IN DIALOGUE WITH ISABEL YELLIN, ARTIST
Isabel Yellin is a Californian based Artist working within the mediums of Sculpture and Paint. Isabel works to balance the physical world with the emotional, bringing the inside to the outside. Growing up in New York, her mother influenced her introduction to art with a trip to the Guggenheim at the age of 5 which began an inimitable path forward, most recently resulting in an Artist in Residence in Italy with a Solo Exhibition at Mandranova. We enter a dialogue with the Artist to discuss the emotional touchstones of desire, fetish, and obsession that create a resounding hum around her scenographic installations. She tells us of finding home albeit one of her dreams, feeling stimulated and unstimulated as an artist, seeking solitude around the elements in a remote area of Los Angeles.
INTERVIEW & PHOTOS BY MINA ALYESHMERNI
Tell us of a notable memory from childhood that might shape the way you move through the world today.
There was this time with my father in a car driving up through New England. It was just us and it was summer and the sunroof was open. It was hot, he was probably driving us to a golf course where I would drive the cart for him while he played. I must have been around 10 or so, maybe 8, who knows. It was a country road, long and windy with wild wheat fields on either side. I just remember the golden color. He told me to unbuckle my seat belt and stand up. I was so scared, but he said go for it. I stood up through the sunroof and had my arms in the air and the strong wind hitting me as we cruised down the road. I could still hear the music on the radio. I was screaming with joy. It was thrilling, it was wild, but I felt safe. I was laughing and happy. If I could always feel like I did at that moment I would.
How are you seeking the benefits of solitude during this time?
By some bizarre stroke of luck, I moved out to a more secluded area of Los Angeles right before this all began. Because of that, I can take very long walks around the neighborhood with my pup, Susie. Walking has truly become a meditative state. All of the rain here has led to lots of flowers blooming and the smells are pungent. Some days I do a mile, other days 5 or 6, and that has been really important.
I have also moved back into a more devoted drawing practice. It has helped me focus and re-center on my work. Just this week, the garage of the house I live in will be ready to be my studio and then I can really dive back into my entire sculptural world. I feel so lucky that my career is my passion and I have that space within which to get lost for a little while... Otherwise I think I would have a total breakdown as I can be quite the hypochondriac...
Your work is very emotional, relating to attraction, fetish, obsession, fulfillment, and desire.
I think the beautiful power of an object is how we automatically make it relate to ourselves and our experience. I truly see art as a mirror to our psyche, and so my work is an exploration of trying to represent the unseen. Somehow create a space for the other - bring the inside to the outside. There is a real discomfort in that, as well as a total attraction to it. I also think we can’t help but project what we want on to what is given to us, whether it is there or not. So many of my relationships, whether romantic or familial or friend, have been mostly lofty fantasies with disappointing realities. Very few have held true and rarely do they exceed expectations. Not to sound too cynical, I have beautiful wonderful people in my life and am so lucky for that, but I have also lost a lot. I am trying to explore either side of that and if we can ever truly be satisfied with any of it. I love to explore environments and create ones where people are tempted, comforted, and also overwhelmed as a way to question the means of which we all experience each other and the world.
What do you find most informs the process from conception to the materialization?
I do lots of research into psychological patterns, and I read a lot. I write my own pieces as well. Also just plain living and being a human is probably the most basic of my inspiration. It is all a reflection of my sense of self, but also trying to share that with people and have them feel some sort of empathy for themselves. Every piece I make grows from the last.
Your mother played an impactful role in your life as a young art enthusiast to a mature career artist. What are some memories you hold close?
My mother really was the person who introduced me to art. Some of my earliest memories are walking to the Guggenheim with her and eating a hot dog on 89th street before walking through the museum and talking about what we were seeing. She had me in drawing classes at the Met at the age of 5. She painted some in her youth as well as much later in life and was a brilliant person, albeit mentally ill, and perhaps she saw something creative in me from the start. She never said that outright, but she encouraged my sister and I to always explore art, poetry, literature, music, plays…She would read William Blake and Shakespeare to us when we were way too young to understand. It was absurd, but also lovely. Her late on-set schizophrenia clouded a lot of that, but my early memories with her are really beautiful. I wish I were able to show her where all of that has led to in my career.
What drives you to create art, what leaves you feeling overwhelmed and unstimulated by art?
You know, I really only ever feel right when I am in my studio and working on my pieces. There is the cliche of the artist as outsider, but it is really a very true sensation. I think if your practice is the only space that feels fulfilling and purposeful to you then you must do it. Otherwise, why live through the rollercoaster of this life.
At times, when I am at a day job to pay the bills and I feel like I am not around my practice enough, then I feel overwhelmed by the distance that can occur. It really is devastatingly difficult to get by these days. It can get really low. Other times where I am busy and have a bunch of projects that keep me in the studio as much as possible it can be really elating and joyfully challenging. At times, when I end up at an art fair and wander around I feel flooded by the amount of people trying to do just what I am trying to do as well, and Jesus how are we going to get through. But you know what, also good on them, and good luck to us all !
What is something you are yearning to experience?
Love. Oh and perhaps an institutional solo show ;)
You’ve lived in NY, London and now LA but have said before that you’ve never really felt settled, describe your dream home?
Oh what a great question! My father, stepmom, and sisters and I have played this game before. My dream home would be somewhere quiet, but perhaps in the outskirts of a wonderful city. I would want a large garden to work on and the inside of the house to be filled with plants. Jasmine outside to make it smell really really good. I would want a space to host dinners with lovely friends and family and a large kitchen to cook in. I want lots of light and a warm space that makes you never want to leave. Maybe a nest of sorts. Books everywhere. Only one tv, because I really do love some bad tv. Music playing always. Somewhere quite warm, but also modern in its structure and design. I want the light in the space to change throughout the day in a really interesting way. Art from my peers decorating the space...
On the property I would want a separate structure with my studio in it. Enough room to make everything, and also space to stand back and see the work. Tall ceilings!!! An area for my dog to run around and sit outside and drink a coffee and read a book. I feel like I have always been searching for time and space, and that is what I would want my home to be - a place where you can take the time and have the space to do and create what you will.
What is your most cherished space/object in your home?
My most cherished space is my bedroom. It is filled with things that are an accumulation of all the twists and turns this life has taken me on. I feel cozy and safe in there and snuggling with my pup Susie makes everything better.
In this most surreal time, what are you currently revisiting?
I am very into the new season of My Brilliant Friend. Those novels are some of the best of our time, and the show is duly giving them justice. I am also rediscovering my love of baking sourdough (as is everyone.) When I lived in London I had a sourdough starter and got really obsessed with it, but with my move to Los Angeles I lost that starter and didn't have time to continue. I just dove back in and I must say - the bread is good. Lots of reading - Weather by Jenny Offill comes to mind, and started my first Ursula K. Le Guin novel... I just miss my people - family, friends, lovers, as I am sure everyone does. Excited to be able to hug someone. Thinking about that alone does give me joy.
What’s next for you in the pursuit of creation when the world opens up again?
I am really working on some ideas for some larger-scale installations. I can’t reveal much, don’t want to jinx it, but I feel quite excited about where the work is going…