow us to be a voyeur. Hope might emerge from behind it one day and evil the next. It can be protective one day and sinister another. It is up to you, the viewer, to decide what it is."


To be blunt, William Stoehr is a creative genius, and the world appears to agree. His inspiration stems from great artists such as Picasso, Willem de Kooning, Marlene Dumas, Rembrandt, and Leonardo to name a few, and it certainly shows. We asked which of his influences he'd love to meet if it were possible, and to no surprise, it was Picasso. "I would go back a hundred years and meet Picasso. I would like to paint alongside him. I am more interested in how he thought rather than how he painted. I am especially interested in how he perceived reality and how he thought we create visual images in our brain. I think he might have thought about such things."


As for the rest of us, the masters of the stick figure who are aching to turn out a true masterpiece, William Stoehr left us with a bit of advice. "Learn to draw. Study art history. Find your voice. At the end of the day you must ask what you can accomplish as an artist. I have to believe that the essence of art is in its exploration of the important issues of our time." Well said, William Stoehr. We wish you nothing but the best of luck as you continue to conduct the "search for Essential Reality", one magnificent work of art at a time.

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