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William Stoehr

I retired seven years ago as president of National Geographic Maps in order to paint. For the last three years I have been working exclusively on large portraits – up to seven feet tall. I recently spoke at The American Visionary Art Museum for the Johns Hopkins University Brain Science Institute’s program The Science of the Arts. Following this, I created a three-evening program in collaboration with the University of Colorado Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art called Your Brain on Art. These sessions explored creativity, improvisation, visual perception and aesthetics. Recent exhibits and presentations include: The Museum of the Living Artist juried by Roxana Velasquez of the San Diego Museum of Art The Visual Art Center of New Jersey juried by Joan Young of the Solomon Guggenheim Museum Nassau Community College juried by Samantha Rippner of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Expo 31 at b.j.spoke gallery juried by Margot Norton of the New Museum New Directions at the Barrett Art Center juried by Susan Cross of Mass MoCA Other work was shown at the Denver International Airport, the Colorado State Capitol and the University of Texas. I am represented by Space Gallery in Denver and Gallery St Thomas in the Virgin Islands. 2

About Starting with a vague or illusive expression and an uncertain context, I hope to provoke viewers into completing my portraits with their own mental image and then possibly overlay their own feelings – to be more present. Doubt begets engagement. I find that my paintings elicit questions concerning seduction, power, violence and guilt simply by letting the viewer complete the narrative. We are attracted to faces – it is our nature. If I fill the canvas with a big face then there is little room for leading context. The size and closely cropped image creates an elevated sense of intimacy. Searching for meaning, viewers may turn inward. Recently the notion of duplex vision - that is both a conscious and unconscious visual pathway from the eyes to the brain got me wondering.....what if these pathways could ever be out of sync and how would this affect our perception over time? Or what if we relive visual memories of what we experienced before and how does this affect our visual perception? The very idea that any of this could be real motivates me to explore the concept. So I now create differing facial plains and facial features that are just slightly out of alignment. I try to paint what it might be like if my duplex vision was out of sync or as if I was reliving an earlier moment from just a split second before. I wonder how half remembered memories affect our perception. Maybe reality is best portrayed by a mixed countenance that at any moment can never exist.


Lately thinking about the neuro-effect of central and peripheral vision not only gave me a new tool but it got me thinking of other new ways to convey ambiguous and ephemeral expressions. For instance, I frequently give each side of the face a slightly different expression. I also use metallic, interference and iridescent paints that change with lighting and point of view causing shifting patterns of light and I like to ever so slightly alter the facial patterns and shading relative to the line work.

Witnessing these small changes over time might make these images appear more real to us – more like we actually experience them.


I further attempt to exploit the effects of a shared gaze. We are drawn to eyes. If I engage you with eyes then I can also start to do other things peripherally with line and color. I can color outside of the lines and your mind will resolve it. Vague and scribbled outlines and graphic vectors become part of a recognizable whole while a hint of “unreal” complimentary and equal value color causes the eyes to seem life-like. All of my paintings start from life. I use a limited pallet or acrylic paint. I vary the coverage, spraying varnish between layers and then scrubbing, scraping, scratching or sanding the surface while applying a variety of marks – strokes, dots and other adjustments. I try not to differentiate between my drawing and painting.


I like the idea of a reverse abstraction, one where from a distance the face might appear realistic and in some cases almost photo-real but upon close inspection is a succession of abstractions.

My paintings tend to be layers of fresh starts. I believe I might have a finished face one day but soon I brush, flow or spill paint over part of or all over the surface, leaving traces - a template to guide the next iteration.

Note that the subtle effects of the metallic, interference and iridescent paint are not apparent in photographs. 303.638.2868

6 th

2080 5 St Boulder CO 80302

Masks & Mirrors: New Work by William Stoehr To truly experience William Stoehr's body of work in Masks and Mirrors, the viewer must be willing to succumb to a frontier of emotion and take part in the journey. Upon approach, the mixed media canvases of ethnically diverse women's faces close-up are arresting, even discomforting, as their gazes pierce the room and confront the viewer. Each expression captures a single moment, but their eyes tell a story, engaging the audience in a spectrum of emotional and intellectual responses. What the viewer sees, (fragility, strength, resentment, resolve, loneliness, confidence, insecurity and perseverance) is often a reflection of their own personal experience. The honesty revealed in Stoehr's paintings is conveyed in a collision of contemporary realism and abstract expressionism. Spontaneous rhythms of bold brushwork, drips and gestural marks fill the canvases edge to edge, creating a tension that magnifies the energy with which he works. Layered washes of monotone shades are slashed with intense color. And yet, Stoehr portrays the details of women's facial structure with expert precision, emphasizing the eyes as the portals to their stories. About his work, Stoehr expresses, "I try to connect with the viewer by probing the neural mechanisms we use to interpret visual information. With a caricature-like face, vague or illusive expression and uncertain context, I hope to provoke viewers into completing these portraits with their own mental image and then to superimpose their own feelings. I find that I elicit questions concerning seduction, power, violence and guilt simply by letting the viewer complete the narrative. “ Space Gallery - 765 Santa Fe Drive - Denver CO 80204


