If you were to escape reality where would you go? For Digital artist Fei Alexeli, her utopian spaces evoke a nostalgia for 60s America, contrasted with surreal compositions of outer space and tropicana in a pink haze. Fei’s use of photography, photo-montage and digital collage invites us to think about our fears and the vastness of the universe. Her scenes seek to remind us that although we may feel alone, we are part of a beautiful world; and it is only our fears and lack of imagination that holds us back. Let’s have a chat shall we!
Two big shows for the price of one – 2018
I love to think that these places could exist in a parallel universe.
I’m eager to hear about your creative process: where do you seek inspiration and what do you do once you’ve found it?
I am hugely inspired by the universe and Americana – American landscapes – and tropical elements like palm trees. So, my work is a combination of these three elements. It’s a form of escapism; I am using elements which are not familiar to me.
I work differently for each piece of work. Sometimes, I start from a photo I have taken and have a structured view in my head of how I want it to look. My process usually starts from a conscious decision, like using a quote or a specific colour or photo. But once I start layering and experimenting, it can take me somewhere completely different. It can feel quite blurry – it’s a feeling or a notion I want to create, but it’s not clear. As time goes by I start to build it up and then it starts to emerge.
Is the process of collage and the layering of images symbolic in some way?
When I first started making collages I never analysed or thought about what I was doing. I have since realised that I like taking things from photos and creating new meanings and new compositions; I like the idea of altering the original. In photography I try and find the perfect place to take the perfect photo – but this rarely happens. You get to a point where you realise it could be “perfect” if you remove or alter the image in some way, but in doing so, you are interfering with the moment.
How do you feel when you are creating?
Lately, I have been thinking about the titles of the work first, and then the art emerges visually from this. I have a huge library of photos and images which I turn to. Sometimes I lay them out physically and cut them up to experiment with different compositions. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, so I keep playing around with the images – this process is freeing.
I like the idea of altering the original.
You grew up in Greece, what draws you to capture America?
I think it comes from the movies. The first time I travelled to California was last year and before that the only notion I had of the U.S was from the movies. I don’t have specific movies in mind, I just love 60s Americana nostalgia. I’m going to be visiting Death Valley soon which I’m excited for!
For now, you will not see scenes of Greece; instead, they are scenes far away from my reality. My work is an extension of my love for travelling; I get back from a trip and use photos and images as inspiration. I then add surreal context and create places that are constructed from different realities. I love to think that these places could exist in a parallel universe.
For me, your art brings up existential thoughts: with themes such as jumping into the unknown and facing your fears. Do you intend to get people thinking more deeply and philosophically about life?
I’d like them to but of course, my work is open for interpretation. Some people think about our position in the universe and some people don’t. But I do wish that they look up at the sky and think about the vastness of the universe. It’s about putting life into perspective sometimes – knowing that on a bad day, everything will pass. We are only here for a limited amount of time so let’s just enjoy life.
Best Ride of your Life
Have you always held this perspective yourself?
No not always. I was always drawn to the universe but it came from inner discussions and realisations from watching documentaries such as Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson that helped me understand the importance of life.
There seems to be a juxtaposition between isolation and connection in your pieces..
I think that even in works where there is one person, nature is there to “hug” and comfort that person. I wanted to create this feeling of, ‘ok, you might feel alone but you live in a beautiful world’.
The colour pink softens the scene and adds a lightness. What does pink represent to you?
Pink is strongly associated with females and it has controversial meanings as well; it’s innocent but not always innocent. I wanted to play around with this notion. I found out that in the past, pink was considered a boy colour; they used to dress young boys in pink – this was interesting. It’s a powerful colour in that it can offer strength and a reassurance to our lives.
It’s about putting life into perspective sometimes – knowing that on a bad day, everything will pass
How do you find people’s response to your work?
People ask what I think about my work but for me, it doesn’t matter. By putting my art up on a wall for people to see, it gets a life of its own. They see whatever they want to see. Their interpretations add to the puzzle of what it means and who I am as the creator.
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
There seems to be recurring themes in your work such as: space, women, Americana and water. What do these themes symbolise for you?
They are places I would like to be; they are my happy places. If you were to escape reality where would you want to go?
I believe that we are all connected; everything in life is part of an energy. We send out vibrations in the form of our thoughts, emotions. The moon gives off a feminine energy and also an erotisim. So, again, there is a nostalgia about it.
Female empowerment also appears to be a consistent theme in your art.
I’d love to think that when women look at my work they feel empowered. It’s not 100% intentional; but as a woman myself, I reflect on things that empower me.
What are your views on gender equality?
I find it frustrating that we are now in 2020 and things are still not equal for women. And how in some parts of the world, its feels like they are still living as they did one-hundred years ago. But there is a shift happening in the form of more open discussions. I feel fortunate to be living this moment in my thirties and seeing this shift happening.
I think that even in works where there is one person, nature is there to “hug” and comfort that person.
You have previously stated that, “as we get older we lose our imagination and identity” – tell us more.
When we are children we don’t have as many constraints, we live in our own worlds. As we grow into adults, society expects us to behave in certain ways. Sometimes you see children talking to themselves or walking weirdly, but when you see an adult do this you look at them as if they’re crazy. Society and culture puts these constraints in place, but when you’re doing art you can find yourself again. Art helps you think in a different way, rather than rigidly or specifically.
Facing the tiger
How do you try to remain playful as an adult and artist?
I try and remember to pause and ask myself, “Is this what I want, does this make me happy? And does this allow me to be playful and have fun?”. I think what separates us from pursuing things is fear. But if we let go of this fear then we get to experience other things.
This reminds me of your piece ‘Facing The Tiger’ – what does this represent to you?
The French post-impressionist painter Henry Rousso painted some of my favourite paintings, ‘The Dream and Sleeping Gypsy’. In Sleeping Gypsy there is a gypsy lying down in the desert with the moon behind her. There is a lion above her, but in a non-intimidating way. When Rousso died, a poem was written for him and read at his funeral, which ended by saying, ‘As you once did my portrait facing the stars, lion and the gypsy’. When I read this I was moved, and so, this is where my ‘Facing’ series came from.
In ‘Facing the Tiger’ the man is looking at the tiger but the tiger is looking straight at the viewer. I like how the gaze of the tiger involves the viewer. A tiger on top of a mountain could be perceived as intimidating, so this scene symbolizes someone facing their fears.
We are only here for a limited amount of time so let’s just enjoy life.
And how about your piece ‘You watch the sun set while I watch the sun melt’?
It’s about love. Two people who are completely different characters. They are both on fire. One’s burning internally and the other outbursts in flames. Together their flames could melt the sun. They perceive things differently and they watch different realities. Having differences in a relationship doesn’t have to mean that the relationship ends, or that it’s a bad thing, it’s just life. It was my way of internalising and processing some feelings I was having at the time.
You watch the sun rise while I watch the sun melt
I’m also struck by your piece ‘The Fool’
I’ve been looking into Tarot recently, here the woman is holding ‘The Fool’ card which is about the naive adventurer. People who leap and take chances can end up being perceived as foolish because they haven’t thought things through. It relates to ‘Girls Who Dive’ which’ is about letting go in life. Life is what it is and so it’s about letting go to experience it fully.
The Fool can be anyone with the guts to experience new things and let go. They might be seen as being foolish, but they end up having amazing experiences which allow them to find themselves.
What can we look out for with your work?
I will be at The Other Art Fair in March in London so I’m starting to prepare for this. I’m also looking forward to looking through my photographs once I’m back from California to start a photo series that alters and digitally manipulate the images.
To view more of Fei’s work …