Fátima de Juan (Palma de Mallorca, 1984) is an artist based in Mallorca. Her first contact with the world of painting was through graffiti as a teenager under the alias “Xena”. Years later she studied Illustration at the School of Arts and Crafts in Palma and Graphic Design in Madrid.
Fátima currently has a solo show “Don’t Disturb Me. I’m Blooming“, at L21 Gallery. Upcoming shows include: Solo show at WOAW Gallery in Hong Kong, as well as group shows at JPS Gallery, in Hong Kong and Ca’n Marquès in Palma, Mallorca.
Fátima! Thank you for taking the time to speak to me. Could you describe yourself to those who do not know you?
I always liked drawing, since I was a child, but it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I found my way of expression through graffiti. Xena was my nom de guerre, my alter ego, the one I have used for years to write on the walls. I was always seduced by underground culture, painting in the street without anyone’s permission or approval, and it created a bond inside me, a sense of belonging that I hadn’t experienced before.
Although it was a fun time, it was also a challenging one. Graffiti was always a man’s world, and that encouraged me to develop a fighting spirit and empowered the figure of the warrior that has accompanied me throughout the years.
From there, the need to create women fighters was born, female of gigantic proportions, my army of Amazons. It was my way of expressing power and strength through painting, and also my manifesto of self-affirmation.
In those years I studied illustration and graphic design, but what influenced my trajectory and my personal style was my connection with the world of graffiti, ever since I was a teenager, more than my academic training. I always approached my artistic work in a self-taught way.
Voluptuous girls with large features and sharp nails, amazons, warriors, nymphs, magicians, accompanied by fruits, swords or crocodiles, are some of the elements that make up my imagination.
What is a regular day like for you?
Normally, I get up very early, and I have my coffee in the morning. It’s my favorite time of the day, when I read, write or organize the rest of the day. When I get to the studio I start painting, add the first brushstrokescof color and spray paint… Painting large formats is quite a physical experience and I like to do it in the morning with full energy and sunlight. As the sun goes down I usually slow down to pay attention to the details or I focus on resolving a part of the canvas that needs more work.
In the evening, at home, I usually draw while watching a movie or listen to music, it relaxes me and I think the subconciouns works much better at night. Sketchbook, movie, and blanket, is the best plan.
I know you mentioned this earlier, but can you please elaborate on this a little. You go by the name XENA too; could you explain the origin of this name?
It has been a evolutionary process over the years, a mix of influences and resources that I have been incorporating along the way. Since I was a child, I always liked cartoons, I was fascinated by their giant, expressive eyes, the funny and simple faces of their characters. I guess I unconsciously began to draw and reinterpret those characters I liked, to invent others. Years later, when I was a teenager, I found my way of expression through graffiti.
My approach to painting was through graffiti and mural painting, which led to my first commissions and large format paintings, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I made the leap to the canvas and began my adventure in the world of contemporary art and galleries.
What does your creative process look like?
I usually start with a pencil sketch and sometimes I transfer it to my iPad to make color tests, add elements, backgrounds or play a bit with different compositions. I like to paint during the day and to draw at night.
I don’t like to have a closed sketch, or to make plans for projects a long time in advance, it makes me feel conditioned and I like it when the process is more organic, more natural and it flows as you paint and redirect you towards a theme, a chromatic or conceptual decision in a much more unconscious way. I enjoy it more.
I tend to work with several pieces at the same time, it helps a lot to paint in a more relaxed way, and not to get stuck on a particular piece, to space out the times. I like how they take shape at the same time and allow me to rest my eyes and make the process lighter and more fun.
Can we dig deeper into your unique painting style, inspiration, and message?
My work orbits around the figure of the amazon and female warrior, which has been the central figure of my work for years. Strong and inspiring women, empowered, voluptuous, sweet, daring, witches, warriors, caring… Often other elements appear such as swords, weapons, water pistols, or animals: snakes, spiders, cats… as a more modern readaptation of the concept of warrior or shaman with touches of fantasy and personal imagination.
Fruit is always present in my work. It has an erotic power and an irresistible color. They are symbols of abundance, and eternal femininity. As well as vegetation, pure ancestral connection with the earth, times and cycles.
The crocodile represents my wildest side, it’s more mischievous, cheeky and playful. It also alludes to the word lizard, used in a derogatory way in our language with the intention of turning it around.
I try to maintain a balance between sensitive strength and radical tenderness as two halves that are distinctive parts of my being, parts that today run parallel without competing with each other and that make up my personal yin and yang.
Do you always paint on a large scale?
