Yuliya Lanina: Art Is My Primary Way of Communicating

Yuliya Lanina Artist
Photo credit: Anya Roz

For Moscow-born and New York raised artist Yuliya Lanina, art became a primary way of communicating when her family moved to a new country. She used her creativity to express everything that couldn’t be announced in a new language, and eventually realized that art became an integral part of her life. Nowadays, with a couple of large exhibitions behind her and with her well-defined artistic style, Yulia shares with the Art Sprinter Blog readers a story of her artistic successes and struggles.

Please introduce yourself to The Art Sprinter Blog readers. What is your background in art?

Born in Moscow, Russia, I recently relocated from New York City to Austin, where I now live and work. As a child, I studied music and wanted to become a musician. When I moved to the United States at 16 years old, I started drawing extensively. I did not speak English well and did not have friends, so art became my primary way of communicating. I have not stopped since then.

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Kindly tell us more about the musical boxes that you are creating. Why did you choose this format?

I have been working with art and new technology for many years, trying to find a perfect marriage between the two. The predecessor to the music boxes is a series of “mechanical paintings”. They consisted of three-dimensional automaton with painted flat characters moving on different planes. This composition of images, sound, and movement was my attempt to create a work of art that exists on the threshold between painting, animation, and sculpture.

With music boxes, I continued the trend of creating paintings in motion, but the artwork became miniaturized and unplugged. In order to see the music boxes work and hear the music, the viewer needs to wind them up. This personal interaction with the viewer has always been one of my main interests as well. The imagery for the boxes is based on my paintings, which form the basis of the “mise-en-scène”, characters, and the story.

This project would not be feasible without the help of my wonderful collaborators—engineer Theodore Johnson who provided the technological know-how and composer Yevgeniy Sharlat who composed the melodies.

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Photo credit: Leon Alesi

Do you have formal art education? In your opinion, is education important for artists (and why)?

I have a BFA from Purchase College and MFA from Hunter College. I was fortunate to have full scholarships for both of my degrees. Art schools are great in creating space for experimentation, focused work, making friends with artists and other creatives. If education comes with huge loans it is not worth it. One can be an artist without any formal education.

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How can you describe your art? What do you expect viewers to explore in your paintings, animations, and musical boxes?

My work is playful and quirky on the exterior. I use whimsy as a device to draw closer inspection, leading to greater awareness and introspection among viewers. Once engaged, I hope the viewers would find evocations of the dark matter that is the underbelly of human existence—issues of loss, abuse, and death—striking a primordial balance.

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What is the message that you are trying to present through your works?

Everyone experiences at some point in their lives that illusion that they think life is falling apart. This naïve illusion is like a vase that falls and breaks into little pieces. Then we are left with picking up millions of little pieces and re-constructing ourselves and our lives the best way we can. Some pieces will remain forever missing, while some pieces will be substituted for others.

Just like this vase, my characters and their stories are made of parts that sometimes do not go together. Life is a dance. Two steps one way, two steps the other, flip and turn. And so my characters always dance and move to the music of life, inviting the viewer to join them.

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Photo credit: Fred Hatt

What inspires you as an artist? How do you choose the subject of your paintings and interactive sculptures?

I draw from many sources to create my characters: from the half-human and half-animal demigods of Greek mythology, to Russian fairy tales, which are filled with fantastic beings deeply rooted in paganism, mysticism, and symbolism.  With nods to the traditions of Surrealism and Confessional Art, these fantastical creatures are by definition otherworldly, yet they often feel personal and familiar.

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How has your style changed over the years of working as a professional artist?

Many things have changed in my work yet many remained the same. I started as a painter and sculptor, always interested in the emotional impact of color, line, and form. Yet, never satisfied with the silent and static nature of paintings and sculptures. I was always drawn to creating characters, though at first they were based on the actual people around me.

Then there was a period where those characters appeared as mechanical dolls, which would often star in my films. And now they are back on canvas, yet they move on and off screen. I keep finding new ways to merge various art forms together and working collaboratively with musicians, engineers, and dancers. Some of my collaborators include C. Eule Dance group, Mike Doughty, Tatiana Berman, and others.

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Do you ever experience creative blocks?

Yes, I do. A lot of times they are due to long breaks, lack of sleep, or too much time spend on the internet.

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According to your artist resume, you are also a fellow of COJECO BluePrint Fellowship. Please tell more about your project and what you learned from that experience.

COJECO Blue Print fellowship helped fund “Gentleman from Cracow” ballet, a collaborative effort with composer Yevgeniy Sharlat and C. Eule Dance company. It was inspired by Isaac Bachevis Singer’s story of the same name which tells a tale of a poor Polish town turned upside down by the arrival of a rich Doctor who turns out to be the Chief of Devils. In this piece, I tried to fuse the lines between dance and animation. It was performed at Salvatore Capezio Theater at Peridance.

This was my first attempt to work with the already written story. Though I changed it quite a bit, I found it to be very inspiring and thought provoking.

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What is your connection to Jewish culture and art? What are some of the Jewish artists that inspire you?

There are many things in Jewish culture I strongly connect with: music, peculiar sense of humor, and, of course, food. Who does not like grandma’s gefilte fish?

I am a big admirer of Marc Chagall’s work. I love his use of colors and his complete disregard for gravity. There is a lot of freedom and playfulness in his work. Mark Ernest is also one of my favorite artists.

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Do you find art contests helpful for the artists? If so, why are they important? What would you suggest to the artists who are thinking of participating in The Art Sprinter competition? What kind of artworks would you recommend to submit?

It is always inspiring to see what other people are up to. Submit the latest work that represents what you do now. At least that is what I did.

Photo credit: Scott David Gordon
Photo credit: Scott David Gordon