We are now approaching the 3rd decade of the 21st century, living in what not so many years ago was called ‘the future’. There are, to be certain, some things about our world that resemble the visions of Science Fiction writers, but much of daily life is still about people doing what they can to make a living in an increasingly divided world. It is that world that is the source of the inspiration and subject matter for the challenging, entertaining, visceral and unique work of Fernando Feijoo. To begin with, his art is extremely well made, technically flawless but, unlike some artists in the international printmaking community for whom technical perfection seems to be the primary goal, it goes much further than that. The high degree of skill that he has in his hands is inseparable from the originality and acuteness of his observation of the urban world around him, as well as his desire to ensure that his work should relate strongly to the times in which we live. In his work he holds up a mirror to the world around him and shows us its reflection. As with all reflections there are sometimes distortions and exaggerations, but these only serve to heighten the drama of his subject matter. The world that is reflected is seldom a pretty place: it is by turns perplexing, hard, comical, tragic, and melancholic, but his work is always respectful of the people and situations it depicts. Further than that it can be brutally honest in its portrayal of parts of our world that are far from being perfect, and from which many people turn away.
There are echoes in his work, as the artist gladly acknowledges, of artists such as Hogarth and Goya, and also Daumier, Masereel and Posada among others, all of whom used the techniques of printmaking and its inherent reproducibility to comment on their world. While their work did not by itself succeed in changing the course of history, such artists did have a powerful effect on the thinking of some of those who saw their work and that in its turn led towards some improvement in the societies in which they lived. In this sense Fernando Feijoo’s work and approach makes him heir to a long and honourable tradition of socially engaged artists. Just as his antecedents made use of the opportunities and materials available to them, so also does Feijoo. The difference is that the media-rich world in which we live affords him a far greater range of mediums, materials and means for sharing than were ever available in the past. This artist works across many artistic mediums, from drawing through painting and sculpture to books and illustration, selecting not only the appropriate medium (or mediums) for the expression of his ideas, but also the materials with which to render them to the best advantage and in his distinctive style.
One of the strong points in this artist’s work is that much of it is based on the ideas, sketches and references that he records in his notebooks, one or more of which travels everywhere with him. Many artists these days use a smartphone or perhaps a digital camera to make a record of some of the things that have caught their eye and which could be incorporated in a future work. Feijoo prefers to use a sketchbook, a time-honoured process-rich means of making connections. To have the privilege of seeing an artist’s sketchbooks within the context of an exhibition adds considerably to the enjoyment of the work – it makes the connections visible. Drawing has become under-rated in our tech-rich lives, but is still a potent medium. This is evident in his sketchbooks, but also in to richness of line in his prints, and in his other works. They are compositionally complex, creating visions of an ‘other’ world through which the viewer’s eyes can wander, seeking out the secrets or guessing at what is going on.
To pay due respect to Feijoo’s work requires a sense of engagement and complicity from the viewer, and the time spent is well-rewarded. Many of his works are in stark black and white, sometimes combining with great skill within the same image, areas that appear to be in negative and others in positive, adding a richness to the whole piece. His use of colour, when it happens, is closer to comic book than limpid watercolour, and all the more appropriate for that. In all of his works there are layers of visual mastery, trickery even, that make the act of looking at them both an adventure and an excitement, with an aftermath of thought-provoking satisfaction.
Writer and Artist