American artist Margaret Juul creates vibrant and dynamic paintings inspired by the ever-kinetic, tumultuous states of water, as it may be experienced above and below the waves. X-RAY MAG interviewed the artist to find out more about her artistry and her perspectives on the watery world we inhabit.
X-RAY MAG: Tell us about yourself, your background and how you became an artist.
MJ: I was born in 1968 in Old Bethpage, New York, USA. I have always had a passion for art and design, coming from a long line of creative women. From an early age, I aspired to be an artist. You could say it was “in my genes.”
My life has always been inspired by the sea. From the shores of my New York birthplace—and later, at Chicago’s Lake Michigan, where I studied Fine Art at Columbia College—to the spectacular tropics of Tampa Bay where I currently reside, water has held an unwavering hold on my spirit—fluidity, intuition and reflective volatility.
X-RAY MAG: Why waterscapes? How did you come to these themes and how did you develop your style of painting?
MJ: Interestingly enough, even though I grew up around water and coastal landscapes, my studies in college were figurative. I was fascinated with form and line, and was primarily a figurative realist and still life photorealist. I found the task of painting in those methods both creative and mentally challenging. Where most other artists I knew were throwing paint at the canvas, creating abstractions, I was meticulously drafting out the lines and perspective before even putting the brush to canvas. As I traveled more, especially inland and to desert settings, I felt almost a loss when I was not near a large body of water.
The first “ocean-inspired” painting created was an underwater image I recollected from a time I was six years old. My family was on vacation, down from New York on Miami Beach in Florida. I was swimming alone in the ocean, and was pulled down through a rip tide. I nearly drowned but managed to be pulled back to shore. I remember the light coming through the waves, which later, began my inspiration. From that point on, I found that painting water was an emotional release from any negativity or pain I was carrying around. It is amazing, the power of art.
At that time, I had already signed with a publisher who loved the work. Soon, the prints began to sell. At about the same time, the Iraq Museum International contacted me to be the American artist representative for its “International Poster Exhibit.” From that point, my works began to take off internationally.
As an environmentalist, I began to wonder how I could use my art to engage others. Now my goal is to have work created to promote an understanding of the challenges we face regarding climate change. Although all aspects are important, I am focusing on fresh water and living oceans.
We are on the verge of a major turning point in human history. In my way, I hope that someone will look at my abstract water paintings and be moved or inspired. Moved to respect the environment and our precious natural resources. Inspired to think creatively, outside the box.
X-RAY MAG: How do you create your paintings? What is your artistic method or creative process?
MJ: Firstly, I have a photographic memory, which in reality is equally a blessing and a curse. Where I live, I am surrounded by water and have a plethora of images in my head, which I can pull from at any moment. During my travels, I photograph a lot of water, and I have had clients who are divers who send me images that I can use for inspiration. So that is the first step.
Ninety-five percent of the time, I choose to build and gesso my own canvases, preferring linen to cotton canvas. I sketch out the image and spend a lengthy amount of time researching color trends, so that not only will my subject matter be of interest, but that my color palette is in sync with trends, so my prints will sell.
Initially, I was an oil paint snob, but the past few years, I have enjoyed using acrylics, oil pastel and ink, sometimes in combination. I like the tooth of the canvas and the texture of different mediums.
I treat my art as a career and business. I really try to think of what my audience will love and buy.
X-RAY MAG: What is your relationship to the underwater world and marine life? In your relationship with reefs and the sea, where have you had your favorite experiences?
MJ: I am inspired, amazed and in awe of what lives in the oceans, how it affects all other living things on Earth and I am passionate about preserving it. I have been fortunate to have a lifetime of experience with water, mostly in Florida, with one side, the clear calm of the Gulf of Mexico; on the other, the churning Atlantic Ocean. On the California coast, I have been especially inspired by rocky cliffs, pebble beaches and tall waves. It is an all-encompassing imagery.
X-RAY MAG: What are your thoughts on ocean conservation and how does your artwork relate to these issues?
MJ: Really, that is the most important part of my work. I really want to inspire others to love the sea, our coastal lakes and fresh waterways. I want to be a voice for the oceans and the lakes, for the streams and the waterfalls. I find that only when people are inspired, do they take the time to become aware and listen to what is unfolding.
Our oceans are dying. We are wiping out sea life and poisoning our freshwater, all while our seas rise. It is a horrible situation, and it might be too late to try and turn it back, but I do have hope. I paint, promote my work, discuss the situation to whomever will listen, and donate what I can to beneficial environmental causes.
X-RAY MAG: What is the message or experience you want viewers of your artwork to have or understand?
MJ: First, they must see the beauty in the work, which always seems to lead to a happy childhood memory of some experience, either a beach vacation or summer spent on a lake. That appears to trigger people to want to relive some of those good memories, only to find out, in some cases, that that beach or lake is currently polluted. My work seems to bring people a sense of calm and happiness, and it helps bring awareness.
X-RAY MAG: What are the challenges and/or benefits of being an artist in the world today?
MJ: First off, even though we live in the 21st century, being a female artist is the biggest challenge. There is even solid data that shows that if a collector has the choice between selecting a work by a female or a male artist, they are more likely to purchase the male’s.
Second, the market is flooded, competition is fierce, and with the world economy is just recovering from a near collapse. People are not investing in “up and coming” artists as frequently.
X-RAY MAG: How do people respond to your works? What feedback or insights have you gained from the process of showing your work to various audiences?
MJ: I am very grateful that people of all races, religions and age groups respond very well to my work; I have cultivated fans all over the world. It inspires me, as an artist, to keep at it.
X-RAY MAG: What are your upcoming projects, art courses or events?
MJ: In addition to working with galleries in the United States and London while promoting and selling my prints internationally, I am now expanding my work onto textiles.
My next project is a state-of-the-art hospital in Jacksonville, Florida. That project will utilize custom-designed fabric and wallpaper. Canvas prints will also be on display. My water imagery is being promoted not only for environmental purposes, but in healing spaces, such as hospitals, wellness centers and nursing homes. I am also looking to connect with additional galleries abroad. There is always something to do!
X-RAY MAG: Any final thoughts or insights you would like to share with our readers?
MJ: First, and most importantly, I would like to thank everyone for supporting me in my career. To the ocean enthusiast, please enjoy and do all you can to preserve it. To aspiring young artists out there, my advice is: practice, think, set goals, and develop a body of work that speaks to you.
Initially, I believed the primary purpose of an artist was to exhibit. In some respect, art schools train you to think success will come from gallery exhibitions. I now believe that is a 19th- or 20th-century frame of thought, one that no longer applies to today’s art world.
If an artist really wants to learn how to make a living, I suggest attending events such as Artexpo or the Art and Frame Expo. Forget Art Basel. When at Artexpo, meet agents, printers, designers, architects and put your work out there. Design a clean, tailored website. Have a professional—not a friend or family member—honestly review your portfolio. Professionally “can” your work to create quality images for reproduction.
Treat your art as a business. Most importantly, keep at it. Create, create, create. The life of an artist is challenging, sometimes difficult, but when you find your voice, it will make your life extremely rewarding. ■
For more information and to purchase original art and prints, visit the artist’s website at: MargaretJuulPaintings.com.
I am inspired, amazed and in awe of what lives in the oceans, how it affects all other living things on Earth and I am passionate about preserving it.
— Margaret Juul