Conversation with Aleksandra Eliseeva: "I Have a Couple of Questions for Marina Abramovic, Maurizio Cattelan, and Purely Technical Ones for Lynette Yadom-Boakye!"

Maria Glotova
— How do you prefer to define yourself in the context of your creative work? How do you introduce yourself to a new audience?

I engage with the audience using various materials and methods, such as projection, classical painting, and sculpture. I think it would be most logical to introduce myself as a multidisciplinary artist (smiling).

— What were your favorite activities as a kid? How did you first get into art?

As a child, I was pretty mellow. I was all about pencils, sketchbooks, and my trusty zoetrope. I'd watch cartoons and doodle away – just a kid lost in dreams! Luckily, my mom caught on to my interests early on and supported me every step of the way. She got me into art classes and programs, really helping me hone my skills.

During my teenage years, I went through a phase where I wanted to try something entirely different and took a two-year break from art. But life has a funny way of bringing you back to what you love, and eventually, I found my way back. Those breaks were crucial though, they helped me realize that art was truly my calling.
— Do you have formal education in art, or have you independently explored various artistic disciplines?

I went to the A.L. Stieglitz Academy, where I got the basics in graphic design, painting, and composition. I also had private tutors helping me out along the way. You know, I still reach out to different instructors every now and then to sharpen my skills.

I dream of attending courses in England that foster creative thinking. Hopefully, I'll be able to make that dream a reality soon. I enjoy being a lifelong student!

The only aspect I explore independently is experimenting with chemical compounds in painting. Sometimes, though, these experiments don't yield the desired results (laughing).

What are your hobbies outside of art?

My whole life revolves around art, so all my hobbies are tied to it.

I used to be into swimming. I guess it's the only sport that feels like meditation — you're just swimming alone with your thoughts, unlike gym workouts where everyone's often glued to their phones. I try to swim a few times a week and have even thought about training for a triathlon, but I'm still on the fence about it.

— Do you have any unexpected sources of inspiration?

Observing people is an unexpected source of inspiration for me. I sometimes take rides on the subway, where you encounter so many colorful characters. As a child, I used to play this game: I'd imagine myself in their shoes, inventing their stories, where they were going, what their families were like.

I find inspiration in unfamiliar faces. I'm drawn to unusual places, like the communal apartments in St. Petersburg. They evoke a strange sense of comfort, like traveling back in time and touching the past.

St. Petersburg captivates me with its architecture, gloomy weather, and melancholic people.

I also enjoy rewatching old (sometimes creepy) Soviet cartoons like "Hen, His Wife," and "Hedgehog in the Fog."
— You live in St. Petersburg. What did you choose St. Petersburg over Moscow? Have you noticed any cultural differences between the two cities?

Being born and raised in St. Petersburg, I've had a deep connection to the city. While I've lived in Moscow and even split my time between both at one point. During the pandemic, we decided to settle in St. Petersburg. Surprisingly, I've come to appreciate it more over time. For an artist like me, St. Petersburg offers a unique atmosphere — melancholic yet captivating, with fewer distractions, allowing me to fully immerse myself in my craft. Moscow, on the other hand, lacked that same depth and allure. [It just didn't resonate with me the same way.]

I believe it's essential not to confine oneself to a single city for life. Ideally, I'd love to explore various places, experiencing their different vibes throughout the seasons. However, with my work commitments, such flexibility may be challenging to achieve.

Regarding cultural differences, they're quite apparent. Moscow buzzes with a myriad of events and ever-changing exhibitions, while St. Petersburg tends to maintain a more serene pace, with exhibitions transitioning less frequently. So when it comes to cultural events, I often find myself heading to Moscow! (laughing)

You're currently working on ceramic figurines. How did you transition from painting to ceramics?

I wouldn't really call it a transition from painting to ceramics. I don't plan to completely switch to sculpture; rather, I want to complement my paintings with new objects. Right now, it's ceramics, but in the future, I might try something else. I'd love to experiment with mixing materials, perhaps combining ceramics, glass, and metal.
— First, there was Alenka, and now a new character, the crocodile. Why these particular figures?

Alenka was an addition to the 'PLASTILIN' series, which focuses on false childhood memories. When I decided to try a new form of sculpture, I chose the image of Alenka — a handmade toy that we used to make with my parents, creating various crafts. I remember my dad making a wolf mask and my mom sewing soft toys — these are vivid, important memories. I can't precisely recall what those crafts looked like, but the memory stayed with me. So, I brought that recalled image to life in the character of Alenka. All the figurines are deformed, each one unique — there's no exact duplicate! This creates a crumpled effect — the different hand poses of each sculpture reflect the theme of distorted memories.
Not everything we remember lines up with reality. It's mainly a psychological thing. We create stories from our lives based on photos or other people's accounts. So, the character I created might not exactly match what we made as kids (laughing).

