By Gina Malone
Every destination begins with a first step, and it may be surprising that artists often venture onto an unknown path when they create. For West Asheville artist Zander Stefani, it’s that first exploratory mark that shows him the way. “I choose to begin the story by making a mark on a surface, and with that beginning, I am invited to walk that trail to the end,” he says. “Painting is one of the few spaces that exist where I feel both in control and at the whim of the world around me.” Sometimes there’s a specific idea that moves him; at other times, he’s following “a blip of inspiration.” Jumping into the work in progress, he follows the direction in which the painting takes him.
Born in Canada, Stefani first came to North Carolina—by way of Vermont—when he was five years old. His family then moved again—to a home his architect father built in Connecticut—and he attended middle and high school there. Stefani’s mother has made a career of working in the fashion and apparel industry and is, today, owner of clothing boutique blu29 in Asheville, where Stefani’s gallery is located.
A first attempt by Stefani at studying architecture ended in dissatisfaction. It was when he attended Savannah College of Art and Design that he switched his focus from architecture to illustration before settling on painting, which he found less restrictive. “I needed the full freedom to express myself how I wanted to express myself,” he says.
Though unsure at first of his choice of art as a career, Stefani says, today, his parents are extremely supportive and his “biggest cheerleaders.” They moved to Asheville while he was in college and, after graduation, Stefani decided to give Asheville a try, after considering a move to a bigger city like L.A. or NYC. “Asheville seemed like a nice compromise as it was a smaller city with a relatively big art market,” Stefani says. “Plus, my parents being here made it feel like a safe and easy choice. It ended up being a smart move for my career as, ever since arriving here, I have stayed busy as an artist, with constant projects, shows and opportunities.” He recently had what he calls his first “real” show at Tracey Morgan Gallery, and his work, including the cover image Flightless Bird, will be on display there in March as well.
Today, Stefani does not limit himself in how or what he creates. “Sometimes I like to be more narrative with my work with a more intentional and illustrative approach,” Stefani says. “Sometimes I like to be completely loose and abstract and allow the painting to become what it is intending to become with as little intent as possible. Sometimes I enjoy painting portraits, landscapes, painting from life. I like making music. Creating films. Painting murals. Creativity is a multidimensional being for me that can be trained in so many ways. My favorite thing is to surprise myself in what or how I can make something.” Stefani also offers mural and portrait commissions.
He typically works with acrylic paint, charcoal and colored pencil on wood panel. “Painting on wood panels allows me to start smooth and create my own texture,” he says of his process. “Visually, my work expresses the interaction between humanity and nature. On a sunny afternoon I take myself on a hike through the woods, miles away from society or other people, somewhere I’ve never been before, and come across a tall, magnificent tree that maybe has not been seen in 20 years. It is massively tall, with intricately designed bark, and sunlight pouring through the blank spaces between the leaves and branches. The feeling that might overcome me standing in front of that tree is one I try to embody in my work.”
To learn more, visit ZanderStefani.com, or Instagram @zstefani or @zanzangallery. Find his work at Tracey Morgan Gallery in March and at ZanZan Gallery (70 Charlotte Street, Suite 001), where a new solo show, Pieces of Self, opens Friday, April 22.