Anna Robertson speaks with Chris Fagerstrom, Art Director at Juzvolter, about the perfection of graphic design and the freedoom found in the imperfection of his personal art.
Two of Chris Fagerstrom’s paintings greet me when I reach the top of the stairs at Juzvolter Graphic Design Studios in Taree. Both initially strike me as having a Gothic feel; both portraits; both moody. (Chris mentions in passing that he painted them in the dark). While the male’s imposing presence is wonderful, it’s the haunting image of the girl that I instantly know I want occupying space on a wall in my home. Her gaze is dark and unreadable, but there’s an immediate connection. Ethereal is the word I’m searching for.
Chris’ job as the Art Director at Juzvolter means his life is pretty much surrounded by art, but the contrast between what he does as a graphic artist and what he creates artistically outside those parameters is obvious. And that’s the way he likes it.
“I like the imperfection of people and the imperfection of the world. I love imperfection. Especially working in graphic design now, where everything has to be so perfect. Everything is perfect. Perfect colours. Perfect lighting. Perfect photography. You take pimples off people. You take moles off people. You take wrinkles away. Everything we do today [in graphic design] is so far removed from reality … I really enjoy the imperfection of the real world. When I paint, I don’t try and correct things.”
Separating the perfection of the graphic design world from the freedom he finds in his personal art is something Chris looks forward to. He agrees that his art is an escape, and these days he doesn’t do any paintings to sell.
“All my paintings now are just purely for me, for my own enjoyment. I only paint now what I want to paint. When I finish a painting, I put them in a pile in the bedroom or in the office at home. I don’t paint for anyone else, and I find that really enjoyable. It’s one of the only things that you do that you’re not doing for other people.”
“What’s the word for that?” I ask.
“Self indulgent!” he laughs. “It is purely self indulgent.”
I suggest there’s freedom in that.
“It’s a real therapeutic thing to sort of sit down and just paint, and your mind cannot be concerned about the kids and not be concerned about work and not be concerned about the price of fuel.”
From a modest childhood background in Sydney and Newcastle, Chris always knew that art was going to be the focus of his life. He tells me that drawing is how he used to pass the time as a kid and that he’s always loved to draw.
“I think I’ve always been lucky. Because I’ve always been an artist and I’ve always enjoyed art, I’ve never had to consider doing anything else, so at school I never really concerned myself with anything else. I did OK at school, but I mean I didn’t have to be concerned whether my maths results were great, or my English wasn’t good, or the assignment was too difficult, because I was just going to be an artist, and I knew I could do art – so that was never a problem for me.”
Moving to Boomerang Beach when he finished his apprenticeship in graphic design, Chris worked as an artist doing paintings and illustrations. We talk about the style of art he was doing at the time and the kinds of things people wanted to buy.
He tells me that he was doing some abstract style and portraits.
“I’ve always been interested in portrait style work” and that he’s always done different things. “The problem was,” he says, “they didn’t pay the bills, so I found myself doing kangaroos and koalas and baby seals … and they just sold really well. So instead of doing art for enjoyment, I was always doing art to sell, and when you’re doing art to sell, it’s just not the same.”
At the time, like young artists do, he would take paintings around to galleries in places in the Hunter Valley and drop them off. When finances were getting tight, he’d do another round trip and see what had sold and what hadn’t. Listening to him talk, it seems a far cry from the slick setting of the Juzvolter environment, and I wonder about how artists view the world.
“Do you find it makes you a keen observer?”
“Yes, I constantly look at everything. Everything … every sign … every time I see anything, I take particular note: graffiti on walls, or the way kids scratch their name into the park bench, or whatever is really interesting to me. Yeah, I get more interest out of someone carving their name … being a designer, you’re forever looking at everyone else’s work.”
Chris also says that being an artist has given him an appreciation of the world.
“I think a lot of people don’t actually stop and look at things. People live their lives consumed with the next thing that they have to do: getting the kids to school; getting to work; their job. Being an artist allows you to pay attention more to the world and what’s going on around you.”
I ask him about the future when his children are grown and the possibility of returning to a life where his art paid the bills and kept him in a nice comfortable sort of ‘retirement’.
“Look, that’d be fantastic, if someone wanted to buy the stuff that I was interested in”. “So somewhere in the future you wouldn’t mind having a semi-retirement based on being supported by what was your art?”
“Yeah,” he laughs, “I could live with that. Full-time self indulgence.”