|| blackstar.STUDIO Story
Written by John Cornford (Great, great grandson of Charles Darwin).
Why my interest in Steve Stachini?
Amid the explosion of David Bowie tributes and online posts by fans and critics alike following the artist’s death, one individual I had recently encountered on the web caught my attention with his gritty passion and determination to try and achieve something creatively unique. I couldn’t help following his progress from the sidelines - we had barely even met.
As months went by it was clear to me that nothing was going to faze this crazed creator and I could only imagine at the time what this passion-driven mind was going through. I knew that he adored Bowie like few others I had met, and like even fewer regarded him as his creative inspiration and mentor. So wasn’t hard to imagine the impact on him of Bowie’s death in January. ‘There have really only ever been two constants in my life. One was my Nan and the other David Bowie. If I was lonely before… in some ways I’m now totally alone. My creativity stimulates new life in a lost one,’ he told me.
But the blackstar.STUDIO story had begun well before this terrible loss. I simply had to find out more, and through a series of lengthy telephone conversations I put together the story of what it took for Steve Stachini to create the blackstar.STUDIO
|| The Concept
The project that became the blackstar.STUDIO was no new idea to Steve, as he explained. One night, several years ago, he experienced an epiphany, albeit in the company of a bottle of brandy. Steve’s has always been a hard-working life (mostly self-employed) in the print and sign industry as a commercial graphic designer, and he has always maintained that if anyone had a requirement connected with art or design in any format or media platform, he would consider it work worth doing.
This is no idle claim. Steve’s experience, knowledge and technical savvy allow him to complete artistic processes from conceptual design through to production and installation of pretty much anything graphical, including vehicle and yacht wrapping and large-format interior mural designs. It’s clear that this is a man of artistic passion and creativity who’s attuned to the fine details. Steve’s ambition ever since that brandy-fueled vision five years ago has been to create and own an art gallery/café in the Valencia/Alicante region of Spain where he has lived since 2006.
No surprise that financial constraints appeared to be the barrier between his dream and its realization. However, somehow this constraint didn’t seem to get in the way of his determination for the studio project which he considers a stepping stone towards his ultimate goal.
|| The Starting Point
In August 2015, during a period of global financial crisis and consequent slowdown in work, Steve’s focus turned from the commercial to the personal: he began to write his life story, working title Steve Stachini - My Life Naked And Raw. He found great self-therapeutic solace in writing as he started to talk on paper about his traumatic, abusive, negative upbringing. This process seemed to open another avenue too, and Steve turned away from commercial design to concentrate on what he calls ‘Bowie creations’. Reinvigorated, his creativity roared into overdrive, and though he was earning no monetary reward, he says he just instinctively knew that the change in direction was the right path for him to take.
Even at this point, long before the passing of his idol, Steve continually told friends and family members that “next year is going to be a big year for both David Bowie and myself.” Little was anyone to know the significance of the new year to come. When I spoke to some of Steve’s friends and family, they all felt that there was never any doubt of his determination to see the project though. Although he may not have realized it at the time, there were quite a few who knew him who who probably had more faith in Steve’s ideas than he did himself.
Video: Autobiography Visual Intro for "My Life Naked And Raw"
During that same August, Steve produced a video to use at a later date as a trailer of his book, set to one of his favourite Bowie tracks, ‘Quicksand’. This too charged his imagination and drive to create. In fact, so strong was the influence of his own video that he developed a thirst to have a tattoo with the critically noted couple of lines from the very same song ‘I’m not a prophet or a Stone Age man, just a mortal with potential of a superman… I’m living on’ - words that Steve has always lived by as a simple reminder that he considers himself someone who is never afraid of challenge and is always pushing the boundaries. So with his new tattoo he satisfied another urge to create a permanent tribute to his hero David Bowie.
The following four months were spent working literally day and night, following streams of creative inspiration as Steve put together a number of Bowie art pieces. Working like a mad scientist living on caffeine and nicotine with the occasional few minutes’ sleep he managed to translate images from his head to the digital canvas. Despite his reserving judgment on the work, it seems to have come out extremely well in the opinion of those few who had the privilege of viewing some of the artwork before production. That was when Steve’s concept of a wrapped David Bowie room advanced to seeking realisation.
