Christian Feneck’s professional life was going along at a nice, upwardly-mobile pace—uh, until it wasn’t. The former architectural design guru/teacher found himself sans job and sans direction a few years ago. Feneck had a casual side hustle as an abstract artist, but could he make a living out of it? Plus, after being out of the rat race for a while, did he really want to be a corporate wonk again? Feneck found himself at a crossroads. “At the risk of sounding like a fortune cookie, sometimes you have to give up something good to get something better,” said Feneck. “I liked working in a firm and teaching—however, I loved the design aspects of the job the most. Pulling that out and taking it into the art world afforded me the design freedom I was craving. I still see my painting and installation work as creating architectural spaces, though much more abstractly.”
So Feneck switched from working 9-5 to a more flexible, bohemian 11-9 or 1-11 or whatever schedule tickled his creative fancy. He rented out a studio in Fort Lauderdale’s FATVillage, a burgeoning hive of like-minded artists doing their thing. “The FAT stands for Flagler Arts and Technology. It’s the arts district of Fort Lauderdale and has been steadily growing for the last 15 years or so,” said Feneck.
Feneck had officially found his tribe and never looked back. He hunkered down, started to hone his craft and grew out his hair into a ponytail. (Okay, I made that last one up.) One look at his wildly colorful, intricately designed paintings and you’ll realize it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. His architectural perspective (hashtag that, people! #architecturalperspective) and training now serves him in a completely different capacity. But Feneck wasn’t an instant success right out of the gate. Like any blossoming artist, he found himself on the strugglebus from time to time. “Making the decision to focus fully on art was easy. It seemed like the obvious answer I had been avoiding. Actually making a living at it is another story,” said Feneck. “Though I’ve had some success and a few big commissions, it has taken years to get here. And like any sole proprietor, I have to keep moving, changing, expanding, refining and growing to stay afloat. You really just have to learn to live with the bullet sweat.”
To the layman, Feneck’s artwork appears to be a kinetic hodge-podge of hyper-colorful lines that have been strewn together with wild abandon. But Feneck knows that if you actually take more than five seconds to look at his colorfield (#colorfield), you’ll spy so much more depth and nuance. “My paintings have definitely become more architecturally focused. My older work was still about space and color and creating perceptual places, but I have more recently begun to include more architectural graphic techniques, like two-point perspective, into the compositions,” says Feneck. “This has allowed me to create more complex spatial conditions in the work. It also seems to make my architectural background more obvious.” His fave piece? “My paintings are like my children, so I obviously have a favorite: #18007. It is actually a piece I had started years ago but was never fully happy with,” Feneck admits. “A few months back I decided to give it another pass and work in some of the new technique. I loved the result and though it’s probably only apparent to me, it has more of my history built into it than any other piece I’ve worked on.”
Feneck also took time show me several pieces that were in their early, initial stages. Turns out, picking out the perfectly imperfect color schemata is half the battle in his paintings’ metamorphosis. And it doesn’t just happen overnight. Feneck is playfully careful (carefully playful?) in choosing what colors will really catch your eye. Sometimes, though, clients know best. They’ll ask for certain combos that give Feneck pause, but then turn out to have exquisite charm. “My pieces take time to experience. You really have to look for a minute or two and let your eyes adjust to the colors to really see the color interactions and get the full effect,” says Feneck. “Anything more than a couple seconds seems a lot to ask nowadays, but it’s worth it. We’ve all been conditioned to find the five-second YouTube commercials excruciatingly long,” he laughs.
It’s always fun to pick an artist’s brain outside their studio. In this case, I peppered Feneck with questions as we were imbibing over coffee. If I know one thing, it’s that coffee soothes an artist’s savage soul—especially if I’m buying. We shot the breeze at The Grind Coffee Project, where coffee is also an art. Feneck ordered something that required the barista to break out beakers, flasks and graduated cylinders to create his drink—because, of course it did. “To stay creatively challenged, you have to keep moving. Coffee is one of the main fuels for that action,” says Feneck. “I used to tell my students that as long as you are creating something, you’re moving forward.”
Does he miss corporate life? Any regrets? Nah … and nah. The only thing he’s nostalgic for is the occasional camaraderie of his co-workers. “Mostly, I miss the people I work with. Being an artist is solitary or lonely and that’s why I go to coffee shops from time to time,” says Feneck. “When I go to the studio on Monday mornings, it’s just me.”
Feneck quickly learned being an artist isn’t all glamour and glad-handing either. “You have to do the boring stuff too. Budgets, schedules, and contracts, oh my! It’s not fun, but it’s essential,” says Feneck. “Equally as important is to talk to other artists to maintain a critical dialogue—so I’ve gathered a small group of artists I respect and trust. We discuss each other’s work honestly and often very critically and I cannot express how valuable the feedback has been over the years.”
Next up? Feneck is going bigger and bolder—including a 1,500 square foot mural in the next few weeks. He’s also designing a large exterior installation to be installed in Miami Beach during Art Basel. “I’m excited to start both!” says Feneck.