Summer's End: See these shows before the season ends By Michael Paglia -Thursday, Sep 1, 2011 Paired with Dissection & Deregulation is William Stoehr: Masks & Mirrors, a major show of portraits installed in the large, double-height back gallery. Stoehr, who had worked for National Geographic on its worldwide mapping project for most of his career, turned to painting full-time just a few years ago. His works are nominally representational; in this case, he fills the canvases with enormous portraits of women's faces. However, his painterly techniques originate in abstraction, and his lively surfaces are covered in scuffs, rub-outs, smears and runs of pigment. To create his pieces, Stoehr uses charcoal and acrylic paint that he applies — or removes — with everything from brushes and sponges to sandpaper, steel wool, knives and rags. The resulting paintings are dark and moody, with lots of black and metallic silver, which gives them an unusual luminosity, like moonlight, that's especially noticeable as they catch or absorb the light, depending on the color. The women's faces — one per panel — are cropped close so that their hair, especially on the tops of their heads, is cut out, making the features of their faces the dominant part of the pictures. Apparently, Stoehr begins with a drawing that he then covers with paint. In a few, he goes in again with charcoal in order to clarify the details of the portraits. Taken all together, the show is gorgeous and stopped me in my tracks as I entered the back gallery at Space.


Solo exhibitions 2011 2010 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004

Space Gallery, Denver, CO Space Gallery, Denver, CO, Dairy Center for the Arts, Boulder, CO Gallery St Thomas, Virgin Islands Gallerie Porto 34, St Barth, FWI Gallery St Thomas, Virgin Islands Exhibitrek – the Gallery, Boulder, CO Exhibitrek – the Gallery, Boulder, CO Gallery St Thomas, Virgin Islands Gallery St Thomas, Virgin Islands

Other exhibitions – partial list 2012



2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004

b.j. spoke gallery, Expo 31, Huntington, NY, juror: Margot Norton – New Museum Barrett Art Center, Poughkeepsie, NY, juror: Susan Cross Mass MoCA th University of Texas, 27 Annual International Exhibition Nassau Community College, NY, juror: Samantha Rippner – Metropolitan Museum of Art Museum of the Living Artist, San Diego,, CA, juror: Roxana Velasquez - San Diego Museum of Art Visual Art Center of NJ, juror: Joan Young - Solomon Guggenheim Museum Colorado State Capitol, Colorado Council of the Arts – Creative Capitol Denver International Airport, Colorado Council of the Arts Santa Cruz Art League, juror: George Rivera - Triton Museum of Art Lana Santorelli Gallery, Chelsea NYC, NY Old Court House Art Center, Woodstock, Il, juror: G. Hertzlieb - Brauer Museum of Art Center for Visual Art, Metropolitan State College Denver, CO Denver Botanic Gardens, Contemporary Responses to Henry Moore, Denver International Airport/33 Ideas/Colorado Art Ranch Rembrandt Yard Art Gallery, Boulder, CO Gallery St Thomas, Virgin Islands Space Gallery, Denver, CO ArtExpo, New York, NY Safety Zone Invitational Exhibition, St. John, Virgin Islands Gallery St Thomas, Virgin Islands Beaux Art Festival – Lowe Art Museum, Coral Gables, FL Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit, New York, NY Neo Art Gallery, Denver, CO

Other events, publications, presentations – partial list 2012 2011 2010

2009 2007 2006


Barrett Art Center, Poughkeepsie, NY, juror, Susan Cross Mass MoCA, 2 place overall. Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art – creator and host of three-evening program “Your Brain on Art” Nassau Community College juror, Samantha Rippner Metropolitan Museum of Art, Award of Merit Caribbean Art World Magazine – feature article Boulder Daily Camera – feature article White Space, Benefit for Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art – presenting artist Johns Hopkins Univ., American Visionary Art Museum, Thought Leader Series - presenter American Contemporary Art Magazine – feature article Colorado Art Ranch, Durango, CO - workshop presenter Denver Art Museum, Denver CO - untitled #5 program presenter Destination US Virgin Islands Magazine – annual featured artist


