Tartan Artist of the Week: Mila Fejzo

Name, pronouns, what kind of art do you do?
My name is Mila Fejzo, my pronouns are they/them, and I am mostly an oil painter, but have recently been experimenting with digital and physical sculpture, mold-making, digital imaging, makeup, drawing, illustration and poetry.

Where are you from? Geographically & emotionally?
Before I came to Pittsburgh for college, I lived in L.A. my whole life.

How did you begin your artistic journey? How old were you?
I wasn't interested in art growing up, until I had one specific teacher in seventh grade who changed my life. I ended up working with her for six years. She helped me grow as an artist, but also as a person. She pushed me a lot conceptually rather than just focusing on building techniques, which meant that I developed an artistic voice quite early on. This later led me to choose CMU's art program for college because it focuses on work with a lot of conceptual weight.

What is a defining work of art that set you on your current journey?
Vanity (2018) by George Rouy is a piece that has been very influential to my most recent paintings. The way he renders his figures, plays with transparency, and builds color palettes are all inspiring to my current work, as I step away from more realistic rendering.

What does your personal artistic process look like?
I first start with a general concept I am going to explore in my work, and try to decide what medium(s) would work best to enhance the meaning of the piece. From there, I sketch out potential compositions. Then I look at my document of my favorite current-working artists and saved Instagram posts of art to find color palettes, patterns, textures, techniques, etc., that I want to pull from. I put a bunch of references of artwork into a folder on my phone, and I then draw a secondary sketch that includes color, and notations of patterns and textures. This sketch often doesn't look fully realized to the viewer, but the notes allow me to envision the whole piece in my head. I then start on the piece, allowing for a lot of adaptation as I go. If certain things aren't working, I may stray really far from the references I chose, sometimes just playing with it myself, and other times, going back again to find different references.

What are some projects you are working on right now that you are proud of and excited about?
I am working with School of Design faculty Brian Russman right now to turn my hobby of experimental makeup into more of an art practice. I am exploring themes of gender, including gender stereotypes, top surgery, body dysphoria, etc. I just finished a photo series on the discomfort I feel when presenting as hyperfeminine. I plan on making a complimentary photo series, that explores the confidence and gender euphoria that comes with dressing in a more androgynous way.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
The best artistic advice I've ever been given was to use modeling paste. I've been obsessed with it ever since [Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Art] Susanne Slavick told our painting class about it. It allows you to get thickly textured pieces without spending hundreds of dollars on paint. It also has an interesting quality to it, where if you decided to let it show on the painting and not paint over it, it appears to have some translucency to it despite actually being opaque. I highly recommend working with modeling paste if you are a painter looking to explore texture in your work!

How does your community inspire you?
CMU is a very supportive environment. Artists here really want everyone to learn and grow. Critiques generally feel uplifting, but constructive.

What made you decide to pursue your art at Carnegie Mellon?
CMU has a very special art program in my opinion. One, its facilities are amazing, and allows for art classes in numerous mediums. The program itself is also very interdisciplinary, and I knew it would get me to expand my art practice from solely an oil painter to a well-rounded artist working in many mediums. I even took a mold-making class this semester, which is a medium I never even thought about trying in high school. Most importantly, as I said above, CMU pushes our artists conceptually. In the transdisciplinary research studios, we can make work out of any medium, surrounding a prompt. This allows us to learn which mediums are used to best express certain ideas, as well as gears us towards a conceptual approach to our work rather than simply a technical one.

What’s the best part of being an artist right here (CMU, Pittsburgh, the world), and right now?
I make art mostly for myself, and not necessarily for a viewer. Creating is an essential part of maintaining my mental health, and so studying art at CMU, and getting positive feedback in critiques is really rewarding. However, I think that the best part about being an artist for me is when my art informs or teaches someone something. I work a lot with topics of mental health, as well as gender identity, and it is always validating when someone reaches out to me to say that they relate to my work, or have gained insight from it.