Janssen proudly features artwork created by people affected by the illnesses and diseases that we are dedicated to helping prevent and treat. Please visit our art gallery to learn more about the artists and view more artwork.
In front of a canvas bursting with shades of green, red, yellow and blue sits Rhonda Fenwick, as she adds light brush strokes to her latest piece of art.
Finding inspiration in her childhood in Northeast England, nature and social justice issues, Rhonda has had more than 100 exhibitions across England, including at the Houses of Parliament. Behind her success is the story of a young girl who grew up with a number of medical conditions, including chronic psoriasis, which often left her feeling isolated.
“I spent a lot of time in hospital, up to six weeks at a time, getting treatment for my skin. It was just very difficult. My confidence and self-esteem were pretty low,” says Rhonda.
She was just six years old when she was diagnosed with psoriasis. Growing up with such rigorous treatment regimens affected her physical well-being as well as her social development and interactions with others. “Relationships were always difficult,” she says. But, Rhonda was able to find refuge in the arts.
Rhonda grew up in a working-class area, where it was common to go to school then directly into the workforce to help with the household income. And, while her parents were artistically inclined (her father was a musician and her mother dreamed of being a fashion designer), pursuing a career as a poet, painter or actor was not really encouraged.
Despite this, in high school, she decided to take up acting. “I had a great drama teacher who was very encouraging,” Rhonda says. The isolation she felt as a young girl because of her skin condition helped deepen her love of the performing arts because she was free to express herself artistically. It was around this time that she also began drawing and painting. This passion is what really took hold in her life. After high school, Rhonda attended the University of Sunderland in England, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (with Honors) in Fine Arts and a master’s degree in the same area of study. Performing and painting helped her to look within herself and outside of the isolation she felt growing up.
Her passion for art opened other doors as well. “Part of my master's degree program was about artists in a social context. And, being an artist with a social conscience, I wanted to use the arts as a vehicle to raise awareness,” Rhonda says.
And, while pursuing her higher education and beginning to use her art as a way to engage in conversations about psoriasis and social issues, Rhonda met her husband, Bill, who applauds his wife’s courage and tenacity and is a strong supporter of her work.
“Rhonda’s story is about her struggles with psoriasis, both physical and psychological, and how she’s overcome those struggles through art. She sees herself, and her story, in other people in different ways,” Bill says.
To help raise awareness of the internal struggle those who suffer with psoriasis and other skin diseases endure, Rhonda created the Skin Project. Its mission is to work with other artists, local schools and government agencies to bring attention to skin conditions. In addition to the Skin Project, she also established Mona Lisa Arts and Media and the Transformers Youth Arts Group to encourage young, creative people to learn about the arts — a cause that’s very near to Rhonda’s heart.
“Rhonda is very passionate about the work she does,” says friend and fellow artist, Gina Martin. ”She really believes in passing on her knowledge and understanding to children so they learn new skills to help them shine in a different way.”
"Art is about growth and learning. It's a process of change and transformation.
Life does not sit still; it’s an ever-ongoing process. And, we're always learning.
I want to pass that on to people."
“I became determined to work with people to give them the opportunity to be involved in the arts, and to learn about the arts,” Rhonda says. “My psoriasis has given me empathy for other people who are at a disadvantage in our world. Having this ability to go within, discovering the beauty that is there … I want to share that with other people and enable them to become more confident and self-aware, and build self-esteem.”
In this way, Rhonda has truly found sanctuary in the arts — for herself and for others.
Learn more about Rhonda and her artwork by visiting her website and watching her video.