We’re very pleased to announce that Yelena has joined us at Breed. She’s multi-talented, first making a name for herself as a photographer, with her work appearing in Vogue, Another Magazine and Dazed & Confused among others. She later moved on to making music videos and experimental films. Most recently, she’s started attracting attention for her paintings and illustrations. It’s the latter area, illustration, where she’ll be represented by Breed.
Rather than simply listing her achievements by way of an intro, we thought we’d ask her a few questions and allow her to tell her own story. We hope you’ll join us in welcoming Yelena to Breed.
Your family are from Ukraine, and you were born there yourself, moving to the United States when you were 11. Is the Ukraine still a major part of your identity, and does it influence your work in any way?
I am hugely influenced by Ukraine and my childhood there. I feel like it’s something ingrained in all my work. I go frequently to work on projects there.
Did you always feel you were destined for a creative or artistic role in life, or did you just find your way into it by chance?
That’s a hard one. Maybe more destined.
I was an athlete as a kid, a rhythmic gymnast. I didn’t realise I was interested, or more like I didn’t realize I could be an artist until after high school. I was taking pictures and collaging in school, but didn’t realise yet that that would be my path.
Did you study art or design?
I studied graphic design in Parsons and photography at ArtCenter Pasadena.
How did you get into photography?
I always loved photographs. I grew up around photography. My uncle and my dad’s best friend were both amateur photographers and always took pictures, and as a child I was fascinated with the process.
What made you decide to try your hand at moving image?
When I was 21, me and my boyfriend at the time started doing experimental films on super 8. We did everything ourselves, from costumes to sets to casting and shooting and editing.
We were both obsessed with cinema and just watched movies all the time, the more obscure and harder to find the better.
More recently, you’ve started to draw and paint. Was that a natural evolution for you, or did it feel like you were beginning again?
I started drawing kind of out of the blue. I was on vacation in Italy, staying at a friend’s house. She had a lot of art books by a Portuguese painter, Paula Rego, and I fell in love with her work. She did a lot of acrylics on paper and I was kind of bored and needed something creative to do, so I went to the art store in Siena, got materials and started to paint. And never stopped –that was in 2002.
Who have been some of the major influences on your work?
Tarkovsky, Fellini, Man Ray, David Lynch, Luis Bunuel, Diane Arbus.
You’ve experimented with collage – is this a way of combining photography with painting and illustration? Is it a territory you intend to explore further?
Collage was my original form of expression – I always go back to it. There might be years when I won’t make any collages, but then I am back at it.
You’ve talked about your work as trying to suggest the multitude of human stories by showing different perspectives. Do you see your art as a way of stepping outside of yourself?
Absolutely. Most of my ideas come from the subconscious and my process is very organic. I don’t think much about what I am doing, I try to let it just come out from wherever that is. I try to stay open and let things happen.
You’ve had a couple of books of your work published. Can we look forward to any more in the near future?
Yes, I am working on two books at the moment.
Are there other artistic areas you’d like to explore in future?
Yes, I am interested in sculpture and pottery.
And, as it’s what we’ll be representing you for, where would you most enjoy seeing your illustrative work?
I would love to do sets and costumes for an experimental theatre stage, do drawings on pottery, do installations in public spaces. I would also love to make my characters in three dimensions.
You can find more of Yelena’s work in her portfolio here.