Hyborian Man | Interview: Yuri Elvin

Citizen LA | Citizen LA

Heidi Hutchinson: What was your first brush with painting?

Yuri Elvin: My mother says I was born painting. From a young age I would get up in the middle of the night and get to work. My father was Steve Elvin, artist, he died at 32. My mother, Ana Victorson, began painting after the birth of my youngest brother. She’s also an accomplished artist.

Heidi: So sorry about losing your Dad. How old were you?

Yuri: 1980. I was 10 years old. But my Dad didn’t live with us. He wanted my Mom to have an abortion. My Mom was hitchhiking, pregnant with me when she met my Stepdad who gave her a ride. He raised me and my two younger stepbrothers.

Heidi: Reminds me of that Mia Farrow movie where’s she’s a pregnant hippie chick…from the ’60’s or early ’70’s.

Yuri: Yeah, my parents were young hippies. Dad was a bigtime artist in the Bay area, Haight-Ashbury scene. Did an album cover for Peter Frampton, …Grace Slick, Chuck Berry, Bill Graham, they were some of his commissions and collectors.

Heidi: Did you visit your Dad much?

Yuri: Not much. I had one unforgettable weekend with him shortly before he died. I was with my younger stepbrother. We found an arsenal of weapons in my Dad’s boathouse in Sausalito. My brother pulls out this huge hunting knife and tries to stab me with it but, fortunately, he dropped it in the lake. Then, my Dad pulls out a huge magnet and forced us to dredge the lake for hours to find his knife.

Heidi: Did you find it?

Yuri: No. We dredged up all kinds of cool stuff. But it was the first time anyone made me do anything in my life. I poured Sprite on his car windsheild, too. He made me clean it off. We went fishing and he has the rotting fish in a craptrap he told me not to take my eyes off. I didn’t know it was bait. Well, I got distracted and he saw me not looking and asked me about it. When I lied, he punched me in the arm for lying. I was shocked! I never got caught lying before that.

Heidi: Do you think living up to your parents legacy or, maybe, them being artists gave you a genetic predisposition for art?

Yuri: We’re hard-wired for everything. All need and want is wired into our bodies. From needing salt, sweet and fat to war and nuturing. Even ‘love’ is a chemical reaction. Being in ‘love’ is a chemical reaction. So is hostility, honor, hunger, paranoia and, yes, art.

Heidi: So, you took to Art right out of the womb?

Yuri: I was drawing most of my life until college, never very seriously. From about the age of 6 to 10 I remember traveling a lot with my Mother and always having a writing tablet and a pen.

Heidi: What did you draw? Where were you traveling?

Yuri: My Mother is from Bolivia. I drew endless fusion ‘Pancho Villa’ pirates, bearing pistols and bandaliers full of ammo. High-school was almost promising until I became a bad person and started drawing for thrash metal bands…and not helping my mother with my brothers.

Heidi: What happened in college? You stopped drawing?

Yuri: In the beginning of college I was painting scenes of medieval misfortunes and self-portraits in the style of El Greco. Oils. I was always drawing in class, drafting out paintings. Teachers said I wasn’t paying attention to class lessons. I think the classes helped me focus better on my art.

Heidi: Lol. Nothing like a boring lecture to bring out the best doodles. You think artists are wired differently that way?

Yuri: Artists are all outsiders.

Heidi: How so?

Yuri: Others see the forest through the trees. Artists see the trees through the forest. I do think there’s a different Alpha-Beta frequency…I had a choice to make, school or art so I quit all art for school.

Heidi: I guess it wasn’t an art school?

Yuri: American Film Institute. Received my MFA and went to work in Entertainment for 15 years, rarely if ever touching an art tool. I had forgotten who I was.

Heidi: What brought you back to your senses?

Yuri: I was working as an actor. The SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild) strike 2 years ago prompted my mother to bring me a paint set, to hopefully ensure that another bout with boredom didn’t do me in completely… I consider my painting a second chance in life.

Heidi: Sounds like an AA story.

Yuri: I can’t stand AA. NA, Narcotics Anonymous, is much better. Better stories. At NA someone will say something outrageous like, “I shot my dog.”

Heidi: Yeah, alcoholics might have some wacky stories, too, but can’t remember.

Yuri: “I think I maybe shot my Dog,” is the best you’ll get in AA.

Heidi: Too funny. So, you’re doin’ the 12 Steps?

Yuri: The first 3 of them. Again and again. I can never get past Step 4. That’s where you have to apologize to everyone. It would take me a solid 3 weeks to hit up everyone I’ve wronged. Who has that kinda time?

Heidi: Good point. Are you still in Entertainment or painting full-time? …You’re obviously a prolific painter.

Yuri: Both. I work full time as a union extra. That gives me a lot of down time on set to sketch for 4 – 10 hours a day and get paid while I’m doing it. I also get pension, 5 star catering, 16 feet of salad every day…

Heidi: Is that your plan until you’re established enough to paint full-time?

Yuri: Yes. I’ve lived the entertainment hustle, didn’t like it much…been a reader for Samuel Golden Films, an assistant to an entertainment attorney, done film acquisitions and sales but as an assistant director (not a director’s assistant). I filed the paperwork to put me into the acting unions.

