For the latest issue of Floorr Magazine I spoke to the amazing artist and my friend Yulia Iosilzon. Her paintings and sculptures feature a soft fairytale-palette and seemingly light-hearted scenes with birds, cakes and kitsch materials, but are in fact encoded with sinister, grotesque themes that reveal a different side of the same storyline. Her playful representation of this duality reflects on how stories, ideas and images are rarely flat and one-dimensional, much like ways in which the Lazy Women platform is challenging various concepts of female identity, narrative, aesthetic and experience.
“I AM VERY INTERESTED IN DUALITY, IN DIFFERENT PERCEPTIONS TO THE SAME SYMBOL.”
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?
I was born in a multi-national family in Moscow. Spent most of my very early childhood with my mom. All my time I spent drawing, painting and playing piano. I actually went to professional music school because of my mom’s dream to be an opera singer. She was from a very intelligent family: her mother was a physics professor and her dad was an engineer. Still there was not enough money in her family to send her to the music school. So my mom kept this dream long enough and then sent me to the music school instead. I think it’s a common thing between generations. I realise now that I would rather do ballet.
At the same time, I was always an art-rebel. All the walls in the house were painted by me and weirdly enough, my parents supported it fully.
Then I went to school and was sent to english boarding school. It was all girls’ catholic school in Ascot. Wouldn’t say that I enjoyed it much, so I dropped out and went to London to do my foundation in arts and design at Camberwell. I did my BA at Slade School of Fine Art and then I joined RCA Painting. Really enjoyed all the years spent in the studios with on-going creative and not so creative discourse. I loved the tutors and they had immense impact on me and my practise. I still hear their voices in my head when I need an opinion on what works in the painting and what doesn’t.
Your works are quite innocent and playful at a first glance, both in terms of colour palette and the mise-en-scene. However, a closer look reveals more sinister motifs and undertones within the comical setting and characters. Could you talk about this interest of mixing ‘cute’ and ‘dark’ themes and some of your recurring symbols (such as the f.e the snake)?
I am very interested in duality, in different perceptions to the same symbol. This play allows me to be on the edge of personal and social. It is very useful when I want to talk about reality outside, the reality that some people prefer to keep invisible. The method of “packing the sinister” into the innocent present box creates the discomfort and sensationalistic connotation to the whole composition. Symbols in my works have a lot of things in common with associations- specific implication can set the direction of the whole story. Snake is one of my favourite symbols. It has so many meaning through so many centuries, it creates the whole magical history behind it. When it appears in my works it becomes almost translucent.
You’re still at the beginning of your career, yet already with numerous prestigious exhibitions under your belt – such as a solo show at Carvalho Park in New York and at David Benjamin in London and a group show at Hannah Barry also in London. Are you at all concerned people might pigeon-hole you into one specific aesthetic and medium or do you feel completely free to experiment within your practice? Is there something you’ve always wanted to try that is vastly different from your work as it is now?
No, I don’t have this fear because I have always been crazy about my projects and working consistently on them so that for me everything is in the right place. I think it’s because I have so many different ridiculous ideas and absolute fixations towards something I should try and do. It could easily be some insane installation or some funny observation that I have to bring to live in my painting. It’s always a matter of having many different creative dreams and being able to vocalise them and build them into a physical object. I know that I do have my “stroke” and even if I wanted to change it, I couldn’t. It’s like handwriting that is imbedded in you. I am also very blessed and grateful that I am surrounded by so many like-minded people that encourage me bring to live the craziest installation or paintings.
I have some people whom I trust and they are the ones with whom I share ideas, dreams, doubts. My style has changed a bit but not my approach. I still remember when me and one of my best friends, Ileana Arnaoutou decided to create a massive installation is a huge room and called it Elephant in the Room. It had things hanging from the ceiling, some wooden hand-builded pink water pools on the floor. Everything felt so united and satisfying. At the beginning it felt like a giant project that we had to do in a week and we made it. So I guess, it’s always a matter of being fearless and having the right people by your side with whom you share the same vision.
You also work in installation and ceramics – do you see these as autonomous, separate works or are they an extension of scenes depicted in your paintings? Did you start making ceramics at the same time as paintings, or did they ‘grow out of’ your practice on canvas?