Steve had twice before written, through the proper channels, to seek David’s approval for Bowie-wrapping a car, though no reply ever came. Steve admits that a small part of him hoped he would receive a token of recognition from David or the family for what has now become the blackstar.STUDIO as the project was well underway months before the David’s passing, and Steve wanted David to see his work even if it was to be only via the internet.
|| Reality Sets In
Winter had set in and Christmas had arrived though Steve seriously had no concept of time nor dates as each creative day rolled into the next, often going weeks without seeing the outside world other than to walk his dog at 4 am every night just for a break. Commercial work was virtually nonexistent, but because he was immersing himself in creating Bowie art, Steve was not concerned. However, one persistent client, a company in Brixton wanting web design work, managed to grab his attention; Steve was happy to oblige, as the project would mean a couple of trips to David Bowie’s birthplace for yet more inspiration. Meanwhile he was operating like a well-oiled machine until an unforeseen spanner jammed the works.
Video: Blackstar by David Bowie
Strangely, this was not the news of David’s passing but of the release of the ‘Blackstar’ video over the 2015 Christmas period. Besides predicting a huge 2016 for David Bowie, Steve had also been saying to family and friends that David had at least one more album to come and possibly even two. But on seeing the ‘Blackstar’ video for the first time, Steve shed many tears—alone. ‘It took me a short while to gather enough courage to show my family the “Blackstar” video, and I still cried at each and every viewing as I tried to tell my family that David was sending us a serious message, and I feared the worst,’ Steve told me. ‘I just couldn’t explain it, but something was telling me that the lyrics were suggesting that I might be that person who lifted a meter and bravely cried “I’m a blackstar.” I had these feelings of trepidation and nervous sweats. It was beautifully eerie’.
By this time Steve had already produced a significant number of Bowie creations, and in a relentless flow, the work continued. With the help of a few friends scouting for him, he began the search for a small studio space. With a visit to his Brixton client booked for the middle of January, Steve also toyed with the idea of looking at potential locations there, despite having no intention of permanently moving back to the UK. With so many completed digital art pieces, it was time for Steve to print a full size sample of one of his creations. Just the one was all he needed to be satisfied that all his detail work was going to print well at a large size.
However, a piece broke on his machine, so he asked a friend in the UK to print one off for him. Purely by chance, he chose number 11 from his Studio Album Series+ Collection and transferred the file for print. Being that it was the festive season, there was no urgency on the print and after all there was still plenty of work to be getting on with in the meantime. Christmas came and went almost unnoticed by this fixated creator, as he admits to having very little use for the concept of time. On January 9th 2016, Steve’s friends in the UK messaged him to say ‘Just to let you know that we shall be printing your artwork tomorrow and ship it straight off to you’.
One can only presume that his friends were so busy working on that fatal day of the passing of David Bowie, January 10th, just as the Stachini's were, that it was the one day when messages, notifications, emails, social media, and so forth, were ignored by both parties. Steve fell asleep in his office at about 5 am (which is the norm for him) on the 11th after a 40+ hours solid artwork stint, totally oblivious the news echoing around the world of the passing of David Bowie, his idol and inspirational hero. Only a few hours later he was woken with the ritual offering of tea, and the family gave him time to awaken fully with his caffeine and nicotine. Then, as Steve lay in his reclining office chair, his family entered and simply asked if he had seen or heard the news. He instinctively knew what they were going to say as his heart turned to lead and his stomach churned. Their faces, tones of voice and nervousness confirmed to Steve that their next few words were going to impact his life hard - and they did.
David Bowie had been so much a part of Steve’s life and the formation of his personality that it was like losing a close family member. Now was the time to reach out to those in similar situations and experiences for communication of condolences. As for many other people, Steve’s coping strategy was to plough deeper into his work, if that was even possible. In the next couple of days he took refuge and solace in his solitude, his social media connections, and thoughts of deeper Bowie creative ideas.
It was now time for his already booked trip to Brixton to see his web client. For the first time in his life, Steve questioned the past few months activity and asked himself: Why Brixton? Why now?
In fact, there couldn’t have been a better time to go, as the Aladdin Sane mural there would no doubt now become a key memorial location. Instead of taking a piece of art or a letter or flowers to the Brixton memorial, Steve decided to be different and printed up his own designed Bowie T-shirt, which also featured two messages to David, one from Steve and the other from his closest friend Robin Nixon. These two share the same passions regarding Bowie and although they now live in widely separated parts of the world, their relationship is that of the closest of siblings. Steve kept a replica T-shirt and also sent one to Robin as a keepsake.
