When people ask Julija Mostykanova Feeney what she does for a living, she doesn’t tell them she’s an artist. “I tell them I’m a painter,” she says. “Then they usually ask, ‘Inside or outside?’” she says, laughing.
Born in Lithuania in 1980, 10 years before the country gained independence from the Soviet Union, this self-effacing painter was studying polymer design and technology at Kaunas University when she came to Nantucket on the university’s work/travel program in 2001. “I had $300 and could not speak any English,” she recalls. When the summer season ended, she decided that polymers were not for her and stayed to explore the United States, but she had already fallen in love with Nantucket. “The beauty and the community of the island drew me back, and I’ve been here ever since,” she says.
After two years of living on the island, one winter she saw an ad for art classes at the Artists Association of Nantucket (AAN). “I enrolled with the only expectation that it would be fun because I had never gone to art school,” she says. At AAN she began meeting people who were to become not only her teachers and mentors but also her friends and colleagues today.
Painting and the unique art community inherent to Nantucket became important in Feeney’s life, and for a number of years she worked day jobs typical of any artist—housekeeper, gallerist, caterer—while painting by night. Seven years ago she made a decision, quit all her jobs and began painting full-time.
“I’m getting there,” she says, echoing every artist with a vision. Feeney continues to be inspired by the island, her surroundings, and her life experiences. “I used to paint more realistically, but my recent journey into abstraction challenges and excites me. Now I respond to the paint itself and I leave the literal behind.”
Her process is simple: Show up every day and paint. “Inspiration is overrated,” she says. While she continues to take the occasional class, she says it’s enough of an education to paint. “Working in the studio is more important,” she states. “Put the work in and find your own way to paint.” And while Feeney also feels influences are distracting, causing the artist to try too hard to duplicate another artist’s work, she does profess admiration for the work of Richard Diebenkorn, who is pretty much considered an artist’s artist.
Feeney works on multiple paintings at a time—up to 40, all in different stages. She finds the beginning—the empty canvas—the most exciting part of the process. She applies paint thickly, gesturally, with a palette knife, and watches for what she calls the history of the painting to emerge—how the painting comes alive through all its layers.
While other artists aspire for fame or to see their work to hang in museums, Feeney already feels she has achieved success. “I’m doing what I love, painting every day,” she says, “and I’m making a living.”