Stephen Bach has a varied experience in the visual arts. Raised in Orlando, Florida, he attended Pratt Institute in New York to study automobile design. After a year he changed his major to painting and illustration. Becoming an illustrator after college, he worked on numerous advertising and editorial assignments. In 1985 he was asked by General Mills Restaurants to paint a few murals in an upstart restaurant chain called Olive Garden. At the time it was thought to be a very temporary assignment, but soon became a full time job. For 14 years, Stephen traveled to nearly 500 Olive Garden locations in 47 states to paint Italian murals on the walls.
“It was very hard work with pressuring deadlines. I flew almost three million miles over those years. But the travel opened my eyes to the beauty of the land. For me it was the perfect introduction for what was to come.”
By 1999, Olive Garden had undergone big changes in corporate leadership. It became clear the murals were no longer a part of the next design phase. But what seemed at the time to be misfortune would later be recognized as a gift.
“I always wanted to make a career of painting on my own terms. Letting go of commercial art allowed me to go to the next level. I rented a studio and started from scratch. I painted for months trying to rediscover myself as an artist while wondering how to support a family and yet still be true to my talents. I dug through photos I took while traveling and began to interpret them as a painter. After a while a sense of comfort and rhythm began to come to my work. I also realized how much I learned from painting murals every day for over a decade.”
Today, Stephen still takes photos when he travels. He loads them on a laptop and studies the frames one by one. “This is a critical part of my process. Sometimes a photo looks like a sure winner as a painting, but that’s usually misleading. A painting has to transcend what the camera tells us. That’s where I let serendipity enter the equation. Unintentional colors or imagery may be allowed to stay. Beauty is sometimes where you stumble over it and I try to keep the good stuff even when it wasn’t planned. Sometimes the painting ends up looking nothing like the original intention.”
“I find my inspiration in the beauty of light and how it plays on the surrounding environment.”
“The best compliment I receive is that the works have a feeling of serenity or solitude. It’s not what I consciously started out to accomplish but I see it has developed into that and I’m happy about it. I?m pretty sure we can all use a little more serenity in our lives.”
When working as a contract artist with Olive Garden restaurants, Stephen painted over a linear mile of murals for their restaurants onsite in 47 states, in roughly 500 store locations.