Jiela Rufeh was born in Boston, Massachusetts of German and Persian descent. She grew up in the small colonial town of Concord, encompassed by a rich cultural and literary history. The lush New England wilderness has served as inspiration to great thinkers who resided there such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Growing up, Rufeh’s mother was a working artist who started taking she and her brother to all the greatest museums in Europe at a very young age. After years of eye rolling, all the early exposure became a source of inspiration for Rufeh when she fell in love with the work of Georgia O’Keefe after seeing her iconic large-scale paintings of flowers at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Rufeh’s education and professional life have taken her across the country from DC, New York, and Boston to San Diego where she currently lives and works. She first attended American University as a Communications major but transferred to University of Syracuse to study Photography and Sculpture. While there, she was introduced to the work of Irving Penn, whose technical virtuosity with a lens and cutting-edge aesthetic remains her biggest photographic influence. Rufeh then went on to do post-graduate work at the International Center of Photography in New York. She began interning at Harper’s Bazaar, quickly making her way through the ranks of the photography world of NYC with the goal of being a fashion photographer. Penn’s work made her realize that she didn’t have to sacrifice her creative impulses to work in commercial photography.
After a year, Rufeh went to California to studio lighting at the prestigious Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara and work in commercial advertising. She was swept up in the digital revolution, learning all the newest digital media tools under one of LA’s hottest commercial photographers. She worked to overcome the obstacles inherent to photographers emerging within the paradigm of new media, not to mention for photographers and photo-assistants that were female. Missing the intrinsic stir she had received from sculpture, the possibilities of new media inspired Rufeh to begin experimenting with incorporating different materials—especially encaustic—into her photography. It was a way of rebelling against her commercial work and pushing the photo to a place where it wasn’t allowed to go in the commercial world.
Aside from working as a commercial photographer for more than 20 years, Rufeh has been exhibited nationally for over a decade with multiple solo exhibitions in Berlin, Germany. The last few years have been the most exciting for Rufeh’s career as an artist. She now devotes all her time to her studio, volunteer work, and meditation practices while maintaining a consistent presence amongst the Southern California art scene, exhibiting most recently at the Museum of Latin American Art and the William D. Cannon Art Gallery. She works to develop new photo techniques that push her work into different genres and hopes that her art will continue to generate discussion regarding new media and environmental issues.
Visual art is an immediate expression of meaning—a commentary on things personal, societal, or even universal—and it has a unique energy. This unfolding universal energy has been an evolving interest of mine and my work has been influenced by my study of it and its manifestation throughout different cultures. It is a quest that cannot be separated from our daily lives.
Nature to me is an obvious place to start when dealing with these themes. We can see ourselves in the shapes of nature and in the way all its various elements affect one another. There are also man-made structures and landscapes that reflect our nature in a different way; years of layered graffiti reveal an undocumented history of creativity. But the insistent beckoning of nature is the hardest to ignore.
I travel extensively to remote natural locations to take photographs that explore my concepts and to be completely absorbed by the elements around me ‐ the colors, the smells, the silence, the peace, the wind brushing against my skin, the warmth of the sun… all awaken my senses.
When I come back to the studio I never really know where the photograph will take my painting. To be of worth, art must be expressive, sharing an artist’s thoughts and feelings. For me, feelings are paramount. The picture speaks to my gut and my body responds instinctively, emotionally, with color, texture or the absence thereof. My goal is that this visceral approach allows me to communicate something personal that becomes universal.