Heidi: You paid your dues to get into a position where you can sketch, paint and survive?

Yuri: Oh, yeah. Believe me, I’ve had my dealings with the devil in Entertainment. The attorney I worked for, the man was a ball of rage! He’d just scream at everyone all day. I finally figured out two things: He was masking fear and I was bigger than him. Then he didn’t get to me, he was gonna have to break something if he wanted to impress me. One day, I decided I wasn’t going to put his calls through to him until he stopped screaming. The phone system was set up so he couldn’t get the calls except through me. Put him on hold all afternoon every time he screamed.

Heidi: Was that your last day on that job?

Yuri: Not quite. I stayed a couple of months to train my replacement. My replacement is still one of my best friends. He’s the attorney’s son.

…I consider the time on set as a second chance in life. Or maybe it’s retirement. I am not lazy…. I have ambition, but my goals are probably much different than most.

Heidi: What’s your goal?

Yuri: To be the best painter in the world. Funny, my Mom says my Dad used to always say that.

Heidi: Why is that your goal?

Yuri: We are all going to die. We are just visiting on this planet, when we pass the only thing we take with us is our consciousness. The rest gets left behind. My purpose here is to enjoy my life and to allocate neurons to my brain’s creative area.

Heidi: You believe you can take that, your creative consciousness with you to a future life?

Yuri: I believe it is the only thing you MAY be able to take with you. We’re going to die. O.K. but the future has already happened, no use stressing about it.

Heidi: Please describe some of your creative process for us.

Yuri: By stripping off the convention of ‘control’ and relaxing the mind-eye-hand relationship and relying on subconscious streaming and developed muscle memory my art practically makes itself. The approach to the canvas or paper is simple: Don’t even think, just do. Really takes the anxiety out of it. It’s a sort of creative procreation. Yet there are no consequences. Just show up for the party.

Heidi: Apart from drawing on film sets, how much time do you put into your painting?

Yuri: I rarely leave the house for anything anymore these days unless I’m getting paid or loved. Sometimes for art functions, sure for some of my friends but I really like to draw circles until they teach themselves to transform. I will literally draw the same thing a hundred times until it grows a feather and boobs, maybe a halo, or a planet. I have about 18 sketchbooks from the last 2 years. Through them I can trace my style’s development. Subtle as it is, I think my circles are getting better.

Heidi: Lol. How do you describe your Style?

Yuri: I guess if looking for classification, I could be called a sci-fi fantasy, erotic, exotic abstractist!

Heidi: Well, as Lattia our Boyd Street hostess says, you do a lot of boobs.

Yuri: I paint women as if I’m talking to them.

…I shot parts of a film last year where I had girls hose me down and kick me over and over again. 3 weekends in a row. Broke a few ribs and injured my shoulder. The pain was so bad that I had to tie my wrist to my belt and draw from there. For seven months.

Really glad I did that…

Heidi: Really? Why?

Yuri: When I returned to painting, it was all drawings on a larger scale. I was able to move bigger, faster.

Heidi: Hmmm. Well, different strokes…

Yuri: That’s something I can’t stand is judgement. Everybody should just be able to do their own thing, as long as you’re not hurting anyone. I’m big on gay rights. Not a homo myself, though…

Heidi: How do you describe yourself?

Yuri: I’m a warrior. Trying to be a god. Living beings can be broken into three groups, the warriors, the god, and the witch. …All men take. The warriors destroy and protect. The gods create, but in a way they both end, if successful, with security.

Women are all witches, they are magical and control the skies and our hearts. They dislike war because they know how much work it is to raise a child. Through their female abilities to create community, nurture, communication and harmony, they seek the formation of security, as well.

We both want the same thing.

Heidi: How do you express these Archetypes in your work?

Yuri: To create these Archetypes in my work I have to balance not only the physical visual composition, but also the level of interactions between the players and elements. Even if ‘unbalance’ is the ‘balance.’

Heidi: Like 5 + 2 is equal to 4 + 3?

Yuri: Yes.

Heidi: Do you see that balance in life?

Yuri: I think we have a mixture with all the ingredients for the end of modern civilization. I’m looking forward to the end of civilization as we know it to the return of a Hyborian age.

Heidi: You don’t think we’ve superseded that with high-tech?

Yuri: A lot of advanced societies have fallen and it always goes back to the stone ages. That of Lemura, Conan the Barbarian, Atlantis, etc. Once we do ourselves in there will be plenty of time for savage war of low tech proportions and pseudo-sorcery.

Heidi: This is your subject matter?

Yuri: Yes, the times between times and the time after. I also paint my afterlife. I believe that my soul will be received intergalactically by a sisterhood of nuns who run the cosmos. When you see them in my work they have halos and are dressed to kill. Often holding spears with the heads of men upon them.

…Men shouldn’t be in charge of anything, I believe that women should rule the planet. When the boiling point comes, it will come. But to make decisions based in greed and hostility is just unproductive.

Heidi: You don’t think men serve society, have a purpose, a role? …Wouldn’t be a whole lot of erected buildings and…erected things, around without ’em. Lol.

Yuri: For me, the less responsibility the better so that I can pursue the arts. But of course feel free to wake me when the enemy reaches the gates.

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