Yulia Iosilzon’s paintings are narrative, figurative abstractions that pull inspiration from the artist’s Jewish background and female identity, as well as fashion, theatre, and children’s illustration. She shares with me how her “celebratory” work leads to additional projects, and how transparency and materiality influence her images. More at the links below!
Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I am a Jewish female painter born in Moscow in 1992. I grew up in London and I am still here:)
At the moment I am in my first year of MA Painting Program at the Royal College of Art. I received my Bachelors from the Slade School of Fine Art at UCL, where I spent unforgettable 4 years of doing everything from painting to sculpture. When I just enrolled to Slade I was very keen on doing sculpture being seriously inspired by Phyllida Barlow, Rachel Whiteread and others great women-sculptors. Then, I decided to take a challenge and transform my practice into 2D. From that moment I started doing painting, connecting “threads” with sculpture. I fell in love with mixing “un-mixable” materials on my paintings, that’s why I often use silicone, latex and glitter of course! Fun fact is, that sculpture and particularly Karla Black’s sculptures gave me the fundamental idea of my paintings to do them on transparent fabric or silk (with glitter and faux fur of course) 🙂 !!
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
I still re-wind this moment in my head. It was 10 years ago when I was still at school doing A-Levels. At some point I was reading some never ending history book and couldn’t believe that it would be forever like that. The only one thing I could spend ages doing – was studying my art books. Nothing could distract me from doing that. When the moment came and I had to choose the pathway I want to pursue – it was no question that ART is the only way forward. Then there was a difficult conversation with my dad, who honestly couldn’t understand why would I want to go into unchartered artist journey rather than settle for a more predictable path of a doctor or a lawyer.
SO then I quit school and went to the art college with no family support. Then there was an interesting “expedition” from applying to CCW to do my foundation diploma to Slade Bachelors and then RCA Masters.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
The most recent direction that I am challenging myself to take is to do some large-scale portraits with a lot of fabrics hanging, embroidery, coloured faux fur, spray painting and all of that jumbled together. Now I am into chaos and massive mix-up of things in my paintings.
Some of my paintings are so “celebratory”, that I even started developing ceramics sculptures with certain emblems and frozen moments from the paintings. It has always been about symbols, storylines and emblems. The re-occurring themes of my paintings feel like vicious circle. It is based on children’s illustration, fashion and theatre.
I love engineering my own environments on the “stage” of fragmentary narratives. Clear linear figuration, cartoon motifs and comic-strip demarcations of colour are fully exploited to construct carefully framed sequences in which I invite the viewer to complete the still-born image.
Where does your interest or influence from fashion come from? Were you always influenced by it, or did you start to look to it as you experimented with your own work?
I guess it’s natural to have some “guilty pleasure” ways to get inspiration. Sometimes when my “eye radar” looking at paintings or sculptures is off, then I can easily switch and get my inspiration from fashion online and offline from people on the streets.
The way they dress, the way colours are layered, how prints match or what embroidery is used can usually be an unexpected starting point for a new painting.
It makes me constantly brainstorm about colour, texture and ask questions about my work and its existence in space.
What is your process like?
Usually my paintings start from the influences I get from fashion: the colour and texture relationship, transparency, saturation of the fabric. The choice of fabric is always some type of transparent silk. I feel it’s my comfort zone and I experiment with paints, collaged fabrics, silicone paint and glitter with full confidence.
The choice of material is so important in my work. I usually do a first layer of the painting with outlining and then leave it for some time. After that I pick the materials, fabrics, types of silicone and then build up the layers on the painting. It often happens that a paining itself guides me into certain materials, like glitter or latex. It immediately creates a different environment of the painting, hence the narrative shifts really far away- that’s what I enjoy in my process the most.
The lightness of the surface is usually balances out tactile materials including oil, silicone, fur and glitter. Yet issues of transparency, readability and ultimate narrative communicability are thrown into question by the persistent use of techniques such as screen printing, layering and collage which serve to interrupt the image and break down initial impressions of visual plenitude.