The new character (a toy crocodile) is called "OBJECT." I wanted to make a character that's easy to recognize. All the figurines are made using different techniques: ceramics, markers, airbrushing, and metal elements. They capture the rebellious and boundless creative energy of the '90s. Each one is an artifact from that era, where the drawings and metal inserts symbolize youthful bravery, freedom, and the desire to express oneself.

I'm really happy I managed to create a cohesive art piece where all the figurines exist in the same ecosystem — like the diptych "Residential Areas," where one crocodile is wearing a mask and the other has a black eye. Or the composition featuring a punk and a nerd in a sweater.
Dyptich "Residential Areas"
— How does the process of creating your figurines go?

From developing a character to the final product, there are many stages and a lot of time involved.

First, the character is designed (hand sculpting, mold making), then the mold is created, the cast is refined, another mold is made, and finally, the blank is cast. All the figurines are hand-painted. Each part is cast and glued separately, which is a complex manual process. The whole process comes with many challenges — there can be defects, or the figurine might tip over, with many nuances that are hard to predict.

I strive to ensure my ceramics aren't mass-produced, so I pay special attention to hand painting and unique deformations (like on the Alenka figurines, for example). I produce small batches, making them more accessible financially and technically for many people. Not everyone can afford a painting, but a figurine, being a complete art object, is a more affordable option.

— Should we expect new characters?

I love coming up with new ideas, so there will definitely be new characters. I’ll be aiming to make them more functional and interesting in terms of material combinations.

— Let’s talk a bit about painting. What themes do you prefer to convey on canvas?

It's always a play of imagination, where every object, creature, or person is given a unique story. In my work, I bring this concept to life, turning each element into a living subject with its own narrative.

— Your paintings often feature a recurring motif, with a central figure frequently being a dog. Why this particular figure?

I love animalistic imagery. I try to convey not a specific human character but rather its essence through the form of an animal. It's all tied to feelings and instincts in some way.

For instance, the borzoi is an intriguing form for me — dynamic, pointed, giving the painting a visual edge and symbolizing time and speed.

I'm not limited to dogs; I'm currently trying to animate even inanimate objects in my work. For example, Soviet toys and the overall theme of toys are close to my art. They evoke childhood associations. Many of us imagined that toys were friends, with souls and their own lives, with whom we could share even our most intimate secrets.
— What do you see as the fundamental differences between sculpture and painting? Where do you find more challenges and nuances?

I find more challenges in painting, especially in conveying ideas and images on canvas. I limit myself to a few paintings a year. I believe it's impossible to maintain quality (and by quality, I mean not just technique but the entire concept of the piece) if you're creating 20 paintings a year. The process is quite labor-intensive since I use various materials. Developing the concept for a series also takes a long time, including detailed sketching.

In painting, it's much harder to correct mistakes compared to ceramics, which is produced using established techniques. There are different methods of creating figurines in ceramics. The complexity in ceramics isn't so much in the production method but often in the unpredictable results. For example, during firing, a figurine can crack. Painting, however, is a different story — it's about combining different textures, mediums, and paints. Apply them in the wrong order, and everything can peel off the canvas (laughing).

Composition also plays a crucial role. I can't start a piece without sketches; I need to visualize the final result.

— Can you tell us about your upcoming series of works? What idea are you planning to explore in your new project?

The new series is inspired by social art. Figurative images are combined with abstract textual elements. I've integrated pages from the magazine "USSR in Construction" to enrich the canvases with historical context. This magazine became an important cultural symbol, reflecting the positive aspects of social and economic changes in the Soviet Union.

While some find inspiration in futuristic themes, for me, the past plays a key role. I love exploring how the past influences our present.
FLAIR, 2024
HUNT, 2023
SEARCH, 2023
— Why this era specifically? What importance do you see in the events from Soviet history today?

I’m generally drawn to Soviet aesthetics, socialist realism, and traditions. The legacy of the Soviet era is still present today, from the cartoons our generation watches to the instilled values like patriotism, love, and family values. People back then knew how to appreciate what they had, and that’s necessary.

Soviet literature, films, and actors left an indelible mark, and cultural symbols like matryoshkas and Kremlin New Year trees are still associated with Russia. Our cinema, theater, ballet, national holidays, and cuisine all reinforce the uniqueness of our cultural heritage.

