Face to Face with Magali Feuga
Georgia Beard explores our cover artist’s ability to instil infinite stories in the gaze of a single portrait, creating a unique connection with every viewer.
On the walls of her coastal home, human faces and figures reach out from their canvases and murals with striking layers of emotion.
Their expressions and movements carry curiosity, energy, quiet strength and contemplation, illustrated with abstract colours and patterns.
These faces often become blank slates, a different story read from their emotions by every person who looks upon them – even the artist herself.
Magali has encountered a plethora of story-filled faces in her lifetime, from her early childhood in New Caledonia to her immigration to the Sunshine Coast in 2018. From France to the Pacific Islands; the Caribbean and South America, her parents raised and home-schooled her on their nomadic houseboat.
Living in such a remote environment, she expressed herself with all the art supplies she could get her hands on and credits her passion for creativity to her father, a painter and wooden sculptor.
“When I was a teenager, my parents decided to go back to France because they thought I should go to a proper school, but that didn’t work very well for me,” she said. “With the childhood I had, I struggled to stay sitting in a classroom all day.”
Instead, she dropped out at 16 and enrolled in Prép’Art, a preparatory education for entry into prestigious arts schools. Two years of artistic study and graduation passed, and Magali still found herself restless and low on funds.
With an urge to travel, she switched out her burgeoning art career for twenty years working as a private chef on sailboats.
Taught by her mother, she loved cooking for its similarities to art – balancing the ingredients, plating the food, sharing her creations with others – and she still found time to paint.
Throughout her travels, she encountered art styles from cultures around the globe, integrating elements into her own practice – then she fell in love with an Australian.
Making a new life on the Sunshine Coast, she could devote herself to art wholeheartedly and expand her space in the local art community.
After recently being part of The Neu Neu group exhibition at Red Hill Gallery, Magali is currently exhibiting as a finalist in The Doyles Art Award 2023 from 15 to 25 June and will showcase a collection of portraits during Stevens Street Gallery’s Be Still exhibition from 5 July to 27 August.
“I paint because it’s my way to communicate with people,” she said.
“When I am walking in the street or when I talk to people, I always look at faces, and very often I think, ‘This one will make a really good painting.’
“I don’t think it’s a conscious process. It’s like when you are walking down one of the shopping streets, and one thing in a window will make you stop.
“I don’t necessarily have the story in my mind when I paint, but I get to know these people that I’m painting. The face guides me into the story behind it.”
With one face to inspire the foundation of her work, Magali disappears into her cramped, chaotic art studio and picks up a pencil for the base sketch.
“If I’m working with acrylic, the visual I’m looking for needs a lot of layers,” she said. “At first it looks pretty ugly, and it’ll look ugly for quite a long time.
“You can get discouraged by it. I work on a few paintings at the same time, because when I get stuck with one, or when I need to wait for the paint to dry, I move on to the next.
“When I like how it is and can’t see what else I can add, I know it’s finished. But some painters say a painting is never finished, it’s only abandoned – which is true, in a way.”
As Magali’s style evolved, she gravitated towards the visual impact of street art, from the eye-catching colours to the clean lines to the vast scale.
But unlike the often-political messaging of conventional street art, her pieces find power in portraying the beauty of humanity.
This celebration of physicality emerges from her Dancer collection. After discovering filmed performances by notorious ballet dancer Sergei Polunin, Magali fell in love with the aesthetic beauty of his form and sought to capture his avant-garde energy on the canvas.
Translating to Fly Away, Envol Toi graces our front cover, catching the dancer in fluid, passionate movement.
From his arms raised in surrender to his downcast expression to the claw marks carved into his chest, Magali’s depiction implores us to unearth the story driving his dance.
The subjectivity of her portraits often leads to a diverse range of interpretations – something Magali recognised when hundreds of visitors passed through her home during this year’s Open Studios Sunshine Coast.
“There will be something specific in that painting which talks to a specific person, and it’s not necessarily what I see,” she said.
“I will definitely try to create a certain attitude, but what people will imagine from it, I can’t control.”
Magali passes the responsibility to us. As we meet the gaze of every portrait, we don’t simply encounter a unique story – we come face to face with ourselves.
Discover more of Magali’s work at www.artbymag.com.au