Elena Gumeniuk

Illustrating the London grime scene is Ukrainian-born artist Elena Gumeniuk.

Grime music and illustration doesn’t seem like it would naturally bond, but illustrator Elena Gumeniuk has brought together two of her favourite things to create imagery that uses rawness to channel the mood of the moment and the wild spirit of the London grime scene. Kicking off her grime-illustration career with a commission from the Red Bull Music Academy to illustrate an article about Wiley, Gumeniuk shows the London grime scene in an entirely new light. Working in her trademark, bold, slightly-demonic style, Gumeniuk’s work captures a sense of movement and shows how much she loves the grit and grime of London.

Working on music videos, short films and animation, on top of her 2D illustration, Gumeniuk works hard to create completely unique work through her signature, hard-lined and aggressively-coloured style. From screen-printing to mind-boggling animation, Gumeniuk isn’t satisfied with the mundane; wanting to do and explore everything, her natural curiosity and obsession with artistic freedom stems from her natural artistic flair and desire to create things not yet explored. Innovative and unusual, Gumeniuk’s illustrations show the beauty in rawness and grime.

How did you get into illustration?

Same as everyone else, I’ve been drawing since forever. When I was younger when I got asked by a grown up what I wanted to be, I always said “I want to be an artist”. Always wanted to be an artist, no compromises. I did a BA in Graphic Design because it seemed the logical step from drawing as a kid, but then I also wanted to hopefully try and move into doing work for labels or artists because that’s the other thing I like the most, music. Whilst doing the BA, I learnt about linocuts and printmaking, and that became my main interest and then from there, I got into straight illustration. When I moved to Camberwell to do my Visual Art MA – I got into screenprinting which I’m still very much into. The main thing about illustration is that you are not restricted to one particular way of work. You can draw for yourself, or do commissions, you can learn animation and end up doing music videos, you can do gallery specific work or installations or tattoos. It can turn into anything. And that’s what I want to do, I want to do everything.

When did you start illustrating the south London grime scene? Grime and illustration is an interesting mix!

The London music scene played a crucial role in my life and career, despite the fact I was growing up in a different country far away. Music drew me to the UK. Years ago, when I was growing up and listening to rinse.fm on the Internet and hearing these world building artists like Burial, Actress, Zomby or Wiley – I always pictured myself living in London and then, this imaginary world became my reality! The link up with the Grime world sorta came out of the blue – I was commissioned by Red Bull Music Academy to illustrate an article about Wiley via Twitter – it was a perfect match for me and then has led to other work in the scene. RBMA was great, after looking at my work – they immediately thought about grime and Wiley, which is a massive compliment. I never solely intended to concentrate on grime though – grime as a genre and artists like Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, Newham Generals etc are part of one big story for me. It all revolves around the idea of London and it’s music scene and my connection to London. There’s a zine and a book called Savage Messiah by Laura Oldfield Ford focusing on the politics, psychology and subcultural past of a different London postcodes. The way her personal stories tied to places merge into this big picture of London is something I can relate to in my work. Grime is part of my bigger picture.

Are there any artists that you particularly enjoy working with? How did you get involved with them?

I’ve been lucky and enjoyed all the projects I worked on – the animation for Jammz or AJ Tracey or illustrating articles on Wiley. I’m glad to work with people whose music I enjoy. However, I really want to establish a dream-team relationship with a musician similar to how Nic Hamilton has with Actress, the work they produce together is genuine art – they complement each other perfectly and that is something I aspire to. The Barbican show where Actress was playing alongside London Contemporary Orchestra with visuals by Nic was the event of the year for me. These are the dream-projects I’d like to work on in the future, with that level of collaboration, full scale projects that exist outside of the usual music video work or animation.

You went to Camberwell College of Art – how important do you think art school has been in your career?

Camberwell played a very important role in my life. I always had weird relationships with institutions like schools and universities and problem with authority there, I feel like everything I know I learnt by myself so I don’t want to give credit to any of these places. But Camberwell turned out to be something completely different. It was a place do your own thing, meet interesting people, use library, screen-print studios (Shout out to supportive technicians!). I had a complete freedom to do whatever I wanted. It was where my current style was born – because in that environment I felt I could finally do what I wanted with my work. Camberwell was, and still is, I felt most at home in London. I could probably make a movie on the time I’ve spent there.

