WARD STEGERHOEK & VICKY STECKEL

WARD STEGERHOEK & VICKY STECKEL

FADE IN:

INT. BASEMENT, LONG ISLAND CITY, NEW YORK CITY – AFTERNOON

WARD STEGERHOEK and VICKY STECKEL’s studio occupies the bottom floor of a Queens townhouse. Mismatched furniture is arranged to create a sitting area abutting their workspace, which is illuminated by small lights positioned around a canvas covered in paint. WARD and VICKY enter, followed by a female model.

CUT TO:

WARD carefully covers the model’s hair with a protective headpiece. VICKY fills plastic buckets with vibrantly colored paints. The model moves to a stool in front of the canvas, sits, and strips. WARD and VICKY begin to paint her body a shade of electric blue, quickly developing a rhythm. 

WARD
Boscar Project unofficially started with you and your brother.

VICKY
He lives above our studio. One night while we were hanging out, I decided to paint him using leftover supplies from a body painting job, and I photographed the process on my iPhone. I worked by myself for a long time before you got involved, about a year ago. That’s when things got serious.

WARD
You’d been painting on and off for years, and after we moved in together, I found a few of your rolled-up canvases hidden in a corner. They blew me away. I come from a family of painters, and I remember thinking, “Not only is my wife caring, sweet, and sexy — her creativity is so attractive.” Boscar seemed like a natural evolution in our careers as a hairstylist and makeup artist that often work together, especially at a time when I wasn’t getting enough satisfaction from fashion jobs alone.

VICKY
Our days on set definitely trained us for this. We learned that we collaborate very well.

WARD
The way we work is like a relationship: some sessions can be funny and spontaneous, while others are far more complicated and we’ll disagree completely. And certain times we don’t say a word, we communicate with just a gesture or the blink of an eye. There’s no one way we create the artworks.

VICKY
Each subject brings a lot to the table, too. Really, they’re the one with all the control. We feed off of their energy.

WARD
We never took ourselves very seriously — we still don’t — but it was a step in the right direction when people started inviting themselves to be a part of what we’re doing.

VICKY
We really don’t even have to ask anymore. People are coming to us saying, “I want to get painted.”

WARD
Other artists were some of the first to take note, which inspired us. Kind of accidentally, we ended up showing pieces during New York City’s Frieze Week. Destiny presented itself in the form of an open wall in a booth at the [2015] SELECT Contemporary Art Fair.

VICKY
We were so naïve — we didn’t have business cards or anything to hand out.

WARD
But everyone was super accommodating and willing to help us first-timers out. This month we’ll be showing again at the X Contemporary Art Fair during Art Basel Miami Beach [2015]. The art world’s enthusiastic response to what we’re doing has given us tremendous momentum.

VICKY
Still, it’s not for everyone. Some subjects don’t want to get fully nude.

WARD
That’s true, and yet others are completely at ease.

VICKY
The people that want to participate are motivation enough. They trust our vision.

WARD
I think you and I being a couple offers some kind of comfort.

VICKY
A few people have equated sitting for us to some sort of spiritual experience. Girls who were previously afraid of being naked in front of people all of a sudden emerge confident and powerful wearing the paint.

WARD
Our hope is to make each subject a leading lady, a Joan of Arc. We once worked with a minister’s daughter who would never even dream of exposing herself. She was always covered up. The first time she ever saw herself as worthy and beautiful was in our photos. Often, the process will leave a girl feeling liberated.

VICKY
Think about it. As a woman — especially one coming from the fashion industry — the stigma of being taken advantage of is real. We make them feel safe.

WARD
When a trust is built, we can do anything and everything. But we’ve learned from experience it’s best for us to work alone. The biggest mistake we’ve made was including others in the creative process. When we had a stylist cast and dress a model, the finished shoot was the ugliest thing we’d ever seen.

VICKY
You actually brought the first professional model we painted, Codie Young. Up until her, I had been painting regular people, many who had never been in front of a camera. I often find those types more interesting because they bring an element of insecurity to the process. They don’t know what to expect.

WARD
People often don’t realize this is a two-person show. But some of the best shoots I’ve done had very small crews. Even working with Helmut Newton — Grace Coddington would style, Cindy Crawford would pose, and his wife, June, was on set to give feedback, but that was it. He never had more than one assistant. People usually are more inventive when they step out of what’s comfortable.

VICKY
My ex-boyfriend is a photographer — he was living with me at the time I started doing this — and told me not to worry about being overly technical. That influenced my photography a lot. There’s no such thing as perfection. When the time comes to shoot a subject we’ve painted, the camera lens becomes my eye. Looking through it I know what to do next.

WARD
We’ve stood next to photographers for most of our careers. I watched Richard Avedon instruct models to do this or that. It’s taught me to see what they see and now I can stand right next to you and tell a girl to stand a certain way. Typically, there are people that make a picture and people that take a picture. Few do both. But I think the next century of art and image making is going to be very different from the last — people like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, they collaborate with huge teams. My prediction is that teamwork will come to define the works being created.

VICKY
More than anything, we continue to do Boscar because it’s fun. If it were strictly for money, it would become a job, and then you risk losing interest. I know I would.

WARD
This is an incredible way to have a life in art with my partner. That’s what inspires me the most: the simple premise of creating a world for us to share, rather than living in two separate ones.

CREDITS

Photography bySania Tharani

Conversation moderated byAnthony Rotunno

ModelAmanda Salvato

Ward Stegerhoek is a hairstylist and a co-founder of Boscar Project.
Vicky Steckel is a makeup artist and a co-founder of Boscar Project.

Did you see? Visit the New York City studio of artist Curtis Kulig, visual artist Gregory Siff takes The Thick Questionnaire.

THE END