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 art?

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 wonderful thoughts.

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 best.

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 May 29th.