How would you describe your style?

Quite bold, satanic vibes! I want my work to haunt people. The rawness and simplicity is something that allows me to channel the mood of the moment, a distant memory you re-play in your head, a weird hallucination or an odd vision you have now and then. I’ve worked in different medias and styles, did all sorts of detailed or even colorful, realistic work, but nothing cut it as much as the simplicity and freedom I have with my style now. It’s quite dynamic so it’s good for animation, it’s simple so it’s good for screen-print, it gives me freedom to do whatever I want with it. I think it reflects quite well how I see the world around me.

“Years ago, when I was growing up and listening to rinse.fm on the Internet and hearing these world building artists like Burial, Actress, Zomby or Wiley – I always pictured myself living in London”

You’ve illustrated for music videos – who have you worked with and how did you get into it?

I’ve was approached by Luke Carlisle, who is a writer/director, who saw the illustrations I did for the RBMA article on Wiley. Luke asked me if I’d be interested in working on film or music videos. I really liked the stuff he’d done before and we’ve been trying to collaborate as much as possible since. We have a similar vibe, he did a video for Scars, the Wiley and Newham Generals song and also had a short film called ‘He Works The Long Nights’ that I ended up doing the poster for. I worked on ‘10 Missed Calls’ by Jammz and Dread D with Luke. It has my prints all over the flat, I drew the animation sequence and I even have a small role holding the ipad in it. We did some other stuff together inc. promo animation for Keysound Recordings, a seminal London underground music label. After this, I was approached by AJ Tracey to work on his ‘Leave Me Alone’ video and single, that one got some attention and got people approaching me about doing the same thing for them. I try to be more selective with video work because I don’t want to repeat myself.

You grew up in Ukraine – do you think that has affected your interests and artwork?

It affected me in an opposite way that it should have. I knew I didn’t want to be there. It’s contribution to my life was making me want nothing to do with it. I learnt English from really early age so everything I was into while growing up – books, music and information came from UK. I consciously alienated myself. It made me push myself out of the real world I was growing up in and into imaginary London. The estate I grew up in looked very similar to Thamesmead. That’s why I’m so fascinated with London architecture – it feels like an improved version of home. I basically created my future in my head – coming to London was like coming home. If desire to get away from something counts as an influence then I would say I was highly influenced by where I’m from. On a more basic level, I was influenced by people like my grandfather for example. He was a sound engineer, a film technician and amateur radio enthusiast. He spent days in his small room building all sorts of radio devices or computers, when he was in army he built his own Theremin. There’s loads of connections to what I do now there – music, film, pirate radios. He even had stick and poke tattoos on his hand from his Army days when he was in Airbone Forces. These are more dormant subconscious influences from back home. They are really subtle but they are there I guess.

Is colour important in your work?

What I do seems to be pretty aggressive in a strange colour-wise way. I think that sometimes colors can be more dark and disturbing than just monochrome work. It’s all about the feeling you get from something, I try to communicate that feeling be it in colour or black and white.

How does your illustration work differ to your animation and storyboards?

I think my Illustration work was always containing that element of animation and narrative in it. A narrative without an explicit narrative I suppose. In my head everything I was drawing had that sense of movement, like the demonic sculpture in Devil’s Advocate. In college I had an ambitious plan of making an arduino programmed figure-sized conductive screen-prints that triggered into animation. I am still obsessed with making it real. Moving into animation and film-related work felt like a natural step. I really enjoy it. I think I am still in training for the big things I’m planning to do. I would love to merge different media and go outside the usual Illustrator bounds.

You’ve done projects with the Red Bull Music Academy and SBTV – what have you collaborated on and do you have any favorite projects you’ve done?

Red Bull Music Academy have commissioned me to do a few articles and so far they’ve been great to work with, my first work for them, the article about Wiley was one of my favourite commissions ever.

Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

A few music videos and few exciting illustration commissions in the coming months. I have an ambitious plan to make my first short animation next year, and it will be about London and it’s clubs and many other things. Also a comic book with Luke Carlisle hopefully – I want to do everything.

Elena Gumeniuk

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