Spotlight Interview with Juli Fejer discussing her art journey, fibromyalgia and selling through Artwork Portal.
Thank you for speaking to us about your art journey. Where did it all begin for you?
Three years ago, I began painting to escape the disabling pain and misery of a condition called fibromyalgia. What started as a hobby quickly became an obsession. Shortly after I had started, I went on a pain management course at my local hospital, St George’s in South London. They encouraged me to have confidence in my art. It is no exaggeration to say that course changed my life.
When I started to sell my work, I jotted down a mission for myself: “in a world where there is so much anger and sadness, I try to seek out beauty in everyday things. I share what I’ve captured with the aim of making people smile… And to promote a conversation about pain, truth, and beauty.”
I have no formal training and identify as an outsider artist. I credit my father, an émigré designer, and his father, a celebrated Hungarian watercolourist, as my teachers. Although I never knew my Hungarian grandfather, he was present throughout my growing up through his many paintings.
From who or from where do you draw inspiration for your work?
My subject is the beauty of nature as I find it in my everyday life in suburban London and rural Suffolk. I am preoccupied by the relationship between material structure, such as the neurotransmitters in our bodies, and emotional states. There are a few recurring motifs in my painting. First, the path, which represents my journey from being marginalised to being an artist selling my own work. Second, the boundaries between water and land. These interest me because they are neither one thing nor another. The chronic pain sufferer often looks well while feeling terrible so is neither one thing nor another. Third, the tenacity of trees. I am fascinated by trees in all their varied forms from majestic cedars that stand beside tower blocks that they predate, the relic of a previous land-use to the scraggly buddleia bushes that sprout beside railways and from roofs.
Do you like to experiment with what you use to create art and how would you describe your artistic style?
I love experimenting with different media and techniques, combining new and traditional methods. I started painting by doodling on my iPad. I often interleave photography and digital art in a way that enables me to explore the relationship between the physical world and emotions, for example, I found a piece of fabric from the 1970s while clearing out my mother’s house after her death. The colours were so evocative of spring flowers that I used it as the background to a picture of daffodils.
I would describe my artistic style as neoexpressionist. Or maybe naïve. I’m not very good at classifications. I think there’s an innocence to it, and also a joy which resonates with people. I like to play around with different styles and ideas rather than feeling constrained to paint consistently in a particular style. This can be a bit confusing, I guess, when you see a stylised almost abstract digital artwork beside an acrylic landscape on canvas. The unifying principle is my particular quirky take on the world.
Why are your designs so different to other artists within the industry?
It’s kind of you to say so! Fibromyalgia gives me an acute sensitivity to external stimuli which informs my work. Coming to painting as a form of pain management gives me a freedom to take risks which I think might be more difficult for an established artist. I don’t have to do worry about maintaining a reputation. When I paint, I get lost within a landscape, or subject, for example Hawthorn blossoms in a field. It’s like a sort of meditation, everything else falls away and I feel relaxed.
How do you stay relevant and current in a world full of creatives?
For sure there are a lot of people out there creating art. I think it’s healthy for us as a society to have a vibrant creative sector. For the consumer – whether the viewer or the purchaser – there has never been more choice. I create artworks for people to enjoy in their homes or give as gifts. I’m a commercial artist rather than a conceptual artist. My grandfather was an interior designer, back in the early years of the 20th century, when interior design had barely emerged as a thing, and my dad was a furniture designer. I like the idea I am following in their footsteps. However, my work is more than simply decor. All my original paintings have a story behind them. Some of them are raw, such as ‘At Wits End’, that I made on the pain course. It references the many futile treatments which the participants had tried and our sense of helplessness and hopelessness.
How has social media impacted on you as judging by your online presence you seem to embrace this?
I’ve used Facebook for years and it’s a brilliant for keeping in touch with friends who live all over the world but I had never tried Instagram until I started sharing my art online. I quickly realised that I needed an Instagram presence. I find Instagram intuitive although I’m often mystified by its algorithm. I have benefited from a lot of support and encouragement through social media. When I started, I didn’t know anything about selling online, let alone selling art. I decided to use the Etsy platform. It enabled me to learn through doing. Last year, when physical exhibitions and fairs were shut down, being on Etsy enabled me to connect with potential customers. And, of course, it goes without saying I’m delighted to be part of Artwork Portal!
How has your brand grown to where it is now? What has contributed to your success?
Out of some 650 sales I have over 200 five-star reviews for my Etsy shop. I am passionate about ensuring quality at every part of the service, online and in the physical world. For example, if somebody purchases a print and it gets damaged in transit, I replace it immediately. It means a lot when people are happy and give me positive feedback.
Have you worked with any galleries or brands or completed any important commissions you can share with us?
In November of last year, I was thrilled and delighted to be selected for the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition, 2020. My painting, a seascape, was the choice of People’s Art Critic, Tabish Khan. I was also selected to be featured on the Wandsworth Art website, in a feature curated by artist, Alice Wilson SEEN HERE.
Which projects are you really excited about for 2021 and are there any future plans you can share with us?
In terms of my plans for 2021, the most important event in my calendar is Sussex Art Fairs in July. I am thinking about how to curate the pictures I bring to the exhibition in order to create a consistent and meaningful experience for visitors. I have just set up my own website, http://www.julifejer.com and I’m really excited to find out where it will take me. It feels like a big step towards being a ‘serious’ artist. One of my challenges is to be serious about my work without taking myself too seriously, and to honour my original mission – to make people happy through art.
See a selection of work from Juli Fejer HERE