Still life artist Elaine Yersin talks about how she wants her art to make you ‘believe you can reach out and hold the glass of wine’ – and why a cat in the studio can be challenging.
J M-L How did we meet?
E Y I had heard of your reputation for representing local artists and wanted to meet you.
J M-L I remember asking you to bring some of your latest work in to the gallery… I have to say that I never knew I liked still life painting until I saw yours. I loved the wit and the friendly feeling they give off. What brought you to Devon?
E Y I was born in Devon. It’s a wonderful place and although I have lived in London and worked all over the world, you cannot fail to be inspired by such beautiful surroundings and light.
J M-L How has living in Devon developed your style?
E Y If you ask anyone who paints, light is paramount. My paintings can be quite dark but there is always light from somewhere. If you have one of my paintings on the wall it seems to change as your room gets darker, lending itself to the ambient lighting wherever it hangs.
J M-L How do you spend a typical creative day?
E Y I am always on the lookout for the next painting. I like to capture a moment where something has just happened. I have a lot of props in my studio which I collect on my travels, including a large collection of very old books. I like to spend some time thinking about what type of painting I want to create, then find the right elements, sketch or draft it and then think about how this will be represented on canvas. I work almost every day in my studio, though sometimes the cat gets in the way, walks over the palette and tramples paw prints over the rugs!
J M-L That’s cats for you! So what inspires you?
E Y Moments in time – as if someone was there a moment ago and they just popped out of the room. It’s a connection to everyone around us, even though they might not be there with you right at that point in time – they are not that far away. I am a keen photographer and I use 35mm film, which I process at home, this is a great tool which adds to this voyeuristic genre of image.
J M-L Who inspires you?
E Y Everyone! Everyone you meet has a story to tell that will inspire me to put elements together to represent how I felt at the time I met them. In reference to other painters, old masters such as Caravaggio and Rembrandt inspire me as well as a whole host of Italian painters you wouldn’t normally have heard of.
Over the years I have studied a lot of different artists and still have a fascination for Hieronymus Bosch. In terms of modern painters, I think Mitch Griffiths will be the next master painter to come out of the UK. We studied at the same time in Torquay and his success has been an inspiration to me.
J M-L Tell me why you like to work in your particular medium.
E Y The artist Darren Baker explained his ability to paint so finely was due to his use of transparent layers, which I use too. I like the fast drying time of acrylics as it allows for the use of layering in a reasonable time frame. Painting glass requires a transparency by its very nature. I use heavy body acrylics and a particular brand which gives me the intensity that I need so that I don’t lose the colour even when the layers are required to be more transparent.
J M-L Tell me about your subject matter.
E Y Still life…. Well what can I say – it doesn’t tend to run off before you have finished the painting! I don’t like painting from photographs as it doesn’t seem to let me paint the three dimensional feel to each element. I want you to believe you can reach out and hold the glass of wine, actually put your fingers round the stem, or pick up that book.
J M-L Why does this particularly appeal to you?
E Y Well other than the fact that it can’t run off, its history with us as people interests me. Who chose this wine or book? Who has touched it? How did it make them feel? How many people have interacted with these items? Each has its own history and I pull all that history together.
J M-L Where do you go to think?
E Y Meadfoot beach, the pub, riding my motorbike – I like to people watch – we are such a diverse species in behaviour and interaction that you can’t fail to ‘get lost’ with the whole world just passing you by.
J M-L Do you see yourself living in Devon forever?
E Y I would like to share my time between here and a bolt hole in France – it would be interesting to see if being in France affected my work. However, this is on my dream list at the moment so I shall stay here and continue to enjoy the wonderful diversity of my surroundings.
J M-L Tell me something about yourself that has nothing to do with art
I once painted the inside of my house in London to look like the Gard du Nord, which if you have been there is a wonderful stone edifice and not really in keeping with a two up two down in the east end of London. When I sold the house I had to redecorate but left the kitchen floor and had a huge argument with the valuer who kept trying to convince me that the floor (which I painted over the concrete) was a wonderful original stone floor. ‘No its not- I painted it’ I said…but he wasn’t having any of it.
J M-L Haha, brilliant! That tale qualifies as art though, so I am going to let you tell me another….
E Y Hahaha, well… I once crawled across the bridge that forms the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia – I didn’t intend to but it’s so damn high and I hate heights. I took one look about 10 metres onto the bridge and then collapsed on the floor trying to cling onto the tarmac in case the bridge ‘fell over’. Armed border guards ran over trying to make me stand up but I couldn’t so they had to escort me back off the bridge. Some colleagues were bungee jumping off the bridge and I was supposed to take pictures! Spectacular fail!
J M-L Oops!