Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Stefan Geissbühler. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Stefan, looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. Have you been able to earn a full-time living from your creative work? If so, can you walk us through your journey and how you made it happen? Was it like that from day one? If not, what were some of the major steps and milestones and do you think you could have sped up the process somehow knowing what you know now?
The first few years I was literally a “starving artist” and I spent my time primarily in the studio producing work, trying to find my voice as an artist, and experimenting with different mediums (i.e. colored pencil, pastels, air brush and water color). Moving to a this country from Switzerland, I also had no idea how to go about showing my work, so I decided to join a local art guild. This helped me to exhibit and sell work at various places, like real estate offices, restaurants, juried group exhibitions, etc. After a few years, I realized that I needed to take the next step and move on. I wanted to find galleries that would represent my work. I joined a coop gallery in Idaho Springs and slowly started to add other galleries. However, my art career really started to take off when I received an invitation to show my work in a well-known art gallery in in my hometown of Interlaken, Switzerland. The year was 1997 and I was going to do a 2-man show in a well-respected gallery in Switzerland…YAHOO! I shipped and exhibited about 70 paintings, and 50 of them sold in the first three weeks of the exhibition – a record that I have not been able to top since! To this day, that exhibition remains the highlight of my career and was the confidence-builder I needed to go out there and show my work.
Soon after that successful exhibition in the “Gallerie Kunstsammlung Unterseen (KSU)” I decided to start participating in fine juried art festivals here in Colorado and nationally. Also, up to that point, other people where handling the selling of my art and I realized that I needed to know how to marked and sell my own work. I also wanted to be able to meet my customers in person and to be “the king of my own domain” (as the saying goes). Participating in national juried fine art festivals has taught me the skills I needed to market myself as an artist and making a living from my art.
Stefan, before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?
When I moved from Switzerland to Colorado in 1992, my right leg was still in a cast from having shattered my ankle jumping off a cliff into shallow water. At that time, I was still working as a chef, but due to the severity of my injury, and walking on crutches, it made it impossible for me to work in that profession. For at least 4 months I needed vigorous physical therapy, and it took 4 years for me to be able to be on my feet for any length of time again.
Out of necessity, I had to come up with a plan of what I should do and it was my wife, Chris, who suggested that I should pursue my passion of working as an artist. The injury – painful and disrupting as it was – turned out to be very serendipitous and launched my career as a professional fine artist.
“Making it” as an artist is a lifelong commitment, but by diligently and consistently creating work I eventually found success. My style and technique of painting with acrylics and using spackle-knives, evolved from a more representational style to my current work – a mix of abstract, abstract expressionistic, and mid-century modern styles. In my current work, I get inspiration from old European towns, rock formations found in the American Southwest and the Mediterranean, and combine them with figurative elements. I’m not interested in realistically recreating what I see, but like to use my inspiration for putting my own spin on on the subject matter. In my Mediterranean series, I like to breathe life into the structures by giving them a personality, and a human quality, by posing them opposite each other. This gives the impression that the structures are alive, like people having a conversation.
Currently, I’m also working on a figurative series of paintings. I have created such works in the past, but a recent commission of an abstract female figure from one of my collectors has given me renewed interest to pursue that subject matter further. As with most of my New-Century Modern paintings, the female figures are all imaginary. For visual interest, and to give the figures personality, I like to exaggerate the figures by elongating them, and by portraying the women in a dignified, peaceful, and serene fashion.
My artwork has found homes in several national and international, private and corporate art collections, including Kaiser Permanente, University of Colorado Hospital, Children’s Hospital, Chamber Music Society of St. Louis (CMSSL), and Casino Kursaal Bern in Switzerland, just to name a few. However, what I enjoy most is meeting my customers in person. When someone takes home one of my paintings, I feel that I have achieved my goal of making an emotional connection with someone through my art and feel that I have succeeded in lifting up someones spirit. Another important goal for creating my art is to share joy, expressing positive energy, projecting a youthful outlook on life and encouraging a child-like curiosity in the viewer.
What can society do to ensure an environment that’s helpful to artists and creatives?
What the last couple of years of the COVID pandemic has made clear is how much we all need the arts in our lives. Being able to go to an art exhibit, a museum, a concert, or a play, is essential for cultural growth and keeps us connected with our humanity.
I also feel that America needs to make teaching art and music in schools a priority again. How can we appreciate the arts if we don’t understand it? Instead of censoring art and artists, we should encourage and celebrate different points of view and encourage the freedom of an individuals creative expression. By not teaching art and music we loose an essential part of our humanity. Just imagine how dull and uninspired cities, cars, architecture, furniture, clothes, etc. would be if there was no art?
Also, from an economical standpoint, the arts contribute significantly to our economy. In March 2021 the US Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts reported that the creative economy in the U.S. contributed $877.8 billion equaling 4.5% of gross domestic product. This is more than the industries of construction, transportation, travel, tourism, mining, utilities and agriculture!
If we love an artist’s work, or if we have a favorite art organization, the best thing we can do to support them is to buy their work, or make donations to our local art centers, art schools, etc! By doing so, we are not only supporting an individual, but we are also investing in supporting our local economy, and helping to maintain a thriving art scene in our communities.
Having said that, we of course cannot ignore that we all live on a budget when purchasing anything. My advice is that that if you love a piece of art but have a limited budget, please ask if there is a layaway option available. Many artists (myself included) offer layaway to help customers to acquire the piece of art they love, without breaking the bank.
For you, what’s the most rewarding aspect of being a creative?
Working for myself, being independent from the corporate craziness, and being my own boss is very rewarding, liberating and suits me just fine! From the time I get up in the morning, to the time I go to bed at night I know why I work and for whom I’m putting in the long hours. Another huge reward I get as an artist is the feeling of contributing something positive and beautiful to the world. Nature of course is the master of creating beauty, but in creating my art I feel that I contribute to that beauty, even when it is in a very, very small way.