Elena Lomakin: Discovery and Revelation
Written by Joe Nalven
Renata Spiazzi and I were watching Elena Lomakin put together her
installation for the San Diego Art Institute's 51st International
Exhibition. We were curious about what it was becoming. Artists watch
one another. Questions, observations, wonderment.
I decided to follow up with Elena. What is this installation about?
What is important about your art? To you? To what people say about your
Elena Lomakin: For me, it is this magical trinity: innovation, beauty
and harmony. It is what I would like my art to be identified with.
A fellow artist once said that “art is our fingerprint no matter how we
execute our work.”
I certainly agree with the first part. Fine Art is based on a long
tradition, and I am a strong believer that contemporary artists must not
only continue this tradition, but they should also develop and even
break it in order to find new ways to create their own style. Therefore
my credo has always been to make my artwork not just beautiful, refined
and full of harmony, but also different, fresh and innovative.
About what would I like people to see in my work? I would encourage the
viewers to stop looking for meaning and try to enjoy my art visually,
using their senses.
How did you start working with books and found your way into this
medium? Looks like a lot of books with no words but still flowering with
EL: Thank you for such a beautiful observation. I will remember it.
My fascination with books started more than 20 years ago, when a really
old book fell apart in my hands revealing some beautiful inner parts
usually hidden in the cover. It was the most wonderful discovery.
Suddenly, all kinds of associations with the architecture of Ancient
Greece and Rome came to mind leading to my many experiments with books
and to such installations as Welcome to my Library, Homage to Rome,
Hidden Treasures, etc.
How long have you been doing Impromptu pieces like Hidden Treasures? Is
that new you or old you?
EL: As I have already mentioned I have been working with books on and
off for more than 20 years. Interestingly enough it was the book covers
that attracted me first. I still have some works on canvas that mostly
consist of book covers.
After accumulating quite a few of my signature books, as I call them
(i.e. books stripped of covers), I could not help but notice their rich
texture and that special color of the raw wood that I like so much. I
lived in San Francisco at that time, and everything around our house in
the area was golden yellow: the hills, the grass, the sun - very much
like the color of the old yellowish paper. I fell in love with it!
Pieces like Hidden Treasures where I use books and dried flowers or, in
this case, any of my book installations, came out gradually. I have been
developing them over the years, leaving the projects for long periods of
time, then coming back to them.
When we left San Francisco and went back to Russia, my husband’s Moscow
apartment was full of Soviet time books by Lenin, Stalin and other Party
leaders – volumes and volumes of useless propaganda literature. They all
belonged to my husband’s late father. So I was given permission to do
with them whatever I wanted. And I knew exactly how to use them! That is
where Hidden Treasures were born. I finalized this particular
installation just last year though.
Welcome to my library - The artist's materials
Books are my building material as well as the objects of constant
inspiration. I regard myself neither a book artist nor a conceptual one.
It gives me freedom to use the book pages with no reference to the text
they contain. Visual beauty and harmony are far important to me than any
sophisticated concepts or long explanations that are so popular these
days. As there is no need to explain Nature’s beauty, why should we
explain Fine Art? Not without reason it is called Visual Art.
Welcome to my studio - A moment in the process
What about your paintings, like “Not Yet Titled” on paper (2007)? I
imagine that would look good on a metal substrate? Would you do
something like that or is there something special about paper or canvas
as a substrate?
EL: The choice of a particular material is extremely important to an
artist. At the beginning of the 90s I was doing a lot of wall sculpture
using mostly paper and cloth on canvas. My ambitions though were to do
the same in metal. As a result the latter proved to be cold, dull and
completely disobedient and I had to quit it for good.
Paper by far is the material for me! I feel as if there is no limit to
what I can do with/on it.
In that particular painting that you singled out, the effect of the
applied paint looks as if it was indeed done either on a metal
substrate, or on glass, or on Yupo paper. Instead I used tracing paper
that I have been working with for a long time.
In my paintings I prefer using toned paper – mostly because I just like
how the paint looks on it, and partly because I am so used to the
yellowish color of my book installations. Sometimes I even make drawings
on the paper taken from old books. In this way a book in my hands is
used from cover to cover. Could be a good title for a solo show.
Your paintings have a very bright palette, while the colors in your
installations are neutral and muted. Is that deliberate?
EL: Not at all. It developed naturally, but took some time. In my
younger years I inclined more towards neutral and minimal colors: both
in paintings and installations. And if the colors of my installations
have practically remained the same, the palette of my paintings has
changed dramatically: from black and white and/or dark colors to the
very bright and diverse ones. I think it happens to all artists. As we
get more experienced, we develop the more acute sense of color. There
also can be influences. Look at Van Gogh before and after Paris.
I have learned to accept and love color gradually. Yet being an
expressive minimalist, as I call myself, I am constantly shifting from
one hue preference to another. Several years ago I was in love with
yellow and made quite a few little yellow paintings, one of which is
even titled “Much nicer with yellow.” Then I “discovered” red, and one
can see a lot of red paintings on my website.
As to my installations, I’d like to think that their “wooden color” is
one of my artistic findings. I also hope that it is my art installations
- not my paintings that represent my creativity and imagination at their
Is it important to you to have an art critic review your work? Would
that make you into a better artist?
EL: It depends on an art critic, but I’d say 'yes, it is important to
me.' Not always but I noticed that the less I get praised, the better I
work. It is certainly every artist’s dream to have an art critic who is
able to feel and interpret a work of art the same way or deeper than
even an artist intended. Unfortunately nowadays it is an artist who is
doing most of the talking.
I’d prefer leaving it to the critics.
Elena Lomakin will be having a solo show at the Athenaeum's Rotunda from
September 24th to November 5th 2011, showing the birch tree
installation. The reception there will be on Friday, September 23.
Hidden Treasures will be on display at the San Diego Art Institute until