There are many offices on the UBC Okanagan campus, but none which compare to that of Professor Johann Feught. Entering the drawing instructor’s office is a lot like entering a highly personalized cave or den. Replete in highly coloured art works, the space is interesting from top to bottom. And no wonder. Professor Feught, who had an extensive and highly successful career in the art world prior to his academic life at UBCO, began his career in Germany, apprenticing at the age of fourteen as a window front designer. This prestigious European tradition was the beginning of an art career which has spanned decades and also continents.
Johann grew up in Frankfurt, Germany. The ruins of bombed out buildings were his childhood playgrounds. This early proximity to geometric designs and broken-down architecture became reflected in his art, when, as a successful printmaker, Johann incorporated the interplay of geometry and ruin into his designs to reflect both interior and exterior spaces. His prints feature bright, clear jewel tones, which Johann attributes to his early love of architecture and the prismatic colours of the stained glass windows of the cathedrals of his childhood.
Printmaking also indirectly led Johann to teaching. Despite a successful and lucrative business as a creative director of a display company, Johann knew he was first and foremost an artist. He decided to walk away from his six figure income and dedicate himself to art full-time. Having long admired the printmaking of Albrecht Dürer, Johann chose to study printmaking at the University of Alberta, and while completing his Master’s degree in printmaking, first experienced teaching as a teacher’s assistant. He found he enjoyed being part of an atmosphere where like-minded people were studying and discussing art, and so after graduation he obtained teaching positions at several Canadian universities. In 1992, Johann was hired by the fine art department at Okanagan University College to create a co-op design program with a solid graphic design component. After the transition, the design program never was re-established at UBC Okanagan. “It is my hope,” Johann says, “that a design program will resurface in the not so distant future.”
At UBCO, Johann teaches first year 2D drawing fundamentals, but to add extra interest to the curriculum, he includes his own area of expertise – illustrative drawing. The course teaches aspects of graphic design without excluding traditional drawing. In fact, Johann worries over the infrequency with which members of today’s society actually use their two hands to create. With increased reliance upon computers, Johann feels hand-on drawing may even be something of a dying art. It is one reason why he does not allow laptops or cell phones in his classroom; there are just too many distractions today. The best tool he can give a student, Johann says, is the ability to listen and to think for one self. He sees the change in his students as a term progresses. Within weeks, they come to welcome his class as a place free of technological distraction where they can just get down to the business of learning to draw.
As a professor, Johann feels strongly that it is important to give students the skills to convey their personal interior through their art. Students have their own needs, their own capacities; students comprehend at their own pace. Therefore, for Johann, teaching is not simply about standing in front of a class and relaying information. Instead, teaching is about communicating with his students, assisting them in finding their full potential. He chooses to gear his classroom to individual needs so that he can assist in growth and in fulfilling potential.
With such an attitude towards life, it should probably not come as a surprise that when asked to name his greatest success in life, Johann does not single out an art work or professional moment. Instead, Johann feels his greatest achievement is himself, the person he is becoming: “the state of mind I occupy at this time.” And as to failure – he replaces the term “failure” with that of “unsuccessful”—being unsuccessful can be a realistic part in any learning process; therefore, there is no failure. “Which,” Johann points out, “doesn’t mean I have always had things go exactly the way I envisioned them. But to call something a failure – I really don’t.”
Instead, Johann says there is one major secret to the success of an artist. He is tempted to say it is hard work, but that answer is too self-evident to satisfy him. The secret to artistic success, Johann feels, is being inspired, where inspiration is “a self-motivated observation of an idea.” It comes from passion, and it is the responsibility of the artist to find and access. “The key is to literally… self-motivate. You cannot just sit and wait for so called motivation – that is a fallacy. You have to become self-motivated to define inspiration.”
For now, Johann’s personal inspiration has shifted from printmaking to painting. This is where his current artistic focus lies. He wants to work very traditionally within a Renaissance tradition; for example, preparing in part his own color pigments and building up transparent layers. Asked where he’d like to be in five or ten years, Johann answers simply: he’d like to be on his way to becoming a good painter.
Johann’s life is an example of a career building upon itself one step at a time. He has had several solo and group exhibitions throughout Europe and other international venues and is working on paintings for an upcoming exhibit in Germany. Johann smiles when he considers that he will be returning with a certain success to where it all began. His paintings are well received in Europe. “And what,” Johann says, “could be better? Coming from there and having my work circulate in cooperative and private collections of the European art market. It’s just wonderful.”
Article by Leigh Macfarlane
Last reviewed 11/14/2014 3:58:41 PM