Helenna Jouja, Filipina-Canadian Contemporary Artist based in Europe

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One of the most sought-after Filipino artists in Austria right now is Helenna Jouja. Her calm observation and interpretation of the life she leads consistently result in rich visual representations that are well-known in the local and global art sectors.

Helenna Jouja is a Filipina-Canadian artist based in Europe. The talented and intelligent artist is also known to be a multilingual lady and has undergone some formal studies in pre-medicine, nursing, computer, education, business, painting, beauty, and hair culture.

Currently, Helenna Jouja lives and works in Vienna. austrianpress.com asked about her artistic journey and early influences, among many others.

Interview

How did you start as an artist?

Helenna Jouja: In the beginning, I never saw myself as an artist, simply dabbling in painting the image of Marilyn Monroe in a paradise-like setting from my own imagination. However, when someone stumbled upon my work and exclaimed that I had a talent for painting, it sparked a newfound belief in my abilities. Soon after, I received an unexpected request to create a painting as a wedding gift for a wealthy man and his daughter, who was soon to be married. Despite my initial doubts, I accepted the challenge and was offered a generous sum of 2000 euros, a significant amount at the time. Armed with only a blurry photograph, I took a leap of faith and poured my heart into the project. The moment I presented the finished painting to the father, his emotional reaction took me by surprise, as he was moved to tears by its beauty. This painting became the centerpiece of his daughter’s wedding, captivating each of the 150 guests who lined up to admire it, akin to receiving a sacrament during mass. It was then that I realized this experience marked my first solo exhibition, and rather than asking how I began as an artist, it is more fitting to ponder how I have evolved and grown since

How would you define yourself as an artist?

Helenna Jouja: I am an imaginative and unconventional artist. I focus on drawing life from my own imagination, playing with the shapes of people and animals. I am not bound by the constraints of traditional perspectives, which perhaps makes me an artist with a unique and original artistic vision. My willingness to explore and depict the world in a way that may not make sense in the actual perspective of the real world demonstrates my ability to think outside the box and push the boundaries of conventional art. By embracing this style, I offer viewers a fresh and captivating perspective, allowing them to experience my imaginative world in a way that is both thought-provoking and visually stimulating.”

You are an acclaimed artist, and you have participated in several prizes and exhibitions. Tell us something about this vernissage.

Helenna Jouja: It is nice to hear from you that I am recognized as an acclaimed artist, although I am not entirely sure if it is too early for such recognition. For me, success is not solely determined by external factors like exhibitions or accolades but rather by the passion and dedication I put into each piece. While I have faced financial constraints that prevented me from showcasing my work in numerous exhibitions in Austria, I have been fortunate enough to exhibit internationally in cities such as New York, Miami, Zurich, Palermo, Milan, Florence, Poland, and more. Additionally, I was honored to have my paintings sponsored by a Gallerist in Italy, leading to a two-year exhibition of my work. I have received two awards so far, the Leonardo da Vinci Award in Florence and the Renoir Award in Milan. After my first exhibition in Vienna, I was immediately sponsored by a gallery in the city, where I got the opportunity to exhibit my paintings for free. I am consistently sponsored every year by a gallery in Vienna. While I have been offered over 20 awards as an artist, there have been additional expenses, like traveling to other countries, that have prevented me from accepting them.

My journey as an artist has been filled with both challenges and moments of triumph. Although I understand that the term “artist” can be subjective and not solely based on formal training or recognition, I consider myself a self-proclaimed artist due to my deep passion for creating art. One of the major obstacles I have faced is the financial aspect of exhibiting my work in Austria, where galleries charge fees that are often beyond my means as an emerging artist. However, this year has been incredibly fortunate for me as three galleries in Vienna sponsored me for solo exhibitions, which was a game-changing opportunity to showcase my creations, connect with art enthusiasts, and gain recognition for my work. I am immensely grateful for their support, as it validates my talent and dedication.

Although I have experienced recent success, I cannot help but feel a sense of regret for missed opportunities. Early in my career, I was selected as a top rising artist for the New York Art Expo, a prestigious event that could have been a defining moment for my artistic path. Unfortunately, circumstances prevented me from attending, and I often wonder how that experience might have shaped my career. Nevertheless, I remain optimistic and continue to pour my heart and soul into my artwork. I firmly believe that success as an artist is not solely determined by the number of exhibitions or accolades received but rather by the passion, dedication, and connection that I forge through my art. I am committed to expanding my artistic horizons, experimenting with different techniques and styles, and seeking opportunities beyond Austria to connect with diverse audiences and contribute to the global art community. The joy and fulfillment I find in creating and the ability to express myself authentically are what truly define my success as an artist. I eagerly look forward to the experiences and possibilities that lie ahead on my artistic journey.

You are a Filipino-Canadian. What made you choose to stay in Austria/Vienna?

