Artist of the Week: Isabel Yellin

Isabel Yellin (b. 1987 in NYC) lives and works between London and New York. Recent exhibitions include Do a Double Take + All Will Be Clear at Vigo Gallery in London (solo), and Summertime* at Galerist, Istanbul. She was named by the Art Newspaper as one of the 30 artists to watch in 2014.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. Well, from when I was 18, I pretty much shuffled around from NYC to Argentina to Ohio to Amsterdam, Ohio again, then back to NYC, finally moving over here to London in 2012 for my masters in painting at the Royal College of Art. Been bouncing between here and the US ever since. I’ve never really felt settled anywhere yet to be honest. I work primarily on fabric, creating objects that fall in between painting and sculpture. Conceptually, the work is themed around desire, satisfaction, and perception, using fetishistic synthetic fabrics that emulate skin and are built with corset boning.

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? I had my second solo show in September at Vigo Gallery here in London this September. For that show I was playing on this idea of skin and bone mentioned previously. My earlier work right after grad school was more personal, using different fabrics that had personal relevance to me. Almost like layered abstract self-portraits. With this new work, I broke those ideas down and explored the more humanistic concepts of attraction, obsession, fulfillment, and desire. In terms of what’s ahead a few group shows are in the works, but I am escaping the dark winter of London for the sunshine of LA for a few months. I want to drive around in the sun blasting music and make work in a studio I got lined up there.

How did your interest in art begin? With my mother for sure. She didn’t take my sister and I to playgrounds, she took us to the Guggenheim and the Met. Some of my fondest memories with her are sitting outside on 89th and Fifth with a hot dog and soda talking about the art we had just seen.

If you had to explain your work to a stranger, what would you say? This IS my challenge! How would you describe it?

What is one of the bigger challenges you and/or other artists are struggling with these days and how do you see it developing? I honestly think our access to everything and everyone is a huge challenge. We are individuals trying to express something with our work and it’s hard to not compare yourself to others constantly.

What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like? I am exploring some issues I wrestle with in my work, those of desire and fulfillment as an individual, through the lens of the fetish and the obsessed. These works in a way are all a representation at my dissatisfaction and hunger for more… I stumbled upon these kinky fabrics I now use just over a year ago through an incorrect online order, fabrics like leatherettes, meshes, patent leathers, latex, corset boning, sherpa fleece. There’s always paint going around too. There’s an occasional chain or other appendage here and there. For me, these trashy synthetics are brilliant because they are used and seen as this completely false version of ourselves. They act as a nice parallel for how some see themselves and for what some people need to feel fully liberated. How are we seen versus how we feel? These fabrics ends up like this perverse twisted-up reflection of human form and I like playing with that idea in the work. Not to mention the socio-political connotations of using these cheap materials to make something that is inherently a luxury… I’ll spend ten hours a day for a week or more on a sewing machine working on some of these pieces. Mostly it is lots of trimming and layering and sewing. Blasting tunes and working away. I’m no master, but the little faults in the work you see up close are just as important as the overall object. I like to lose control with the materials and let them dictate how they end up. Not matter how fake the material is, we are still human. The final touches of paint and the fleshy palette aim to reinforce that.

What artists are you interested in right now? Right now, I am interested in Olga Balema, Darja Bajagić, Ian law, Mark Leckey, just to name a few.

What was the last exhibition you saw that stuck out to you? I saw the Richard T. Walker exhibition at Carroll/Fletcher here in London back in October. He made this incredible two channel video in the desert in the states throwing stones at drums and electric guitars that had other stones on them so they would make a sound in a certain key when hit. It was beautifully melodic and visually stunning — yet playful! Really really loved it.

What is your snack/beverage of choice when working in your studio? Coffee + sparkling water, and usually last night’s leftovers for lunch.

What do you do when you’re not working on art? I’ve been boxing for almost a year now, and it is so empowering… might bring that into my work soon actually… I also write a lot! Recently, I had a piece published in Near East magazine and would love to get more of it out there.

If you hadn’t become an artist what do you think you’d be doing? Don’t think I could be anything else, and I can’t tell you how many jobs I have had to support myself along the way… Painting/Making has been the only thing that ever felt right or worth it.

What are you listening to right now? Junglepussy, the Erykah Badu mixtape!!, Dej Loaf, Justin Bieber, Future, Mariah Carey, Drake, The Shangri-Las, Brenda Lee, Skepta, Stormzy, Wiki, some classical… I try to stream some radio throughout my studio days as well (Hot 97, Know Wave, NTS, NPR, Berlin Community Radio, etc.) and I make seasonal playlists…