A lively energy and a generous dose of visual acuity could only begin to describe the young talent known as Yevgeniya Mikhailik (pronounced Yev-Gen-ee-uh – with a Guh not a Jay sound). A native of Tomsk, Russia now creating from her Long Beach studio, this playful storyteller lives to immerse herself in the challenges that surround her scholastic and professional interests. Join us as Hi Yevgeniya invites Hi Fructose into the studio to discuss her rich legacy of Russian folk tales and love of foxes, as well as her current array of inspirations that thrive within this modern visualist’s aesthetic playground. Nathan Spoor interviews the artist below.
Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us. So, Yevgeniya, could you please tell us a little about where you’re from and a little about your background?
I grew up in beautiful Tomsk, Russia, and moved to the States with my family in 2000. I graduated from high school in 2004 and started studying illustration at CSU Long Beach the same year, but my art training really started long before that. Growing up I was surrounded by art of my relatives, a lot of whom are painters or architects (or both), and spent a good chunk of my time in after-school art studios learning drawing, painting, art history, sculpture, etc. I knew pretty early on that I wanted that to be a part of my life because there was something about the act of drawing, and about color, that has always attracted and fascinated me.
What was it that made you decide to pursue more school after graduation? What will an MFA do for you as an artist or professional?
I would say the main reason was me wanting to get back into that studio environment and to allow myself a greater degree of exploration in my work, on both technical and conceptual levels, beyond what I did as an undergrad. I felt like being in graduate school would give me the opportunity to create work for myself that I would not necessarily be able to do in the “real world”.
And while I was pretty happy with the education the BFA program provided me and with the work I was making at the time, when I graduated I felt like there was a lot I had yet to learn in academia. It’s a very different experience from undergraduate education, not only because you get to focus on your own work more, but the expectations are also significantly higher, of course, and the critiques are different, more in-depth. Consequently, I feel like my growth rate as an artist is increasing exponentially. I would also really like to teach eventually, and graduate school is a pretty good place to start exploring that.
Do you work within a specific body or concept of work or do you follow a narrative, per se?
I would say the former. I pick a theme at the beginning of the semester and try to stick with it. That means 4-6 pieces, usually in the same medium. And yes, sometimes they do end up forming a narrative, intentionally or not. But that’s just one project. I usually have a few going at once.
Tell us a little about what you’re pursuing now. Is your current work for a thesis project, do you prefer more illustrative pursuits, or is it too early to tell?
I’m only a year into the MFA program so I’m still a few semesters away from thesis. Most recently I’ve been working on a series of paintings and prints based on personal experiences with relocation and the role that this nomadic life style has played on my development as a person and an artist so far. It’s about isolation, memory, adaptation, exploring new territory. I am experimenting with new materials and techniques, namely sewing, embroidery and printmaking, which, being a new frontier, ties into the narrative of this body of work.
How much time does it take to come up with new ideas, or do they just arrive whenever they feel like it? Do you have specific inspiration points that you visit or call up for fresh themes?
They kind of do arrive whenever they feel like it, deadline or not. They come from conversations, from exploring new places, from looking at art, books, etc. Sometimes they are very material-driven. I periodically revisit old books I’ve kept since childhood, or look at traditional Russian folk crafts. Wherever they come from, they are always based on or somehow related to personal history and experiences. And when I have an artist block I sometimes chat with my brother who is pretty brilliant and hilarious and totally thinks outside the box. He’s always able to get me out of a ditch, at least halfway.
Do you see yourself making storybooks or leaning more towards illustrations or clothing products?
I would definitely love to work on books, but I also don’t believe in being just one thing. There are way too many exciting avenues to just stick to one, and I’d like to do some exploring. I also think branching out into different fields that may be seemingly unrelated to your discipline is one of the most exciting things that an artist can do. It’s a way to stay fresh and interesting, and interested. I would love to work on book illustration, editorials, clothing, stationary, but also continue to do gallery shows, do some murals and collaborations, and to stay open to as diverse range of project as possible.
What is your studio space like, do you have more than one place that helps you feel most creative?
I share a studio with about 10 other illustration MFA students on campus at CSULB and it’s a really wonderful working environment. These people are so incredibly talented. And we’re all good friends! Recently, 6 of us formed a collective, Tree06 (as in room #306, which is the studio), hoping to promote as a group, help each other find commissions, etc. You can check out everyone’s work at www.three06.com. It’s a pretty broad scope of styles.
From looking at your work and other images, you seem to have quite the fondness for foxes. What’s the magnetism there, can you tell us a little?
I think that stems from a childhood of being told folk tales with foxes in them and the attributes given to them in those stories. The fox was always kind of the bad seed, but sometimes meant well. It was usually selfish and conniving and sneaky, and I always wished it wasn’t, especially since these characteristics are not exactly based on reality. So I’m kind of rewriting the role of the fox for myself I guess. I’ve always been fascinated by their behavior and how human-like some of it is (mating for life, raising kits with care, etc) and their ability to be domesticated better than most wild animals but still remain wild. Besides, I think they’re some of the coolest looking animals out there. And they’re orange! We gingers are drawn to other gingers. Haha.
Thanks for letting us into your world for a peek. Where can we find you in the future and what do you have coming up?
I would like to do a solo show within the next few months. Right now I’m working on some stationary, an editorial for a computer blog, and a piece for a feminist sci-fi anthology due to be published by the end of the year. I’ll be posting updates on my website. And yes, I’m having a lot of fun indeed… lots of experimenting going on!