I have been always looking at my works as installations. The feeling of fragility should have been remaining constant in all of my works. Bringing physical elements to the paintings in the form of ceramics read very honestly. For me it brings the same sensation of fragility and emotion given the nature of the material. Clay can be deformed and transformed during the physical making process- it works in the same way as the semi-opaque fabric that I use for paintings. It can be read as the same story being re-told by different people with different attention to detail, focus or the figurative composition. It can “scream” so differently about the society issues but in the end it has different ways to evoke emotions, fascinate and disturb at the same time.
Do you feel confident choosing exhibitions and people to work with for yourself, or do you feel ready to join a gallery? What’s your ideal future plan?
I have developed such a persistent nature of fixation towards some projects I really want to make, so that every opportunity makes me get some of my fixations out of the system. One thing at a time. It is probably the most exciting process for me to direct the show, make it “sound” as a song and being united and complete. Each of the shows I made felt so different.
I have the only future plan: to keep working hard and will probably go into teaching one day. Let’s see.
Could you talk about the range of materials, such as the choice to paint on silk or your use of fur?
I work with transparent fabric and I love it for its fragility and intimacy. My works have “concealed” meaning and transparency help me to navigate the viewer into the duality of the meaning of my paintings. The materials allow me to develop controlled-spontaneously over the pre-planned painting. I do spend a lot of time planning my paintings by making a lot of small drawings: first just with the colour and then tying it with the narratives. When I pick transparent material I do make a deliberate decision to cultivate obscurantism and sometimes in the middle of the process, it drifts me away from the initial plan of the painting.
Using fur, ceramics and installations extend my range of story-telling tools. Ceramics and fur have the exacerbated effect of the reality, they disturb and feed with a lot of things being still unsaid. Multi-dimension always help to set emotional undertones and to give the voice to some important fragments of the stories.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
Weirdly or not, I get very easily inspired by works of artists I personally know. Then it’s not just a work, it’s a beautiful personality behind it. I feel warm when I see the works of my friends at the shows and then it becomes very personal to ‘crack the code’ of those works.
If going from masters, the works that evoke all the salads of my emotions and really inspired me are Alex Katz early works and Gerhard Richter paintings of Betty.
How do you go about naming your work?
It is usually one or another method. The name can appear when I plan the work in my sketchbook and I use it to tag the story or anecdote or observation that goes behind it. Or the naming process comes as a last thing of the work. Then it becomes a very hard decision with a lot of different versions.
Could you describe your main references and inspirations for your paintings?
I start my work with colour curves as long as it’s an emotion or a story behind it. I am always looking for any humiliated, exaggerated, satirical story or the narrative… It can be a re-told anecdote with some associative element in it. It can also be a snapshot of the history being removed from the original context with just characters or symbols.
I get a lot of inspiration from conversations, movies and social culture. I find it very interesting to observe social behaviour. For me, it’s important to be able to respond to some disturbing social and political event, some things or stories that people don’t want to hear about. In my works there are also a lot of experienced moments or overheard conversations, some of them are with concealed narrative from the viewer.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
I have a lot of exciting projects with Daniel Benjamin Gallery, Eleanor Stephenson Projects, Well Project in Kent, Space K in South Korea and a solo show in Spain in January. They all are very different. Some of them are installation-based, some others are the painting shows.
I am equally excited with all the upcoming projects. Will tell you about the first project in the pipeline. The show at Daniel Benjamin Gallery is called Hyper Nesting, which is the solo show, will be concentrated on the idea of social inclusion, exclusion and the metaphorical meaning of “cocoon”. I am making the whole room is the flesh inside the cocoon. The idea behind Hyper-Nesting is to get out of the normal world and to get to the cocoon and then to get to the normal world again. This idea of re-birth to a new reality that all of us experience at the moment really scares and excites me at the same time.
The whole space will turn into one big installation with a lot of elements and symbols of everyday life that suddenly have changed under a lot of social and political pressure. The idea is to make a “social barbie-house” with many social dogmas and twisted reality.
All images are courtesy of the artist
Date of publication: 29/04/20 in Floorr Magazine
Interview by Sonja Teszler.