We met up with the Finnish painter, Elisabeth Mladenov, to discuss her relationship with art, her surroundings and her latest collection ‘In Bed’. She examines the often changing and sometimes miscellaneous frames of mind that are experienced during our time of rest and reflection, through a collection of oil portrait paintings of different people in her social realm, explaining that:
“The bed is a place for rearranging ourselves, our constructions of the world and our experiences, a more nebulous sense of time is allowed in this unique place where past, present and future can converse freely to clarify the most important struggles of our waking lives”
You have lived in some cool places. How do you feel your geographical surroundings impact on your creative direction?
It seems to me a creative person’s understanding of their own work (in western culture today) often focuses strongly on their individual artistic intent; omitting that our social, cultural and geographical surroundings in fact fundamentally predetermine our output. If we weren’t situated and immersed in a culture we would hardly be making art – and even the art that actively resists this circumstance is just as defined by it. Because I’ve lived in a variety of cultures throughout my life, I think the effect of my surroundings in my case takes the form of a highly malleable, fluid view on the cultural signifiers of my work.
I think culture defines character, which then in turn forms that individual artistic intent… So I am not just influenced, but shaped by a mesh of European cultures, and a distant Mexican echo from my early childhood. Now, having lived in Berlin for seven years, the atmosphere here has certainly channeled both into my character and my work.
Berlin seems to attract a wide range of creative people – musicians, photographers, artists – why do you think that is?
I suppose the migrating creative class is always magnetic and, without wishing to, causes this self-propelling constant accumulation. And Berlin seems to be showing no signs of saturation. What is unique about this city however is its recent history, so overwhelmingly dense with historic events, tragedy and complex depth of meaning, which hopefully inspires and obligates newcomers to engage not only with the city as it is today, but more profoundly with the historical layers on which we live.
What is the specific feeling Berlin evokes in you to enhance the flow of your work?
This city is a stage for ceaseless excitement and constantly unfolding unimaginable stories. My fascination in observing and taking part in this spectacle hasn’t relented yet. Berlin today seems to reflect and magnify the mobility and uncertainty of the world at large, but at the same time its ambiance is permeated with a reassuring, serene calm about all that. In my work I like to focus on the inner lining of all that goes on here – the essential quiet moments imbued in this explosive life.
Above: Nought | Below: Inertia
Aside from culture and location, do any other things influence your work?
Individual people have an essential influence on how my pieces take form. They serve not only as inspiration, but almost as material for the work.
During different projects, do you ever experience a heightened interest with particular materials or techniques?
Certainly. A broad range of material experimentation is the key element to my abstract work. But when I am working figuratively, especially in capturing an idea about the character of a person, I prefer to work in oil because it optimally matches the span of my pace from contemplation to spontaneity.
What I personally find very distinctive and fascinating about ‘In Bed’ is the way that you have combined pale, muted tones, and placed them against the contemplative moments and use of body language within each of the portraits you’ve sketched — however intimate they might be perceived to be. Was that a defined direction from the beginning or did it evolve as you worked through the project?
Initially I was mainly interested in whiteness, stillness – the perfect calm of the bed that everything else in the human world is so regularly constricted to inhabit. But projects often do evolve new more or less unpredictable directions, and from that starting point the series then sprouted thematic variations, most of which blended into a whole quite seamlessly.
And how did your upcoming exhibition at GSL Projekt (showing this April) take form?
After finishing that series I found I had still not delved fully into what it is about whiteness that intrigues me. Now I am focused entirely on exploring this in the most dedicated way possible, with a series of abstracts that restricts itself exclusively to subtle variations of white. The more I work with this, the less subtle they seem to me: within the stillness of white is contained a whole world of dynamics.
Interview: Paris Bielby | Photographs: Marcus Schneider + Obi Blanche