Last Journey before Lockdown by Juli Fejer
MEET THE FRIEND – Juli Fejer
When did you start painting?
Four years ago, I started painting to distract myself from the chronic pain of fibromyalgia. After decades of ineffective treatment, worklessness and depression, I attended an NHS course which set me on the path to a new life.
I identify in the tradition of the outsider artist. But both my parents were artists, so I learned to draw before I could speak (almost) and have always thought in pictures. It is like an extension of my thought.
How long have you been a Friend of the SEAW?
I saw an open call for ‘Awash 22’ and applied for it. That was when I discovered about the Society of East Anglian Watercolourists. I was absolutely thrilled to be accepted for the exhibition and loved meeting other artists from the region at Awash. I immediately decided to join the Society as a Friend.
The painting which was exhibited in Awash 22 was painted with gouache and pen. It was called ‘Last Journey before Lockdown’ and showed a typical East Anglian field. It was inspired by a train journey I made at the very beginning of the corona pandemic.
What attracted you to join?
Much of my work is inspired by the countryside around Bury, particularly the water meadows and ancient woodlands. My first exhibition in a gallery was held in Bury April to May 2022. It was at Guildhall Studio, Guildhall Street, in the centre of Bury. The exhibition was called ‘Walking with Trees’ and was a collaboration with talented local photographer, John Martyn.
I love collaborating with artists from all disciplines, and jumped at the opportunity to network with painters from East Anglia.
What subject matter do you like to paint?
As a painter, I have two preoccupations: celebrating the natural beauty I observe in my everyday life, particularly trees; and how my medical condition influences the way I see the world. Fibromyalgia gives me an acute sensitivity to colour, light, sound and smell which informs my work. I love to lose myself trying to evoke a moment of experience or the mood of a place.
Do you have a preference for a painting style? If so, can you describe it?
I have thought about this a lot, and I’m not sure how to put it into words. I paint from the heart in an intuitive way. As a new painter, and a self-taught one at that, I enjoy experimenting with different media and styles. Sometimes I include a lot of drawing and it can be surreal and almost cartoonish. In other paintings I like to be much looser, shading into abstract. I enjoy using unexpected colours to convey my sense of a place – so it’s not peculiar for me to paint a field purple. Thinking of my style in the round I think one might call it neoexpressionist.
Are you a pure watercolourist? Or do you include other mediums in your paintings?
I love watercolour for its fluidity and its unpredictability. But, I’m by no means a purist. I love gouache and acrylic paint. Often I use a combination of watercolour, acrylic, and pen to create the impression I’m looking for. I have a strong idea what I am trying to achieve but not necessarily how I’m going to achieve it, if that makes sense?
Where do you paint?
I paint in various places – I don’t have a dedicated studio. My favourite is the kitchen table because that’s where the light is best in our house. I find en plein air painting exceptionally difficult because of my musculoskeletal problems, but I do love it when I get the opportunity. I sketch and take photographs to fix a scene in my mind and use them as references, back at home.
Which artists inspire you and why?
Oooo that’s a difficult one – there are so many! I’d have to say Vincent Van Gogh is my favourite for the raw emotion in his work and the struggle of his life. When I went to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam I burst into tears. And that was long before I started painting myself. I love the work of Frida Kahlo, particularly the way that she uses text and drawing. And she was a chronic pain sufferer, so I relate to that. Then there’s David Hockney, particularly his iPad pictures. I adore Matisse, Monet, Pissarro and Claude Lorraine. And Turner, of course, for his treatment of light.
What galleries do you like to visit?
I’m attracted to particular exhibitions rather than galleries. Last year I went to the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy and it really dazzled me. I also remember with particular delight an exhibition about painting the garden at the Royal Academy. On holiday we always take the opportunity to have a look at new galleries.
Where would you really like to travel to and paint? What is it about this place that inspires you?
I feel very fortunate because wherever I go I find something interesting to paint. Almost anything can inspire me. Due to the corona pandemic I haven’t travelled abroad for several years. We have enjoyed visiting the North Norfolk coast.
What is your favourite colour to paint with?
That varies according to my mood. I went through a phase of painting everything purple, but I think I’m over that now.
What is your favourite brush?
I have a couple of beautiful watercolour brushes which I treasure. In my experience, painting with watercolours requires a lot more control and attention than painting with acrylic. It’s funny how people are often encouraged to use watercolour when they start painting because I think the medium is incredibly demanding. When I’m using acrylics I have 3 what I call nasty brushes, which I love. They are old and look pretty disgusting but they make the marks I want.
Do you take part in any of the activities which SEAW offer to Friends? What have you particularly enjoyed?
I am looking forward to discovering more about the SEAW. Everyone has been really friendly and welcoming. It seems like a lovely community.
Do you have any artistic successes or achievements that you would like to share with readers?
Last year I was absolutely amazed and delighted that one of my paintings, inspired by the corona pandemic, was selected for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, 2021. The picture was called ‘Corona Panic in Sutherland Grove’. It was painted with gouache and acrylic, and showed me on my permitted lockdown walks during winter 2020.
Then, I was contacted by a producer at the BBC, and invited to take part in a BBC2 documentary following 4 hopefuls applying for the exhibition. I kept having to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t imagining the whole thing.
What is the best piece of advice you were ever given about art?
When I started painting 4 years ago, it was entirely as a means of expressing myself. Going on the NHS pain management course was very important. The other participants and the therapists really encouraged me to believe in my painting, and that gave me confidence.
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