Stepping into an artist’s studio still gives me a shiver and a thrill, even in the tropical heat. It’s the closest thing to a magician’s cave: artefacts sourced from around the globe, pigment-splattered paintbrushes and swirls of paint so thick they dare me to reach out and touch.
It’s the visual version of the cupcake quest: a chance to reach beyond the everyday – glue, canvas, sketches – and look up to see pure beauty. Today, background is the palm and pelican-beached Aruba and the artist’s studio belongs to Elisa Lejuez.
Lejuez is the kind of woman who radiates inspiration just by walking in the room. I’m wilting from an ill-advised long walk in the Caribbean heat and she breezes in with the energy of someone who’s just stepped out of a salon. She takes me through her work, how she started with circles and moved on to silk screen printing. She works with textiles and fashion ranges and we talk about the challenges involved in making a creative career pay (apologies if that breaks the magic, but even magicians need to eat, buy toothpaste, tweezers and flip flops, although not necessarily in that order.)
Her zesty yet no-nonsense approach seems essential to carving out a career in the artistic world, it seems, much more so than the gaunt and grizzly stereotype of the tortured artist of years gone by. Her words remind me of the couple I met in Catalonia, Rosa Serra and Xavier Carbonell, who had this to say on the subject of creativity:
On Making Art Pay
“When you are young, these things seem more important.
“You think that your ideas are the best and you want to spend your life developing your own creative ideas. You feel frustration when, rather than if, you need to take on work that pays more money but that seems to stifle your creativity.
“What you realise as you grow older is that you can be just as creative in commissioned, commercial work. Often more so. You work with other people… become exposed to more ideas… Their restrictions actually force you to expand your own creativity and they provide you with different inspiration.”
Rosa Serra, Olympic Sculptor
Elisa is very matter of fact. “We ran through the numbers and realised that making some of these in this way just wouldn’t work.”
The conversation does venture into the ethereal, however, bringing in the other essential aspect of art. Elisa draws on her Dutch-Curacao heritage, extensive travel through Asia and everyday life here in Aruba to engage in a “secular spiritual quest.” She describes creating her art as a kind of meditation, an approach that has served her well through local business and exhibitions in New York.
And the international world reciprocates, with customers ordering bespoke canvases from all across the world (and, hey, if you want to do that too, you can do so over here.) They send in photos of the gap in their house they want filled with colour and she comes up with something to set their retinas ablaze.
She needs to leave, as do I. She to collect her child, I to fly home.
But the visit inside this artist’s studio leaves me somehow richer than before, abuzz with creativity, colour and hope.
That’s what I love about visiting places like this – and the whole cupcake quest. With so many people in the world going about life with energy, ideas and enthusiasm, how can you leave feeling anything other than inspired?[hr]
I stayed at the sweet little Boardwalk Hotel run by two sisters who have come up with a fantastic idea: each bright casita, decked out in blue, white and pink, comes with a “treasure box” of ways to explore the island. The treasure box has themes for couples, families, adventure and culture…and that’s how I found out about Elisa.
Disclosure: I paid a reduced rate to travel to Aruba and stay at the Boardwalk Hotel. But whether I pay full price, half price or nothing at all, I always keep the right to write whatever I like over here. Otherwise, there’s just no point.
Find out more about Aruba here.