While he was in the UK, it became even clearer to Steve that his previous five months of work were simply meant to be and that its raison d’etre was David Bowie. With silent strength, inspirational sadness, and the burning desire to create something so uniquely fitting for David, Steve returned to Spain and to the sleepless endless nights and continual days of artistic flow.
There was however a brief slump period, when Steve was suddenly struck with the thought that many might view him and his work as jumping on the bandwagon. But with the support of those in the know about what he had already worked on for the past six months or more, Steve’s determination that the world had to see vision and his work was renewed.
|| Time - He’s Waiting In The Wings
The next few months would see the change in seasons, important global events, disasters and wonders of the world for the average person, but not for Steve. As for some crazed inventor, his days, weeks and months just blended into one continual timeline where the only focus was David Bowie and what had become the blackstar.STUDIO project. The studio had been set to be called Vision23, but with the loss of David there was no more question about it: it now had to be the blackstar.STUDIO as a lasting memorial tribute. With bouts of deep grief balanced by inspiration Steve continued in silence, out of view, content with his loneliness to bring his vision to reality.
For any external everyday life requirements, Steve’s daughter Kellie gladly took the reins as she too felt his passion for the dream and had happily became a part of the whole project from Day One. Now one of the hardest parts of the project was looming - how to finance the dream. Without shame and with gritty determination Steve began approaching literally anyone he could think of who might be in a financial position to risk taking the chance on his concept. Despite continual knock-back after knock-back, nothing was going to stop him. Creating the gallery was something that simply had to be completed no matter what the cost or consequence.
A suitable location for the studio had been found, and Steve prepared to not even be able to afford to live and eat, because this location had to have its rent paid. This was step one. Step two was to see if a deal could be negotiated with any of the top vinyl manufacturers to supply the raw material for printing, either for free or hugely discounted, in exchange for publicity and advertising once the studio was launched. Some companies were interested in the project, but ultimately no one was prepared to do a deal, much to Steve’s disgust and dismay. By producing CAD-data mockups of the studio along with visuals to explain his idea, however, Steve managed to get one long-term client and friend to do the vinyl printing at a good rate, and another friend was prepared to do all the canvas printing, as they had far superior equipment.
Given the severe lack of money virtually all the work had to be done by Steve alone with the occasional few hours of assistance from family and the odd friend. The process was extremely slow, and so too was all of the two hundred plus square meters of vinyl printing for the walls, as his friend had to slot in what he could during normal production for his own business.
Frustration and depression were sometimes a killer for Steve, and in order to cope he did what he apparently does best: he buried himself in more creativity with the occasional return to writing poetry and his autobiography, a mechanism which gave him relief and release, but no sleep. Things were starting to look up, but the studio still required a substantial amount of preparation expenditure.
|| When Everything Happens At Once
Totally out of the blue, one local friend offered some finance which, though still insufficient, meant that Steve could at least make a start on physically bringing a concept to life. As many proposed deadlines had fallen by the wayside due to lack of funds, summer was now well along. As anyone familiar with the country knows, it is pointless trying to launch anything new in Spain during August, the height of the holiday season when most businesses other than those related to tourism are closed for several weeks. So September became the new target. With the added pressure of struggling to survive even on the most basic of levels combined with the extra expense of an empty property for which months of rent had already been paid, and with absolutely no idea of how to pay for all the materials and printing, this outlook and lack of progress would have made many people give up.
Video: The Five Year Back Room
On a local level, though, word of the project was spreading, and enthusiasm and support were growing to the point of eagerness for the studio to open. Coupled with Steve’s first-rate social media marketing, which had accumulated many thousands of Facebook followers in support of something that still did not technically even exist, this local excitement was more than enough encouragement for Steve’s relentless drive towards completion.
With summer over, all of Steve’s wall prints were ready for shipping, and installation could begin whilst his 53 artwork pieces were being printed onto canvas. However, as the past twelve months had taken their toll financially already with zero income, Steve isn’t ashamed to admit that he even had to borrow the two hundred euros from a friend just to get his prints shipped to Spain. On the one hand, he was so close to realising a dream and showing the world his work as well as providing a crucial exhibition space with the mission of helping artists from all walks of life, but on the other he was virtually poverty stricken. It was obvious to some of those who cared about Steve and his passion that he still needed assistance, so the odd friend here and there spasmodically offered whatever they could afford in order to allow the launch to continue. Steve was in awe of the support for and recognition of what he was trying to achieve, even if he felt embarrassed at times.