It’s also worth noting that artists often worked in children's publications during those times, fostering an appreciation for beauty from a young age.

[This era is undeniably fascinating!]

— How do you usually approach creating a new series? Do you determine the number of works in advance, or is it decided during the process?

I take a very responsible approach to forming a series and determine the number of works in advance to ensure visual harmony. For example, the "USSR in Construction" series is executed in the same colors on different canvases, giving the works a cohesive integrity.

There are other approaches as well. 'THE DOGS' is my first series featuring dogs, which I periodically add to. The main part of the paintings was done back in 2019, and from time to time, I add one or two more works to it.

— How much do you think the perception of your work depends on each viewer's individual characteristics?

[This is a very interesting topic to ponder!] Everyone has a unique perception of life and events, let alone art. I appreciate it when viewers find answers to their own questions in my paintings or read a completely new story that may not correspond to my artistic intention.

— Who are your personal favorite artists? Any particular ones whose work stands out to you?

I've been greatly influenced by artists from the London School like Francis Bacon, Paula Rego, and Frank Auerbach. Their rebellious nature and exploration of painting and visual art really resonate with me.

Victor Pivovarov is another one who's had a significant impact on me, along with Eric Bulatov, whose work inspired my latest series.

In terms of contemporary artists, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye stands out to me. I admire her technique, compositions, and use of color. And then there's Daniel Arsham, who I find intriguing, almost like a captivating marketing phenomenon in the art world.
Viktor Pivovarov
Moscow Party, 1971
Erik Bulatov
Louvre. La Gioconda, 1997-1998 / 2004-2005
The Stygian Silk, 2019
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye
The Stygian Silk, 2019
— Your works have been showcased at exhibitions both in Russia and abroad. Where was the most memorable place to work?

The most memorable project was in Singapore at Marina Bay. It was my first experience working with such a large-scale installation and team! That was the first time we incorporated projections and augmented reality into the paintings, along with creating audio accompaniments to immerse the viewers fully into the atmosphere.

— Would you like to experiment with new techniques or materials?

I'm always up for experimenting! Sometimes I draw inspiration from well-known artists, ranging from contemporary masters to classics (like the Renaissance era, for instance).

Painting takes on new dimensions when different techniques are combined. For example, blending flat imagery with hyper-realistic volume gives the works a unique expressiveness. Currently, I'm exploring various brushstroke techniques and paint applications on large surfaces to achieve a dynamic effect.

I pay special attention to the overall visual aspect. I always want the paintings and objects to harmoniously blend into the space, immersing the viewer in the art.

— Is there a particular artwork that holds special significance?

My favorite piece is the painting 'Search' from 'THE DOGS' series. It was created during a challenging, emotional period in my life, which is evident in its predominant heavy tones. The artwork symbolizes the search for oneself. So far, no one has acquired this painting, and it remains with me at home. I enjoy it every day, and perhaps it's even good that it hasn't found its owner yet (laughing).
SEARCH, 2020
— Is creativity work or relaxation for you? How do you maintain this balance?

Creativity for me is a whole life; neither work nor leisure. Here, as in everything, balance is important to avoid burnout. When you stop listening to yourself and chase quantity over quality, burnout becomes a reality.

If it does happen, it's logical to take a break without forcing yourself into a routine and deadlines. A couple of years ago, I was skeptical about such an approach, believing that I needed to work every day and not seek excuses for helplessness.

When painting, a special energy and inspiration are important, without them, it's just a craft. It's necessary to live the idea and create art with love, regardless of its form. The viewer always senses the sincerity of the work. Nowadays, I prefer to create fewer paintings and notice that they become more thoughtful and cohesive.
— If you could meet any art figure, who would it be?

I have a couple of questions for Marina Abramović, Maurizio Cattelan, and purely technical ones for Lynette Yiadom-Boakye!

— What influence would you like to have on the future of art in general?

I think those who wanted to influence history didn't plan to work for it; they just did what they knew and constantly improved. I hope that many years from now, someone will write about me in an art history textbook, but I won't make any wishes (smiling). I would like as many people as possible to see my works and find something that resonates with them. In any case, every artist creates primarily for the viewer, not for the critics.
— Ending our interview, is there anything you consider important to share with admirers of your work?

I'm lucky as I found something I love without having to search too hard. I know many people face the need to change multiple professions, try themselves in different fields. Perhaps the main thing is to do what you love, enjoy the process, not be afraid of difficulties, and not abandon what you've started.

When you realize that "this is it," it's important to be flexible, strive for new knowledge, and develop your own recognizable style. Don't take criticism personally and understand why you're even doing what you're doing.