YELENA YORK (POINTILLIST): “When it comes to my art, I would never change anything for you”




“Your room is always perfect. Your studio is always perfect. Everything you do is just so clean. Just like do one little dirty thing! Like be human!” Yelena’s friends consider her a perfectionist. And it is no surprise considering the meticulous attention to detail that pointillism requires. For her last major piece, Yelena spent 13 months perfecting an elaborate life-sized image while systematically applying pen-point dots to a large scale sheet of paper. Yelena is sponsored by Copic (the preeminent marker company), has been interviewed by Complex Magazine, and she has also captured the attention of Diddy and Billboard Magazine as a rising star in the art world. (Pictured below is Yelena’s 13 month labor of love, Eden’s Apple).

While most of Los Angeles prepares to turn in for the night, Yelena is just getting started. She begins by fastidiously arranging her various Copic markers in preparation for a night of creating. It is in the wee hours of the night that she will hit her stride; pecking away at a blank paper with machine-like precision. “I used to go to bed at 9am. …So the sun would come out, all my neighbors on the street would go to work …Then I would go to sleep. It was so weird,” the self-proclaimed night-owl says.

Yelena fell in love with pointillism after years of experimenting with other art forms ranging from photography to larger drawings with markers and brushes. About 2 years ago, she felt the urge to experiment with pointillism and worked on one of her early signature pieces, a depiction of a bottle of Johnny Walker blue label. The reason for selecting a bottle of whiskey as the subject, in lieu of something else, had everything to do with proximity, “I did the Johnny Walker blue label bottle because I had it in my room and because I drink whiskey,” she says, half-amused. And just like that, she launched her career in pointillism.

When deciding on the next subject of her art, Yelena does not overthink it. She chooses to depict images that are around her and that are personally meaningful. “I did not think about it, like, or why am I doing it…I remember, I was finishing one of the big pieces, I think the flower gun or something, and I was just in my room chilling and I’m like, ‘Let me [create a stippling piece] and let’s see if it works. …There was no preparation, no sketches…” No sketches? Yelena will begin her work on a completely blank large scale sheet of paper, and without any sketches whatsoever, she will fill the paper one dot at a time.

After I press her on how she maintains visual perspective while she’s working on larger pieces, Yelena is resigned and amused, “I have no idea,” she says. She then describes how she had to add shadows to the last major piece that she was working on over a 13 month period. The photograph that the image was based on had been stripped of all shadows so that the subject looked like a statue. Yelena used her instincts to create an illusion of shadows one dot at a time. “I create my work through some energy that comes to me. I really cannot answer that honestly. I can’t answer where that energy comes from. I don’t even know,” she adds.

The impulse to create for Yelena is so visceral that it is almost reflexive. As she describes her artistic process, you get the sense that even with all the precision, she seems to be on autopilot. “Why am I drawing this? I have no idea. I never thought about it. I didn’t see a sketch. …It’s just so weird. It’s like my brain knows that you have to sit, and you have to finish this. …If you don’t finish this after 6 months, don’t kill yourself, because you have another 6 months to go,” she says. “I’m always in the zone. …Whatever I’m working on, it’s just always here. [Any second now,] I can start working,” Yelena adds.

“Even when I was little, if I didn’t know how to sing, I never had this personality [that] I want to learn. I don’t have that. If I don’t know how to play saxophone…If after a month you told me, ‘Yelena, this is not your thing,’ I’d be like, ‘Okay, bye!’ I don’t get sad. I don’t kill myself…Because if you know inside that you’re a person who loves saxophone, that’s just you! You know…Try hard. Do it. If you fail, do it again. But there’s some people that just…force themselves to [pursue] a profession they are not talented in, and I’ve never understood that,” she says.

“When it comes to my art… I would never change anything for you. …Because that’s my vision. This is how I see. There’s no asking or changing even if you pay me 3 times more. I’m not going to change the color because that’s the way I see it,” Yelena says. She adopts a different view when she is doing commercial work. For commercial work, Yelena will work to create something that reflects the buyer’s tastes. “[I’ll determine] your taste. What colors you love. You love muted, or vibrant, or you know, you’re a mid-century person,” and then she goes into autopilot. “I’m making something for you; I have to create your vibe,” she adds.

For Yelena, her primary focus is to authentically reflect her life through her work. “I [created a pointillism depiction of] boxing gloves… The boxing gloves I did were for my friend’s grandfather [who] was a boxing champion before newspapers existed. …That was to honor Luis Logan who actually existed,” she says. “So everything I draw has to do with me. My chess pieces had to do with my grandfather who passed away. …He taught me so much about being a perfectionist. He would say, ‘If your handwriting is ugly then you cannot be a beautiful person from the inside,’” she says. And so for Yelena, this quest for perfectionism through pointillism is a deeply rooted personal journey.


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