Interview: Yana Ushakova
Updated: Sep 26, 2020
1. What is your work about? Where do you find inspiration for the abstract forms?
Most of my inspiration comes from nature, the body, and my dreams.
2. Would you consider your work to be related to surrealism? Is it correct to say that the abstract forms exhibit dream-like, bodily, and sexual qualities?
I refrain from the need to categorize the work. It would limit me to work within any confines. But it is totally okay by me for anyone to say anything they want about the work. I have no desire to control others’ experience of what I create. On the contrary, I encourage people to respond in their own individual way. Personally, I think surrealist work involves a setting within the pictorial plane where a story takes place. My work often lacks that setting. Most of the time, my subjects dominate the pictorial plane and exist outside of any discernible setting without a narrative. Their body is the story itself.
3. Who are your favorite female artists? What are their strengths and unique contributions to the art world and history, in your view?
Ooomph so many. Where do I even begin? Louise Bourgeois, Tracey Emin, Genieve Figgis, Wanda Comrie, Brittney Leanne Williams. So many others. But I don’t believe in making distinctions based on gender. Ultimate equality is having women artists without the label “women,” just “artists.” The aforementioned artists make good work that speaks to me.
4. In some of your works (such as in “Desert Walk”), there is the repeating theme of the melting flesh, as if the flesh were ice cream. The vertically elongated forms reinforce the idea of the melting because the gravity would indeed elongate a melting form vertically. The idea of the ice cream suggests a physical body that is in the state of transition, from solid to liquid. What is the significance of this aspect of your work? Is it a transition or a transformation? Does it relate to your maturation and transformation as a woman?
Hmm, ice cream. I never thought of my work as being that delicious. Solid to liquid is an interesting observation but it can also be the other way. Liquid to solid. This is where I encourage individual perception. There’s a lot left to personal interpretation, like a Rorschach test. To me, my subjects are in constant motion. Be it transition or transformation, it is my portrayal of the passing of time embodied.
5. In your other works (such as in “Early Mornings”), the forms appear as curtains being blown by the wind. Instead of melting and dripping, they seem to sway sideways and make round forms containing pockets of air. In “Early Mornings,” the wind seems to be a messenger who is whispering something to the naked people who seem just as ethereal as the being of wind. Does this represent feminine energy or spirit, such as the Echo, found in Greek mythology? Or does it represent a feminine take on the wind in the story of about the sun and the wind competing to unrobe/undress a walking person?
I don’t think it’s necessarily feminine or masculine. Sounds like it is to you and it is an interesting observation. I like organic forms which the feminine or masculine both are. I don’t separate them. In a literal sense I have a lot of phallic forms in my work and that’s as masculine as it gets by definition, yet those shapes are curved and fluid, and can be perceived as representing the feminine energy or spirit you mention. So if it’s a penis with feminine energy does it shut down our schematization process? I’d hope so. I want my work to make people question their own perceptions and preset notions.
6. In certain works (such as “Happy Couple” and “Kathy”), the figures appear to simply exist in the liquid state without much interaction or activity. What is the significance of this existence as either male or female… as a person? Do you see the beauty and the possibilities in our existence as humans, rather than a clam for example?
I see the beauty in them existing more as a clam. A being. Not necessarily one gender or another. We’re all no better than a clam. I think humans need a big humbling lesson. Our existence is no more precious or important than that of other creatures on this planet. We go through the same processes of birth, digestion, death. We only favor ourselves because it’s what we know best. My figures are creatures. The ones set in a black background are coming into existence or disappearing out of it. Somewhere between birth and death is a moment a viewer may relate to.
7. The figures in your paintings do not appear exclusively “young” but seem to represent women of all ages, including older women (your works are age-neutral). Do you see a bias against older women in our society that may prioritize appearances and favor youthfulness in certain fields for women, and is your work related to this issue?
Of course. There’s a bias towards women in general. Tie age into it and it’s even worse. When you’re young you’re stupid. When you’re old you’re not beautiful. I try to portray my figures as complex creatures. Almost without skin so we can see inside.
8. Looking at your works, I feel that there is something special about female sexuality that is missing in male sexuality. What is the essential secret to the unique experience of female sexuality?
I’m flattered you think I know the essential secret to the unique experience of female sexuality. I think sexuality is unique to every person, binary or non-binary. I can tell you the essential secret to my sexuality but I can’t speak on one for all women. Also, if over half of the population have female sexuality what is it unique from?
9. Do you see a pornographic element to your art, and is it okay for art to be pornographic? What are the differences and similarities between art and pornography? (For example, “Matriarch”)
Of course it’s okay for art to be pornographic. Once we limit what’s okay or not for art to be we’re going to regress as a society. To me pornographic means something that people masturbate to. And hey, if someone orgasms from my work that’d be pretty awesome. I don’t see it but to each their own.
10. In Autoanastomoses Alchemy series, I see headless female bodies that are sometimes metaphorically and visually portrayed like fruits or vegetables, such as an eggplant or pomegranate. Just as women play an essential role in reproduction, fruits and vegetables often derive from the womb or include seeds and are essential for reproduction and the cycle of life. Would you say, however, that the need to reproduce is no longer important as the pleasure and the beauty of the reproductive organs and female sexuality? Which is more important, in particular, in a post-human future?
Eggplants. Hmm. In that series most of the heads are shaped by the bodies. If you step back, you can see the body parts comprising facial features. I’ll admit while making those I wasn’t thinking of eggplants and seeds but was referencing Christian Orthodox icons. I like the idea of idolization when it comes to the body. I portray the bodies the way I do because I like it. The need to reproduce is different for everyone. I know some people whose need to reproduce drives their motivations behind sex, and others who take every precaution to enjoy sex without reproduction. I think it’s important to appreciate the complexity of our variety as a humankind.
11. Some people such as myself cannot paint small, but you can work both very big and very small. How do you adapt to different scales? What is your process of envisioning an image and bringing it to fruition that allows you to work both very small and very big at the same time? What are the qualitative differences between your bigger works and your smaller works? Which do you think includes your strongest works?
It took some time for me to be able to work small, actually. When I first started my career I preferred to work on a massive scale, usually at least over 10 feet tall or wide. It took years of scaling down to be able to work smaller. There is more intimacy with smaller pieces. They speak in whispers whereas larger pieces can scream. Working large was my first love but both are equally valuable to me now, even if smaller pieces take more effort. I do find that it is easier to place smaller pieces than massive ones. Collectors like to live with the work and need something that can fit into their home. I have some massive pieces in lobbies as well, but the bulk of my work is in people’s homes.
12. How do you see the color and put them down in your work? Do you have any principles that you follow regarding color, or is your process mostly instinctive in regard to color?
My personal color rule is no muddy colors. I strongly dislike muddiness or color that was not laid down with intent. Color is no joke. It is something to be revered, cherished, and placed carefully. It dictates mood, form, meaning. Mastering the use of color is a lifetime pursuit.