Elena Poletaeva — a contemporary artist from the Far East of Russia. She lives in a city that’s just two hours by plane to Tokyo and four to Seoul, but to Moscow…nine hours in the sky.
Elena believes that an artist must be free to express their ideas. So she chooses to constantly study and improve her abilities not only in traditional drawing techniques, but in contemporary media, too: video, animation, 3D modeling.
From time to time I go to visit her, and every visit is quite an event. Interesting conversation, each time jumbling the contents of my head. Let’s go to her place together!
1: Fractures of Consciousness. The Spiritual.
In the Elena’s studio we can meet a variety of guests. Philosophers, inventors, filmmakers, young poets, musicians, and people with an uncertain kind of activity that is hard to describe let alone define. Elena says that’s the artist’s way — assembling a reflection of life in all its manifestations. Lying about her workshop you can see a piece of an unbaked clay sculpture, printed out on a 3D printer.
Fractures of Consciousness is the name of a series of artworks created from stories, those lived out personally by Elena and by people around her. Represented are their dreams, hopes, fears and thoughts. She specifically asks her subjects about what they fear and what they care about. For Poletaeva these conversations are a natural part of the creative process.
2. Vladivostok Breakfast. The Household.
Her twelfth-floor apartment has beauteous views. The sea shining in the first window you pass, the hills rolling away in the second, a long winding road, disappearing over the horizon in the third. Elena’s students work on sketches and you’d never guess that they are painted from the windows of just one residence. All the windows are often coated by a mist that transforms the scenery into a mystical landscape.
Cooking is another of her creative outlets. It is very nice to watch how Elena cooks. With the same face as when mixing paint. She believes that man is what he eats, what he breathes and what he sees around him.
Her painting Vladivostok Breakfast has become very popular in recent days. Portrayed are pyan-se — large dumplings stuffed with meat and cabbage, steamed and spiced according to traditional Korean recipes, which are sold on the streets on trays and are considered one of the symbols of our city. As a beverage, a tall can of Milkis. The newspaper, which can be seen tucked under this modest feast, tells the story of Amur and Timur.
Timur is a goat, who was given to a tiger to be eaten and was able to not only protect himself, but to befriend the tiger (try to Google: Амур и Тимур).
“‘A creative mess’ is the wrong expression,” Elena laughs, “A well-arranged life helps a painting to flow with creativity easier and faster.”
However, she can not be called too straight laced. In her life there is much space for spontaneity and travelling, and her house is full of amazing and unusual things — an old red rotary phone, a CNC machine, road signs, men’s silk kimonos from Japan…
I ask Elena: when do you have all the time?
Elena says, “There are two tricks. First: I set very clear priorities (for example, tied to money or reputation) and then sort out which plans can wait. The second trick: I almost always leave time to do what I want, free time for spirit searching. Even a little time in the day allows me to feel alive. Although I would like more personal, exploratory time. In Russia times are hard now, and I ought to work very hard to feed myself.”
3. Two White Crows and Solitude. The Psychological.
If we have a sore arm or head, we know how to solve the problem, often by going to the doctor. But if it hurts inside, we often don’t know what to do because we don’t understand why or can’t bear to look deeper. So Elena reads a lot about philosophy and psychology, trying not only to perceive the outside world, but to also understand the inner workings of all around her.
“The artist is essentially the storied ‘white crow’ or ‘black sheep’ in society. Not all of my close family and friends understand what I do. I’ve always tried to be honest because only honest work touches the human soul. And paintings give an impetus for reflection, for change. My paintings Solitude and Two White Crows have caused flustered responses from many viewers.”
Elena is certain that philosophy is applied science. “Often my paintings are considered too complex, because they raise questions but don’t give the answers,” she says. “But that’s the essence of creativity — it is not always able to change people’s lives for the better, but art gives hope that change is possible.”
4. Signs of Intelligence. The Intellectual.
There is a very common Russian saying: “Woe from wit.” Elena doesn’t quite agree with it, because wit and deeper knowledge of things are not just inconveniences, they bring a lot of happiness. So the sunflower in her painting Signs of Intelligence bears spikes, but it blooms and gives fruit all the same.
The process of intellectual development is a difficult and sometimes painful lesson, but it always bears fruit, and always brings fun and opens new horizons. In Russia there is an ongoing, fierce debate on what is considered art: traditional craft techniques or modern technologies, too.
