Flora Yukhnovich Has Rapidly Become One of the Hottest Artists in the World. We Toured Her Studio Ahead of Her New Solo Show
We spoke to the British painter about why most of her works leave her feeling disappointed, her current mood board, and more.
The paintings of London-based artist Flora Yukhnovich don’t last long on the walls once they’re dry—the in-demand London-based painter’s work has been selling out at shows and art fairs almost as soon as it is hung, leaving the scores of collectors who missed out to drive prices for her work into the seven figures at auction.
There is something captivating about Yukhnovich’s candy-colored Rococo references, which feel both historically grounded and modern. To make her large-scale works, the artist culls from sources ranging from Old Masters like Tiepolo to such contemporary iconography as Kim Kardashian’s famous wet look from the Met Gala in 2019.
Born in 1990 in Norwich, Yukhnovich developed her semi-abstract style as a graduate student at City & Guilds of London Art School. (After her first dealer, Matt Watkins of Parafin, spotted her paintings on Instagram, he made an exception to his rule of not representing artists straight out of school.) She first gained the attention of the wider international art world last June, when one of her luscious canvases passed the $1 million mark at Phillips, smashing its $80,000 high estimate by more than a factor of 12. (Since then, three more works have surpassed that threshold.)
On Tuesday, Yuchnovich opens her first show at Victoria Miro since the blue-chip gallery, which also represents stars like Njideka Akunyili Crosby, María Berrío, and Wangechi Mutu, signed her in 2021. Ahead of the show, she was busy in her studio producing vibrant paintings that explore depictions of Venus throughout history, while also prepping for her debut at the Ashmolean in 2023, in which she responds to the Oxford museum’s historic collections.
We spoke to the artist about how she parts with her sought-after paintings and what, exactly, is on her mood board (hint: it involves Lady Gaga).
What are the most indispensable items in your studio and why?
I suppose its the reference material that informs my paintings. I have images from art history and magazine pages scattered all around my studio floor. I like to have them in eyeshot so they fill my mind and work their way into the paintings.
What is the studio task on your agenda tomorrow that you are most looking forward to?
I’m finishing some work for my upcoming show “Thirst Trap” with Victoria Miro. Finishing paintings always feels like a challenge for me, but in the next few days we’ll hang the show and I’m looking forward to seeing the paintings curated in the space. Seeing the work hung and out of the studio for the first time always gives a fresh perspective.
Beyond that, I am very excited to start thinking about a whole new body of work starting from next week. I usually start by visiting museums, watching films, and just being out and about—trying to find visual connections and interesting new things to look at. It’s like restocking my brain. I always like the beginning because there’s so much potential.
What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? Why?
If it’s very concentrated work, I like silence. Otherwise I listen to music to get me moving. It helps me make the paintings more dynamic.
What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you most despise?
I’m always most drawn to works of art which seem to be in flux, or have a kind of un-forming or reforming quality to them. I can’t say that I “despise” any traits, but I tend to lean toward things that seem humorous, or delightful in some way. I am hardly ever drawn to very austere works.
What artists (living or long-dead) most inspire the work you are currently making?
My recent paintings reference lots of different art historical depictions of the goddess Venus. Fragonard, Boucher, Bouguereau, Lemoyne, Coypel all feature heavily in my current body of work. I always find De Kooning’s work really helpful as way of pulling my focus back onto the material of paint and the surface of the work.
When you are making a work, how do you imagine where the piece will go after it leaves your studio? Do you ever hold on to a work that feels particularly dear to you?
I like to think of the exhibition space and the curation while I’m making works. It’s helpful for gauging the density and pace of the paintings. I don’t find it difficult to say goodbye once they’ve been exhibited. Honestly, they rarely achieve what I’m trying to capture so I’m usually excited to try again and perhaps get there with the next paintings. That said, there are one or two works which surprised me and I regret letting them go. I think it would be helpful to have them in the studio with me.
What snack food could your studio not function without?
I snack constantly and indiscriminately in the studio.
Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?
I’ve been enjoying an MJ Corey’s Tik Tok account Kardashian Kolloquium. She looks at postmodern media theory by deconstructing “the Kar-Jenner media project.” It’s fascinating! And I always enjoy discovering new exciting artists through Katy Hessel’s brilliant Instagram account @thegreatwomenartists.
When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get un-stuck?
Have a nap and work on something else for a while.
What is the last exhibition you saw (virtual or otherwise) that made an impression on you?
I was so pleased to finally see Sofia Mitsola’s paintings in the flesh at her show “Aquamarina: Crocodilian Tears” at Pilar Corrias last year. I found the paintings so arresting—they have such a powerful presence. I loved the narrative of the myth Sofia wrote running through the work and I was incredibly inspired by the way she paints, thick and glossy in places and transparent and jewel-like in others. It was a very exciting show.
If you had to put together a mood board, what would be on it right now?
I currently have a mood board full of Venus-related references in the studio, Bridgette Bardot, Anita Ekberg, Lady Gaga, Boucher, Botticelli, and lots more.
Flora Yukhnovich’s “Thirst Trap” opens March 1 (on view through March 26, 2022) at Victoria Miro, London.
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