Project Luxury & Art speaks with Swiss artist Oliver ‘Bubu’ Schibli to find out more about his art, business and love of all things golden.
Born in Switzerland, Schibli is the man behind the Bubu Collection, which puts the distinctively patterned semi-abstract faces from his paintings and sculptures onto clothes, accessories and even homeware. For Schibli, art and commerce have been linked since his earliest training as an artist. He began as an apprentice signmaker, where he learned both his distinctive graphic style, full of bold eye-catching patterns and colours, and an understanding of how design and business can work together. Studying in Bern, he mastered the processes that would become major parts of his creative practice: working with gold leaf and screenprinting.
Color Doesn't Matter - Tears Does!
These two processes find their expression in very different areas of the artist’s work. Although his screenprints are often overlaid with gold leaf detailing, in his paintings it creates a different mood entirely. In works such as The Believer and Gangee, the artist covers the entire background of the image in leaf, giving the works an opulence that suggests luxury, but also lending the works a tribal quality, like something from a forgotten Aztec tribe. For the artist, it has a spiritual power “linked to masculine energy and the power of the sun”, as well as being an “optimistic and positive” material to match the whimsical figures that often feature in Schibli’s work.
The screenprints, meanwhile, speak more of Schibli’s business mind, inspired as they are by the master of art business, Andy Warhol. In his 2016 print series Kings & Queens, Schibli seems particularly inspired by Warhol’s collaborations with Jean-Michel Basquiat, who even features in one of the works in the series. Over a repeated pattern of crowns printed in colours contrasting with their backgrounds, the artist has printed black images of famous faces from the arts and culture past and present: Basquiat, Rihanna, Salvador Dali, Dieter Meier of Swiss band Yelle, Muhammed Ali, Leonardo DiCaprio, Karl Lagerfeld and fashion icon Iris Apfel. These are finished with gold leaf crowns. Where his paintings are tribal and unpredictable, these prints are all about solidity and celebrity, suggesting a more modern version of the tribal graffiti marking.
These two sides of his work come together in his pieces for the Bubu Collection. Printed on clothes, the faces and features of his paintings look like street art markings with a bold, cartoonish sensibility. He even finds a place for his trademark gold in his streetwear collection, some of which feature faces in gold with slogans like ‘No rules’ and ‘Just love’, taken from his screenprints.
Where did the nickname ‘Bubu’ come from?
Actually, it was my brother’s boy scout name and I was always hanging out with his friends. So it was a kind of a tradition and my friends start calling me Bubu, too.
Your style is very distinctive. What is your process when starting a work?
The process always starts with a moment of inspiration, that moment when an idea is born and you start to create something. After that, I start to sketch the idea on paper and when I know the composition of an art work, the actual work on canvas begins.
What led you to start the Bubu Collection?
A lot of my customers and friends told me how beautiful my work would look on scarves and clothes, so when I first made some money from my art I invested it in the collection.
How did you choose who to include in your Kings & Queens series?
These are actually people I really love, either for what they do or how they became successful. I’ve already started working on the second edition of the series.
Many of your works use gold or metal leaf. What is it you like so much about this material?
I guess you could say that I am creating in my Golden Age. I’ve always been obsessed with ancient symbols and, of course, gold, one of the most scarce yet indestructible metals that exists on earth. Since I practise ancient techniques and work with precious metals—both of which are steeped in historical significance for civilisation and culture—there is an intrinsic value placed into the work whether or not one appreciates the piece aesthetically. Beyond symbolizing opulence and wealth, it manifests a feeling of refinement that is often lost in today’s disposable culture.