There was still much work to do in the studio - simply painting the walls, taking care of basic electrics, creating the signage and decoration - and then there were the walls to wrap and the canvases to mount. The head of the local Culture Department also strongly advised Steve that the launch date should be the last week of September due to conflicts with fiestas and other events. Now the pressure was at fever pitch. With only three weeks until opening night. Steve worked for days on end with no sleep, spending literally 24 hours a day installing the vinyl prints with a little help here and there. Within a handful of days the main wall areas were wrapped and the studio was starting to take shape. A local fellow signs-and-graphics business friend offered to do the vinyl printing for the entrance area of the studio, which proved to be a huge relief as well as a welcome addition. Work continued with frantic professionalism when news came of delay in the canvas prints’ shipping due to unforeseen circumstances. Thankfully, they arrived just days before the launch night for which support was growing and a reasonable attendance was expected.
|| The Final Countdown
Time was now seriously running out, and a final obstacle was the let-down of no framing for the canvas prints. After much deliberation Steve concluded there was no option other than to mount the canvases on boards instead of frames, but even this brought its own complications. For the final three days before the doors were due to open, neither Steve nor his daughter Kellie had any sleep whatsoever—in fact they hadn’t even had time to return home even to shower and change clothes. With only hours before opening, friends were popping into the studio with offers of last-minute help, and each of them was given a task.
There was no time to mount all of Steve’s work, so he decided to spread out the canvases over every surface and floor edge so at least they could be viewed. With frustration as well as some anger and sadness, and feeling like a tramp, Steve was not happy when at 7pm on Friday the 23rd of September 2016, after over one year in the making, the blackstar.STUDIO’s doors opened to the initial 30+ anxiously awaiting art fans, critics, and press. A steady stream of new arrivals continued to attend throughout the night and into the early hours of the following day...
Video: Launch Night 23rd September 2016
It only took their first few expressions of delight and overwhelming amazement at what had been presented to them to dissipate Steve’s fears and anxieties. A further 100 or so additional people attended the event throughout the evening, and the six-hour launch felt like a few brief Cloud Nine minutes to Steve, who then went on to tell me that once the door was closed for the night, the was asked to sit in front of the computer, take a breath, and have a drink. The launch night proved to be a huge success. But for Steve it was not yet quite over, as he was then shown a number of videos and messages from those who could not attend the inaugural event. This was a seriously emotional moment for the man who had put over one hard, passionate, dedicated year into a dream that was now a reality.
Video: Wake Up To A Bowie Wrap
|| The Follow-up
Steve, not surprisingly, actually took the weekend off, though he didn’t shut down; he spent the time reflecting, embracing his achievement, and mapping out his creative future. He views the blackstar.STUDIO as at its starting point as a creative launch-pad for more of his goals and artistic dreams. He now sees longevity in what is most certainly a worthwhile project: to assist artists who create in all formats by providing them with space to exhibit along with full online exposure and sales. I have been intently following Steve’s journey, and there is so much more to this story, which he tells me will be included in his autobiography, due out at the end of 2017. But from what I have witnessed, I would say there are very few people in the world like this man. I commend him simply for the person that he is - Steve Stachini.
Video: Impromptu interview by Roberto Castillo Soler
I leave you with just a handful of comments I have seen from well wishers who only know of Steve through what he has done:
“Steve your creativity and the blackstar.STUDIO have opened up a world of Bowie intrigue to people like me in Valencia who would never normally get the opportunity to see such wonders. Thank you.”
“Neither your work nor your integrity could ever be called into question. I'm sure David would be proud of you.”
“I would just like to say that if I had the money I'd buy all your work Steve. Love it!”
“You are simply an ambassador for David Bowie! People like you will keep David in our thoughts and help to immortalise this iconic hero. Can’t thank you enough...”
“I can only imagine what you must have been through and sacrificed to realise a dream. You deserve world recognition and I commend you on your achievement.”
“I hope that David Bowie's family get to see and hear about what you have achieved and that they thank you too. Good luck Steve, keep on going.”
“Steve you have achieved more than just a studio and more than just an everlasting memory for David Bowie… You have achieved inspirational status.”