Possessing Encountered Beauty with Yelena Bryksenkova
Written by: Kwesi Adjin All Images courtesy of Yelena Bryksenkova

Yelena Bryksenkova is eloquent verbally and artistically.  She sees beauty in many different places and she strives to keep this beauty preserved by mentally cataloging and archiving it through pictures as a way of paying homage to what could easily be forgotten.  Art is so wonderful when done in a style that is uniquely personal and devoid of self awareness or the sentiment of the populous.  It is really easy to identify the types of artists that you know are extremely unique because their work tells you everything you need to know.  Such is Yelena’s art. Her flat looking and seemingly simplistic portrayals slap you upside the head with richness and soul that is absent in some people who are actually alive.  We are gushing with pride to have been able to interview this individual who is actually an “individual”.  Thanks Yelena!!

See the interview below.

“When I made the decision to do everything with care and purpose, it helped me learn to be present …”

Please tell us a little about yourself – your childhood, siblings, where you grew up, what you liked as a child, strange thoughts as a child/now, unique attributes, where you live now, etc.? 

I was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 1988 – although back then it was known as Leningrad, USSR – and lived there until I was eight years old. In 1996 I moved to the US with my mom, and that’s how I ended up growing up in the American Midwest.  I studied illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, and now I live in New Haven, Connecticut simply because I like it here, although many find this reason unbelievable and even suspicious. I’ve thought about moving deeper into New England, but then I somehow fell in with a group of graduate students at the Yale School of Architecture and stayed. I work from home as a freelance illustrator and fine artist.

What does your art mean to you?

I have a strong emotional response to beauty, and I encounter it every day: in nature, music, books, art. It can be overwhelming if I don’t try to catalog, or understand, or “possess” it somehow, so my personal work is a way of dealing with the alarm I feel. It’s a record of the things I love, everyday moments that hold some kind of quiet, emotional meaning for me, the endless goings-on inside the head of an introvert.

Your art is full of whimsical imagery and magical environments– how do you describe your style of art, what tools do you use for the creation of your work and how did you create your personal style?

I started drawing rather suddenly late in high school, which is when the early version of my current style was born, seemingly out of nowhere. I spent time looking at Eastern European folk art and textile patterns and at the work of Marc Chagall and Ivan Bilibin, and reading Haruki Murakami and Milan Kundera – and my work became a visual and emotional amalgam of all those things. After lots of thought, four years of formal training and almost five years of being out in the world, my style evolved into what you see today. Sort of melancholy, sort of cozy, with the occasional surreal element. I used to use watercolor a lot more, but now it’s almost completely acryla gouache, with fine black micron pen for the line work.

How do you balance the creativity of your art and the commercial aspects of making a living? 

In college I had a hard time enjoying assignments because I saw them as separate from my personal work, and for a while I struggled with the same issue in my professional work, too. But a few years ago, I consciously decided that I want to bring the same kind of energy and creativity to everything I do in my life, including client work. I enjoy the challenge, the research, the excitement of learning something new, finding something in it that appeals to my emotions and imagination and applying that newfound inspiration to a commissioned project. I try to treat everything as if I’m doing it for myself, and the balance comes naturally.

Where do you usually get inspiration?  

When I made the decision to do everything with care and purpose, it helped me learn to be present in my own life and pay attention to the beauty around me. So when I come across something I see, or read or hear that I find enchanting, I file it away in my mind and my computer, to be recalled at will when the time comes. There’s no one source; nature, art, books, music – it’s all teeming with potential.

What is the worst critique you have ever received about your work? What is the best compliment that you have received about your work?

I sometimes receive such moving letters from strangers on the other side of the world; they write just to let me know that something I painted evoked a strong emotion, or a memory of something or someone they lost. They tell me stories. That kind of connection is so rewarding, it feels like magic. As for a critique, I think someone on the internet said my work is amateurish, that I obviously don’t know how to draw. Someone else said that it’s creepy and nightmarish, which I think is a super interesting interpretation.

When was your most recent art epiphany and what was it about? 

Most of my work is quite flat; drawing light and shadow is not my strong suit. But I was recently commissioned to illustrate a Dickens tale – lit entirely by candles, fireplaces and gas lamps – which really forced me to face my fears and think about atmosphere through single light sources and cast shadows. It was a real breakthrough for me stylistically, and I also learned that I can produce 30+ illustrations for an entire book without dropping dead or losing interest.

Tell us a little about your imaginary pet elephant. 

Elephants are highly empathic creatures, and they have a profound, mystical presence.  If a cat-sized elephant existed, I would want one around all the time. Symbolically I like to think of elephants as bearers of good news; if I come across one, anywhere and in any form, I treat it as a sign that I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

Since Style.No.Chaser is a men’s lifestyle magazine, what attributes/items/clothing /etc. do you think define a man? 

Although I appreciate good taste in dress, I think the actual clothes are much less important than the ease and charm with which he wears them. A man with a strong sense of self can pull off much crazier things than someone who is unsure of himself. 

What is your personal life philosophy? 

I’ll quote Audrey Niffenegger: “Love the world and yourself in it, move through it as though it offers no resistance, as though the world is your natural element.” I use this as a kind of mantra when I get scared or anxious about stupid things.

Who dead or alive, celebrity or not, artist or not, would you like to go on a two week road trip with and why? 

My boyfriend. Oscar Wilde and Leo Tolstoy are great, but I wouldn’t want to spend two weeks in a car with either of them.

How can people learn more about your current and upcoming works? 

I update my blog, website and Facebook with new work and occasionally share works in progress on my Instagram

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