Laine 8 acrylic on canvas 60 x 44 in


Jacqueline 2 acrylic on canvas 60 x 44 in


Myriah 1 acrylic on canvas 60 x 44 in


Destiny 7 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 48 x 36 in


Destiny 17 acrylic on canvas 84 x 60 in


Destiny 18 acrylic on canvas 84 x 60 in


Jacqueline 3 acrylic on canvas 60 x 44 in


Jacqueline 4 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 60 x 44 in


Destiny 19 acrylic on canvas 60 x 44 in


Jacqueline 1 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 60 x 44 in


Laine 9 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 48 x 36 in


Destiny 18 acrylic on canvas 84 x 60 in


Laine 6 acrylic on canvas 48 x 36 in


Destiny 13 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 48 x 36 in


Destiny 8 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 48 x 36 in


Laine 5 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 84 x 60 in


Destiny 15 acrylic on canvas 84 x 60 in


Thea 5 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 60 x 44 in


Thea 6 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 60 x 44 in


Thea 4 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 60 x 44 in


Lillian 1 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 48 x 36 in


Loni 5 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 60 x 44 in


Laine 3 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 48 x 36 in


Priscila 10 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 60 x 44 in


Priscila 11 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 60 x 44 in


Rheanna acrylic/charcoal on canvas 48 x 36 in


Destiny 14 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 44 x 44 in


Ama 2 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 48 x 36 in


Loni 4 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 38 x 38 in


Priscila 6 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 48 x 36 in


Laine 1 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 48 x 36 in


Loni 1 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 48 x 36 in


Hauna 2 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 48 x 36 in


Let There Be Light acrylic on canvas 57 x 24 in


Sarah acrylic/charcoal on canvas 48 x 24 in


Helene 1 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 41 x 43 in


Cate 1 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 40 x 48 in


Destiny’s Shadow acrylic/charcoal on canvas 33 x 51 in


Brittany 8 acrylic/charcoal on canvas 48 x 30 in


2009 By Kelly Stone 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 brushstroke, 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, exhibiting recently at Space Gallery in Denver, Colorado and Gallerie Porto 34 in Saint Barth, French West Indies. The inception of Stoehr’s newest collection originated from a conversation between the artist and a close friend, a fellow artist and gallery owner. Eager for a new adventure, Stoehr asked his friend what he thought would be an interesting artistic avenue to explore, contemplating a foray into the unknown. Stoehr’s friend, familiar with his earlier works, suggested a closer examination of abstract 49

portraiture. With this suggestion and having recently attended a Marlene Dumas retrospective, Stoehr began the first pieces of what he would call the Burka Series. 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. For Stoehr, this melding of figurative and abstraction is a functional union of his right-brained and left-brained approach to art. While drawn to the pragmatism of representational markmaking, 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. 50

Stoehr’s exploration has thus far produced twenty-five 48” x 36” canvases. Each piece is left untitled indicating his model’s name in parenthesis. Stoehr notes, the collective title Burka Series and the figures therein are not intended to be explicitly political. Individually, the images are powerful; as a group, the tension is moving. The women look out from behind their mantle of color urging the viewer to stay a moment, engage, and process. Stoehr did not have preconceived ideas as to how the pieces should read singularly or as a series leaving the impetus of the collection to be decided by the viewer. Stoehr hopes to provoke an experience and illicit an emotional response but is apt to allow the viewer the freedom to explore his or her own conclusions. Stoehr simply states, “I shouldn’t be trying to guide. I’m interested in knowing but will let them figure it out.” For a man who spent the majority of his career producing detailed maps and guidebooks, it seems fitting that in “retirement” Stoehr opts to provide the vehicle but not the destination.


William Stoehr's art tickles the brain. Want to know why? Where science meets art By Aimee Heckel Boulder Daily Camera – November 14, 2010