“I think the main thing in paintings and other works of art is the idea and technique is secondary,” Elena states, “It is also possible to use a combination of modern technology and ancient practices. For example, I cut out the image for engraving on a laser, it is very clean and comfortable. I experiment with materials all the time, but that doesn’t mean I’m ‘looking for my style.’ It is a well-established position of perpetual development. I think that if Leonardo da Vinci had those programs that now exist for drawing, designing and making compositional decisions, he would enjoy it all tremendously and would create even greater masterpieces.”
She knows about thirteen programs for graphics and animation, and works as a freelance designer and illustrator. Work projects often help Elena to learn something new, and then to apply this acquired knowledge to her personal endeavours. In addition, she create a projects featuring animations, videos, music and 3D-printed sculptures and jewellery in her spare time. She’s also always supported inventors, and has made several sketches for the mechanisms and designs of her innovator friends.
5. From the 36 Chinese Stratagems. The International.
The word “stratagem” in European literature was usually translated from the Chinese term denoting a plan, calculation, but also, a trick, a ruse. For three years Elena Poletaeva has worked on a series of paintings devoted to stratagems. The main idea of the whole collection lies in the fact that it is possible to learn how to overcome any of life’s difficulties using the most efficient of means, while avoiding losses and conflicts.
Her Chinese Stratagems series includes twenty-two works, executed in watercolour and coloured ink. During the process, Poletaeva acquainted herself with ancient Chinese history and literature, and spent time examining traditional ornaments and paintings. The Three Kingdoms era, the Warring States era and the reigns of the Qin, Ming and Han dynasties are all reflected in these works.
The first exhibition of this series was held at the museum of modern art, Artetage, in 2014 in Vladivostok, under the auspices of the Museum Director Alexander Gorodniy. The exhibition was further honoured with the presence of a distinguished guest — Madam Li Xiaobing, the Deputy Consul of the Consulate General of China in Khabarovsk.
Vladivostok, the city in which Elena lives, is surrounded by the sea on three sides. She has travelled the world, all across Asia and Europe. “It’s great to travel when you’re an artist, Elena grins, “If I didn’t know how to order food, I’d just draw the outline: tomatoes, rice, fish… and they brought me what I asked for! And in Seoul, I went to listen to jazz on the street and began to make sketches of the musicians. They dragged me into their circle, put a hat on me, and I was up there next to them to draw portraits of people! So I realised that I will never go missing in any country.”
In her kitchen, one wall is completely plastered with postcards from different places. Elena participates in the movement called “Postcrossing” by drawing postcards and correspondence and keeping in touch with friends from around the world.
I ask her, “What is your attitude towards international cooperation in general? Do you think that the artist should belong to his or her country or is the whole world wide open?”
Elena replies, “I believe that painting is a powerful tool for transmitting information. Visual images can be understood by any citizen of the world, even if they never saw, for example, a “sunflower”, they will understand that it is a plant. Therefore, the artist must paint for the world. Maybe that’s why my paintings don’t have many nationalistic traits. I am not a fanatical patriot of my country, my Motherland is where I grew up, I know this place more than others. I love the city of Vladivostok for its beauty and dynamism. But this does not mean that in other places it is always better or worse.
“I think the artist has to create for everyone. Many artists paint only for their direct environment, not thinking of what people around the world love and hate, that they want to achieve something and to bring up their children strong and smart.”
6. Charity. The Critical.
This painting is literally a cry of the soul. Poletaeva can’t figure out why, despite modern technologies, the astounding development of medicine, the rapidity with which information moves and a wider than ever choice of traditional or new age spiritual and wellbeing practices, many people continue to be angry, lazy and uncivilised.
“Despite a healthy imagination,” she remarks, “I’m a woman with a realistic outlook and I’m not distracted or disconnected from real problems. Sometimes it is necessary to convey to people that you should not compromise, that you should stand up to grotesque happenings and indicate to others how disturbing things are.”
7. Still-Life Love. The Sensual.
“Love for me is also an act of discovering the world and myself. We come to know ourselves through others.
“Impulses come from hormones, happen by themselves, but what we build human relationships upon, that comes from the brain. Love is not just about feelings, it’s based on a responsible decision to be dedicated to and have maximum confidence in someone else. In a bad union, where there is no peace, it is very difficult to work and create something new. So for me it is important that a partner supports me emotionally and has constructive advice.”
Though Elena does not tend to answer questions about her private life, judging by how many fresh ideas and upcoming projects she’s balancing, apparently everything is going well.
Elena would like to thank Saatchi’s Art Magazine for the opportunity to share her art and her feelings with the world.
Her work can be found on her website (there’s an English version), and you can become a friend of Elena on Instagram: @natvorilka or send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anastasia Ryabinina & Elena Poletaeva