It’s a format that comes to me from mural painting, I love painting characters bigger than me. I never liked drawing in small sketchbooks, it makes me feel very limited. Working on a large scale is a much more physical work, sometimes you dance, sometimes you fight, but it’s like a direct face to face. It’s also a question of space, I’m a big woman, I need to take over more space than the average women and scale is important in my work and in how the work relates to the viewer.
What are the first things that come to your mind as necessary in your studio?
Light is essential. It has a great influence on the colours and on my mood, it is vital for photosynthesis. Silence, having a space that allows introspection and concentration is super necessary because the creative process is more immersive and the studio really becomes a refuge, a bunker where no matter what happens outside, inside it’s always spring 😀
I like to have plants, I love them and the odd toys and treasures that I’ve found at a flea market. Things that for me have some personal value and that distract the eye when you need to take a break. In the end I think you have to have a space where you feel free to drop paint-stains and move freely, and that you can turn upside down, paint it all white and start again.
Which of all places where your art was exhibited is the most memorable, and why?
My last trip was to South Korea on the occasion of the Kiaf fair, in which I was participating with L21. It was my first time in Asia, I was really looking forward to seeing my work exhibited outside of Europe and to see the feedback from the people. It was super exciting, I had never travelled so far and I had never felt such a strong cultural shock, it was a great experience.
Name one of the most memorable reactions regarding your work?
Children’s reactions are always the ones that fill me with the most emotion and that I remember most fondly. They connect faster, they don’t need a discourse, they don’t understand fashion or market values, they have a pure connection with what they like, with color or fantasy and they have their own imagination, their own codes… How much we adults have to unlearn in this sense!
What challenges do you feel you face as a working artist?
I think the most obvious one is the expectations that others generate around your work or your person. Managing the superficial reading that others often make of a work that is so personal and introspective for the artist and that is born from the deepest part of your being.
The challenge of exposing yourself, talking about yourself, your strengths, your vulnerabilities, being put in the spotlight, I don’t feel so important.
Setting limits when working on what you love is also a big challenge, managing time and energy when working on your calling so that it doesn’t completely absorb other equally important parts of your life.
Also, the eternal struggle between creativity and productivity. When creating becomes your profession, economic and productive factors come into play, and it is not easy to structure creativity or inspiration. Learning to be patient with the process and with yourself while knowing how to postpone the reward. Also, knowing how to say no to what doesn’t align with your principles or priorities.
What simple pleasures bring you alive?
A watermelon gazpacho, my nephew’s smile, taking a nap, getting excited listening to a song, summer fruit, cycling, having time to be bored, a walk in nature, a swim at the beach at night.
What advice would you give to artists just starting?
Don’t compare yourself with others, don’t be afraid of mistakes, fall down 7 times, get up 8 times, work hard, enjoy yourself like a child and don’t forget that having a calling is a superpower and not a punishment.
What does success mean to you?
Success is living according to my own rules, with my own formula and not according to what is socially established. The greatest success for me is to be able to live from my artistic work and to have my own space where I can create and grow through my work. Honesty with myself and with my work. To be able to work on a Sunday and rest on a Tuesday. To love and feel loved is my greatest fortune.
What is your approach to social media?
Over the years I have become more reserved and selective with social media, I don’t like overexposure, nor do I use it to showcase my personal life. I use social media as a gallery for my work and to get to know and connect with other people’s artwork.
Name three artists you follow and their journey on Instagram?
These are three artists I admire and have been following for years, two of them I met at art fairs and later followed on Instagram, and the third is my sister Gracia, with whom I have shared a calling with, since I was a child. All of them have admirable work and careers.
The Instagram algorithm is terrible, it doesn’t stop suggesting influencers, hypersexualised women, aesthetic operations that you don’t need, and at the same time it gives very little voice to talented and inspiring women. It’s time to acknowledge that!
What’s next for Fatima De Juan?
At the moment I have two solo shows planned for the upcoming months and participation in several fairs such as Canart Ibiza, Untitled Miami and Arco Madrid.
Also several group shows with different international galleries and the odd projects that comes up as I go along.
What does art mean for you?
Art is my most immediate means of expression. It allows me to express emotions and to tell stories without saying a word.
It is a moment of catharsis, of dialogue with oneself, of searching, of doubt, of affirmation of your identity and individuality. It saves you from hostility and boredom. It clings you to life and beauty.
It gives voice to unconscious and abstract desires that are not expressed with verbal language. Often you create without thinking about what you want to say, you are guided by instinct, by impulse, then, once the work is finished, the story is revealed to you and everything that you wanted to express and that until now had not found a way to do so materialises.