Yellena James Interview

With such a unique and delightful style of art, we, without question, wanted to know more about Yellana James. James is one of two artists to be featured in madelife’s November and December showcases. James, originally from Sarajevo, has a lifetime of exposure and encouragement in the creative world. She feeds off the creative energy authentic to the culture of Portland, Oregon, where she currently resides. This is the first time James has the opportunity to showcase her work here in Colorado.
Join us November 14th for the Opening Reception

unnamed1*We know you were born and raised in Sarajevo- rich in museums, including the Ars Aevi Museum of Contemporary Art, can you talk about your birth city’s influence on your child hood and career as an artist?

Sarajevo is a really special place. I had a very happy childhood until the war broke out.  During the Bosnian civil war, I enrolled in art high school and that’s where I realized this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Making art during those years kept me sane, kept me going and it made my world a much better place than it was in reality. I chose to spend my time learning how to draw and paint and keep creating something beautiful amidst all the chaos and destruction.
During these war years, the concept behind the Ars Aevi Museum was developed by a group of artists in Sarajevo who started contacting contemporary artists around the world to donate their work for a future art museum. Today, the museum has a very impressive collection and is currently awaiting development of a new museum building. The will to create was very much alive during the war. There were plays, art exhibits and concerts held around the city. I would walk with a group of friends for two hours through the city ruins just to go see a local band play a short set.  Sometimes the concerts were held when the power was out and those performances were very powerful.  It instilled in me a clear sense for how important art is to humanity.  As grand as it sounds, art can’t save the world but it can certainly save a life.  Sarajevo taught me this.

*Now you reside in Portland, what do you like about living there?
Portland is a city of makers and I love the creative energy here. There are so many amazing artists and crafters here doing extraordinary things daily and that energy is contagious. Portland is a beautiful place, minutes away from wonderful hikes, forests and waterfalls and it has the most amazing breakfasts, which I also love.

*How long have you been expressing yourself through art?
I started drawing very young.  I went to art school in Sarajevo and then Belgrade, continued my studies in graphic design and painting when I moved to the states and now I’m a full-time artist.  I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t doing art.unnamed3
*Has your childhood had a significant effect on your work?
I’ve always loved to draw and I was always interested in the process of making things. My aunt taught me how to knit when I was five and another aunt taught me needlework. I learned that patience and skill come through practice.  My dad worked as a civil engineer and he would bring home these giant maps of the city and work on them on our dining room table. I watched him carefully draw with technical pens, which I now use in my drawings.  I was surrounded by people who were always making things and encouraging me to be creative.
*Have your travels affected your artwork?
I think subconsciously they have. I definitely pick up colors and shapes around me that later show through my artwork.
*How do you hope the viewer experiences your artwork?
I want them to see something new and yet something familiar, to remind them of beautiful things in this world. My work is meant to be viewed up close. I want the viewer to examine every little detail, follow the flow of colors and shapes and keep discovering new elements with every new glance.  I want to capture their attention and draw them into this imaginary world so they can look at this one through a more colorful lens.
*What inspires you right now?
I’m constantly inspired by mother nature.  There are so many wonderful things living on this planet that take my breath away. Right now I’m inspired by color relationships.  I think it’s fascinating how colors and shapes interact and all the ways those interactions affect us.
*I was very impressed with your Instill Installation in San Francisco- have you experimented with 3D design since then? 
I have been enjoying transferring my designs onto 3D objects lately, things that people can use and wear.  I’m very excited about the collaboration with The Cotery. I’m also in the process of learning more about ceramics and hoping to offer a line of ceramic/porcelain goods soon. I haven’t done any 3D installation work since my show at the Hijinks Gallery but I’m definitely interested in exploring it further as opportunities arise.  I have a few ideas that I would love to see become a reality someday.

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