Frequently Asked Questions
Since the early days of Stephan’s mosaics and the Bead Town projects, we have been asked many questions about the artwork and the process. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions. If you would like additional information, please send an email to Stephan@StephanWanger.com.
1. How did you get your start as an artist? Can you tell me a little bit about your background and your relationship with New Orleans?
I am originally from Wilhelmshaven (near Hamburg), Germany and immigrated to Chicago in 1990. I have a BA in Marketing from Columbia College, Chicago. I worked as a Director of Special Projects for the City of Chicago Host Committees for the 1994 World Cup Soccer Tournament and the 1996 Democratic National Convention under the leadership of Mayor Richard M. Daley and his brother, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Mr. William Daley. My responsibilities were to visually brand Chicago in such way that tourists consider traveling to the city. I remained in Marketing and Business Development until 2004. During my tenure in Chicago I traveled a few times to New Orleans and fell in love with the city. After Hurricane Katrina I decided to move to New Orleans to help rebuild the city. In July of 2016 I returned to Chicago, IL.
2. What first inspired you to use Mardi Gras beads in your work?
After my first Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans, I noticed the incredible amount of beads that were thrown away. I couldn't believe it. I started to use reclaimed Mardi Gras beads and glued them onto plastic planters. From my humble efforts on the planters, I learned that I was constantly limited by the size of the beads. In order for me to show detail, I had to make larger artworks. Now we are using bottle caps, nails, screws, even fossils.
3. How does your medium impact viewers' experience of your work?
I am executing my work in a photorealistic style. I recreate scenes, images, and icons of Louisiana, and other Bead Town host cities, to help bring awareness to the world of the innate beauty of the state's unique culture and varied communities.
4. Who/What are some of your artistic influences?
Through my experiences traveling the world, I have gained insight and influence from the Spanish Art Nouveau designs of Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona, Spain; the Moorish and Persian architectural details in Istanbul, Turkey, and the sculpture and huge environmental art of Chicago artist, as well as my friend John David Mooney. These designs and images have translated to my work in pattern, design and fine detail. Though I am not formally trained as an artist, I engage in a craft that speaks to fine art, and I do borrow the ideals of Post-Impressionistic Pointillism and emulate the style and scale of Roy Lichtenstein's Pop-Art works.
5. You stress recycling and conservation of materials. Why is art such a powerful tool in delivering this message?
Art entertains and engages just like a Mardi Gras parade does. The mistake environmentalists and scientists make (when they want to create awareness about global warming), is that they just list the facts and causes. However, if you entertain, engage and provide solutions to a problem, any visitor of my art is more likely to go home and think about how they might be able to help the environment.
I want to bring attention to the reduction of global warming through the promotion of recycling old materials. Every year, Mardi Gras parades generate about 10,000 tons of trash along the Gulf Coast. Every year. Most of the trash is beads, lots of beads. If you add the tonnage of Mardi Gras beads thrown over the last 40 years together, you have the tonnage of the BP Deepwater Oil Spill. The difference is that the oil in the Gulf dilutes, the beads in landfills do not. What starts as a happy string of beads being thrown to a smiling catcher gets worn for a couple of hours, and then goes into storage. The rest, the most unlucky beads, are being hauled to the next landfill. It is my mission to capture the excitement of the thrower to the catcher – and through art make that happiness everlasting. I love working with all kinds of materials that people consider trash.
Nothing beats the smell of brand new merchandise. A consumer-based society changes old habits slowly. It's my personal challenge to make my art smell and look brand new. We have used bottle caps, screws, nails, and even 46 million year old fossils in my artworks.
6. How do you decide your subject matter?
I consider my current emotional state of mind. My large works take such a long time to create (we are talking months), that I really have to select something that comes from the deepest spot of my heart and complements the exhibit that we call Bead Town. I really have to have a strong passion for the potential artwork. After all the cynicism previously surrounding my art (“You can't make art out of Mardi Gras beads”) - I really feel that I have conquered something. Hence my mural of The Maid of Orleans - our Joan of Arc in the artwork, “Life in the French Quarter,” Bead Town's current Guinness Worlds Record attempt in progress.
7. Can you describe your technique and your artistic process?
In preparation for the formal construction of each artwork, beads are meticulously sorted by size down to the exact millimeter and perfect shade, creating a detailed and varied palette much like a painter would for painting. I spray paint some of beads as well. The key is closely trimming all beads off their strands. I am using E-6000 as an adhesive because it gives me the flexibility when applying the beads as tightly as possible. I use really tiny beads to fill any gaps. Additionally, the resulting play of light and color add a new dimension of glitter and shine through the use of metallic, plastic and luminescent beads. Like the disco balls for example. I create illusion of three-dimensional space through the use of perspective but also the variety of sizes of the beads I use to create actual dimension and add an element of bas-relief.
8. How does your art relate to people?
Folks really love to take home Mardi Gras beads. I have sold artworks to collectors in Europe, North America and Asia. I am glad to say that I have accepted large scale mural commissions from Phoenix, AZ, San Francisco, CA, New York, NY, Jacksonville, FL and many other places. However, these works take so long to create that I can barely keep up the demand to also have smaller pieces available and I work on Bead Town exhibits at the same time. I am working closely with many not-for-profit organizations and have donated to anyone who has asked. I am very thankful of the opportunities this country has given me and am honored that I can give back a little. I am deeply humbled that I am allowed to do art on a full-time basis, using mostly recycled materials and promote Bead Town host cities at the same time. I am very lucky to live a very symbiotic life.
9. Where can I see your art?
Until May 30, 2017 in Gary, Indina at the Gary Career Center on 1800 East 35th Street, Gary, IN 46409. Monday thru Saturdays 9-4pm. Please check the calendar on both websites, here and Beadtown.org. Thank you so much for your interest.