Helenna Jouja: I didn’t choose to stay in Austria, and both Austria and Canada have a similar quality of living. However, I believe that fate has brought me here to become an artist.

Tell us something about your favorite medium.

Helenna Jouja: My favorite is actually acrylic because it dries within 5 minutes, and you get the desired result in 5 minutes. Oil is too boring for me.

Did your style of painting change over the years?

Helenna Jouja: While my overall style of painting did not change, I did evolve and explore different categories within my art. Initially, I began as an innocentism artist, a term I coined to describe my original artwork. Innocentism, for me, involves creating a sense of intrigue where viewers can anticipate what will happen to a specific character in my paintings. It’s like a hidden code that becomes apparent when one delves into the painting’s details. As I continued to develop, I started incorporating replicas of old masters’ works into my paintings, seamlessly blending them into my finished pieces. Lastly, I ventured into the realm of video production, where I brought the characters from my paintings to life, providing more vivid explanations of the concepts I had originally depicted on canvas.

Tell us about the process of creating your work. What is your artistic routine when working?

Helenna Jouja: My artistic routine involves gathering inspiration from various sources and exploring ideas and concepts. I then move on to planning and sketching, solidifying my vision, and determining composition and color palette. The execution phase involves applying layers and paying attention to details and textures. I take breaks to gain fresh perspectives and seek feedback. Finally, I analyze and critique my own work to ensure my original vision is achieved and the desired emotions and ideas are effectively communicated.

6) What would you like to communicate with your work? What are the main themes you pursue?

Helenna Jouja: Through my artwork, I strive to raise awareness about breast cancer, making it a prominent theme in many of my paintings. Love is the overarching theme that runs through most of my art, as I am a firm believer in promoting love over war. With each painting, my ultimate goal is to evoke a sense of joy and positivity in the viewer, ensuring that the new owner will experience these emotions every day when they catch a glimpse of my work.

Who are your biggest artistic influences or inspirations?

Helenna Jouja: The biggest influence on my art is, without a doubt, myself. I often find myself wanting to pay homage to the old masters, such as Leonardo da Vinci, by saying, “Hey, look! I can paint like you too!” However, my true inspiration comes from Filipino artists. I am determined to work tirelessly to carve out a significant space in the art market as a Filipino artist in the future. My ultimate goal is to see a Filipino artist included among the top 100 most expensive paintings. So, if you support me, you also support the Philippines.

Are there political or social issues that influence your artwork?

Helenna Jouja: Definitely. Artists often address a wide range of political and social issues, such as inequality, human rights, environmental concerns, racism, gender issues, and more. I sometimes use my art to provoke thought, raise awareness, or even challenge existing power structures and systems. Ultimately, my decision to incorporate political or social issues in my art allows me to use their creative expression as a means of activism and advocacy, making art not only aesthetically pleasing but also a catalyst for change.

Do you intend to collaborate with other Filipino artists in Europe, specifically in Vienna?

Helenna Jouja: Yes. Especially if their mission is the same as mine: to raise the level of Filipino artists in the global art market.

Do you feel the support of the Filipino community whenever you stage such exhibitions like this?

Helenna Jouja: No and yes! No, because I believe that there are supportive Marites everywhere. Just kidding, Yes, Filipinos in Austria have actually been very supportive of me. However, I understand that they have to prioritize making a living for their families, so I don’t expect to be their top priority or have them participate in my exhibitions. Art is also relatively new for some Filipinos living abroad, as it may not be their main reason for moving to Austria. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the continuous support from Filipinos in the Philippines and other countries. I couldn’t have achieved what I have without them. Sometimes, I want to contradict the notion that Filipinos have a crab mentality. I don’t feel that way, as I believe that all Filipinos have been very supportive of me since the beginning.

What are you working on now, and what are your plans for the future? Anything exciting you can tell us about?

Helenna Jouja: I am passionate about completing my replica of the iconic Mona Lisa, and I currently have seven meticulously sketched versions ready to be transformed into stunning paintings. However, I envision this masterpiece to be exclusive, making it accessible to only a single individual within a specific country. With its uniqueness and limited availability, I aim to offer this extraordinary artwork for sale at a price of 1 million Euros, ensuring that it becomes a truly exceptional acquisition for its fortunate owner. Well, maybe I will keep one for myself.

Finally, may message ka ba sa mga Pinoy artists or aspiring artists na gustong sumunod sa iyong mga yapak?

Helenna Jouja: Yes.if you wanna be like me. Go ahead and learn from old masters. By studying and emulating the techniques and styles of influential artists, you can certainly absorb their knowledge and craftsmanship. However, it’s important to find your own artistic voice and evolve beyond imitation. Take what you’ve learned from these masters and allow it to inform and inspire your own unique artistic style and expression. Strive to create work that reflects your individuality while paying homage to the artistic traditions that have come before you and me.

Thank you for the interview, and good luck!

— interview conducted by Hector Pascua

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