William Stoehr is running a science experiment. But his lab doesn't have a microscope, petri dish or test tube. His equipment is a fist-sized hunk of charcoal, a fat paintbrush, a bucket of red paint, a dish scrub and sandpaper.Stoehr is an artist. You might not know it from peeking into his Boulder studio, but Stoehr is also fiddling with neuroscience – delving deep into the subconscious chambers of the brain, and building bridges between visual perception and emotional response. He points to one of his oversized charcoal face portraits. A little yellow in the eye here, paired with some purple over there, and suddenly the eyes look realistic. They seem to move. Two men recently said they felt judged by those eyes. People regularly burst into tears when they see Stoehr's paintings, although they don't -- or can't -- say why. Creating art that evokes emotion is all about experiments and happy accidents. Just like science, Stoehr says. In fact, despite their seeming opposite sides of the spectrum a growing field called "neuro-aesthetics" believes that science and art are different sides of the same coin, and inspecting both sides can lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the human brain. Artists like Stoehr have begun studying neuroscience as a map to enhance their artwork. And scientists have begun more seriously considering visual art, music and architecture to glimpse inside the head of not just the artists, but also the people who interact with the work. It's the science of aesthetics and beauty. In other words, how the brain processes, responds to and creates art. This collaboration could lead to an improvement in education and medicine down the road, according to advocates, such as the Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute. For example, if you knew how to design a room in a way that triggered the brain to heal, it would change the way we design hospitals. The institute recently sponsored a conference called "The Science of the Arts." Among the speakers: neuroscientists, researchers and a molecular biologist. And Stoehr, the Boulder painter.


Artists have foretold-- on some intuitive level -- what neuroscientists are just now discovering, the symposium suggested. Historically, artists have sought out to paint pictures of curvy women. Later, neurologists discovered the brain has more receptors for curves, making humans pre-programmed to prefer curves to straight lines.The brain is also set up to prefer line drawings of faces to realistic portrayals, and the eyes are drawn to the area of the greatest contrast between the brightest bright and the darkest dark. Stoehr didn't know any of this when he began painting six years ago, although these traits are fundamental of his artwork and could explain his quick pathway to popularity. (Stoehr's artwork now hangs in a temporary exhibit at the Denver International Airport and soon will be in the State Capitol.) "Scientists wanted to know how I knew to do it," Stoehr says. How did he use lines and luminance to trigger emotions? That would be the topic of his Johns Hopkins presentation. The only catch? He didn't exactly know how. Stoehr has never taken an art class. One day, he says he just decided to quit his job as the president of National Geographic's mapping group to pursue a different path. His only artistic strategy: To make a lot of accidents. Through trial and error, he says he discovered concepts that art schools teach, stuff like "equal luminance," and how to use "discordant color" to bring a portrait to life. But Stoehr doesn't worry about the jargon, and he says he never paints to try to evoke a certain response. "I don't even think about it while I'm painting. I just draw what I see," he says. "That's, in some way, the key: Disengaging the brain." It's kind of ironic from a neuro-aesthetics perspective: turning off the brain to open up understanding of the brain. Even the trademark of Stoehr's art -- splashes of red or orange paint across the charcoal faces -is random. Sometimes he asks the subject to throw it. (All of the women he paints are Boulderites, like a woman working at a coffee shop on Pearl Street.) It's those red splotches that Jeremy Nathans says provokes an especially interesting neurological response. Nathan is no art critic. He's the professor of molecular biology and genetics at the Johns Hopkins' School of Medicine. His interest in art centers on how the images are processed in the retina and brain, and how we alter these images. "What comes in at every stage is altered," Nathans says. "It's not like we get a perfect movie of the outside world projected on a little screen inside our brain." Our brains filter, distort and suppress different aspects of what we see. Think about eyewitness testimony in court. 53

Witnesses will swear on their mother's grave that that man was the perpetrator. But these accounts are highly unreliable, despite the certainty in their memory. "Many times, we think we have an accurate perception of the world when, in fact, we have colored it, both literally and figuratively, with our expectations and experiences," Nathans says. Understanding how a normal brain works can provide insight into how to rehabilitate brains after a stroke or with debilitating diseases, Nathans says. Here's where art comes in. "Visual art taps into the brain circuits by, at some level, bypassing the analysis that we're doing when we look at a general scene," he says. Think about how a painting or a song can stir up buried emotions that you suppress in your dayto-day life. A man looks at Stoehr's painting and says he feels judged. Art can reach around the brain's filters and set off thoughts before you see them coming. A woman breaks into tears when she looks into the portrait's eyes. She doesn't know why. But her brain is firing away in a way that fascinates scientists like Nathans. Nathans says Stoehr's paintings tap into the mind on two different levels. Consciously, you see the portrait. Subconsciously, the red sprays of paint create a mood. The painting stimulates two different parts of the sensory system, he says. Plus, the haphazard red splotches catch your attention because they are unexpected, Nathans says. A part of you feels like he has defaced his own painting, and this creates tension. It's fascinating, Nathans says, from a purely scientific point of view. "I think a lot of art is that way," he says. "You get inputs into your system, and you can't put your finger on why you like it, but you do. Understanding art can help us understand the subconscious part of the brain and the real way that we perceive the world.


William Stoehr  

Art Portfolio

William Stoehr  

Art Portfolio