Stefan Bucher on parents, mentors and the love of a good woman
Can parents be mentors? I always thought that they were legally bound to be my mentors. But over the years I've noticed that mine seem to go above and beyond the call of duty every time, so I'll put them first on the list.
But was there somebody who helped me grow as an artist? There wasn't one particular teacher, who lead me out of the darkness. Some have introduced me to new points of view, or some technique that turned out to be important in my work. But I wouldn't think of any of them as mentors. They just came and went too quickly. And to be honest, I was too willful and suspicious to buy into their artistic advice back then. If you fancy yourself a pen and ink rebel, you're not going to take advice from your high school art teacher. You're supposed to fight the Man... man. My relationship with them was always a bit... operatic.
That said, I had some brilliant mentors while I was in school. There were always non-art teachers that took an interest in me and helped me get through the day. Whenever I'm back in Germany I visit my old philosophy teacher, Herr Röhrkasten. He always had wise words, an open ear, and helped me understand the world. He was a mentor out of central casting, too: big guy, wrinkles, gravelly voice, tweed jacket and a bit of an academic firebrand. Think “Dead Poets Society” with Johnny Cash instead of Robin Williams.
Another wonderful mentor still writes for the first ad agency I worked at. In fact, he was the real reason I took that job. I had interned at the place for a few weeks after graduating from college. I already knew I wasn't comfortable. The job sucked, I hated the idea of leaving L.A. for Oregon. But working with this guy, I sensed that he had a lot to teach me, so I took the job. We grew very close over the next year and I learned a lot from him about all aspects of life. Some of it even related to work. Then I got fired and moved back to Los Angeles. That was in 1998. Since then, we've stayed in touch, but it was hard to maintain the same relationship. When you've got a mentor it helps to be in the same town, just so you can talk face to face and share a few of the same day to day experiences. Now we're good friends. The mentor part is still there, but it's less pronounced. Which is natural. Parts of the relationship wax and wane, the emphasis shifts, you evolve.
Back in L.A. I tried hiring a mentor, a consultant, to help me propel my business to new heights. That didn't work at all. I wanted a business mentor and she wanted to help, but ultimately I was just another one of her clients. As a mentor you get emotionally involved. The success and well-being of your protégé is more than an objective, it's a mission. You can't expect that kind of investment if you're paying by the hour.
So far I haven't found one artistic mentor. But that's fine. I hobble along my particular path in the company of my friends from art school and those that I've met through work. They expose me to new ideas, they give me feedback on my work, and I do the same for them. We all have our strong suits and areas where we're a bit wobbly. Everybody's got a different piece of the map and we manage to find our way together.
In the end, my personal mentors have always been more important to me than anything. I've done this commercial art thing for 15 years now. I can handle that on my own if I have to. It's life that surprises me. That's where I need help on my side. For the past two years, a wonderful woman has been in my life. She's taught me more than anybody else in a long time. Having her in my corner makes me a better man and that makes me a better artist. I'm lucky to have her.
Stefan G. Bucher