I find it more interesting when I work on 2/3 paintings at the same time. It creates a natural storyline and bonds the works with cartoon mechanics process. My paintings are filled with my own deployment of burlesque, the grotesque, irony and humour in images which use everyday scenes such as a cigarette break, drinks party, or trip to the swimming pool as their starting point.
Honesty is one of the things that I have been celebrating in my works for years. I think it’s important to understand what truly inspires you, what makes you laugh or what your fixations are and then dig deeply into these things through painting them. It includes social issues, femininity and cultural borrowing.
I am Jewish and I always get inspiration from Jewish traditions, celebrations, family and community culture.
Can you elaborate a little more on the significance of transparency, or the relationship between transparency and saturation, in your work?
Transparency as a material and transparency as a meaning collide in my works all the time. I want my works to be as honest as possible. The scenarios of my paintings usually relate to something we want to hide in our lives but it’s still visual and we are still aware of it. So for me it is important to show the delicacy of the matters on my paintings. Transparent surface helps me to be straightforward and to intelligently hold the ideas of the painting ‘on the surface’.
As a female painter living in the modern world, it’s very important for me to be vocal about things happening at the moment and transparency is instrumental for bringing the dialogue outside of the painting.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
So far, It was only one, but the significant one. I was extremely happy to meet a wonderful tutor Gina Fiori, when I was back at the art college. She advised me on always doing something I am strong at and pushing it to the limits rather than touching something which I wasn’t really talented in. She said that the pathway is the most fundamental thing that we artists have to pick.
What is your studio like?
The studio I work in is the RCA Painting Studio in Battersea. It is always a mess, but a creative one 😊
I was also lucky enough to get another studio at Studio Voltaire.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
Most daunting thing is that the art universities in the UK don’t support students after they graduate from the university in the same way that, say, social sciences universities or business schools do. There are no platforms that take you on board. Once you graduate you have almost no support, no established pathways and you need to survive in the real world. In other words, there is a kind of cliff edge when you face graduation, meaning – no well-defined development paths, no graduate programs like they have in some other sectors. You have to act based on your intuition and if you are lucky enough and/or you have your family to support you to pursue your dream, then you have a shot to become an excellent artist.
How many artists had to pursue other careers (and the world will never know about them) because of the lack of funding and therefore failed to develop their artistic potential? Noone knows and I think that’s painful. I feel that the art is a long-term game and many people don’t get to the end of it because reality confronts them and pushes them to quit prematurely.
The main challenge is to stay liquid to be able to support yourself until you become relevant. We all know many of the great artists that flourished only in their 50s or even 60s … Many of my fellow young artists struggle to make a difference because of the lack of funding to support themselves. I think we lose a lot of promising artists that have to quit before they reach a pinnacle as they face a reality of life: they have to support their family, generate cash flows. This race for money could also divert artists from the type of work that they really want to do and pursue the type of work that has a higher commercial potential.
I see a void in the art’s market place. There should be more art platforms like yours Young Space, Auc Art and some others to support young artists to gain recognition and hopefully, let’s face it, generate sales to fund their practice and have liquidity to support themselves while developing.
What are three words you would use to describe your work?
unity celebration glitter
What are you working on right now?
I am making a series of works for the exhibition for the Union of Jewish Students. For me it’s very important to be contributing back to the community that I belong to. I am in the process of doing some ceramics pieces of Hanukkah candles and some large-scale paintings celebrating jewish traditional themes.
Currently, I am more into doing ceramics and some large-scaled paintings. I have also been working on some exciting proposals for the upcoming exhibitions in our space with my two friend curators. The first one will be about small-scaled paintings and their significance. Will be interesting experience indeed!
Anything else you would like to add?
Kate, I would like to thank you so much for Young Space that supports us, the young artists, and gives us opportunities through your wonderful platform.