Isabel Yellin Turns to Leatherette, Latex, and Corset Boning in Vigorous New Work

  • Courtesy Isabel Yellin

Housed in Isabel Yellin’s spacious South London studio is a collection of quietly unnerving works that resist easy categorization. This September, Yellin is due to mount “Do a Double Take and All Will Be Clear,” her second solo show with Vigo Gallery, where she is debuting this new body of primarily wall-hung works made from synthetic fabrics. While Yellin, 28, has retained some continuity with her past work—softer, draped, paint and fabric pieces that clung to the wall—her more recent practice takes a different direction formally, occupying more of a space between painting and sculpture. “I never felt like I could do what I wanted to do on a stretched canvas,” Yellin said during a recent studio visit. The need to try new things is clearly ingrained in the young artist, who reflected: “I think with the older works I got comfortable. You see so many artists kicking out a hundred of the same thing—there’s nothing wrong with it, but I can’t do it.” 

Born and raised in New York, Yellin moved to London in 2013 to pursue an MFA in painting at the Royal College of Art. That year she participated in the RCA’s annual “Secret” exhibition, and in 2014 saw her first solo show at Vigo, titled “Undulate.” Her new works are characterized by material tensions. The artist explained: “They’re skin and bone, but they’re synthetic, the fake version of it. They’re body-like, but they’re also completely foreign. They’re square and rectangle like a painting should be, but they’re also sculptural. They contradict themselves. They’re uncomfortable.” The artist has begun using corset boning to support the fabric, and the effect is palpably evocative of the body, suggesting the play between restriction and freedom in sexual fantasy. “[The corsets] made me think about desire, about how we will go so far for what we want, and will even use the fake to appear better.”

  • Installation view of “Do a Double Take and All Will Be Clear,” Vigo Gallery, London. Courtesy Vigo Gallery and the artist.

Yellin’s use of corset boning also gives the work physical structure. Inspired by Alexander McQueen’s steel corset, made in the 1990s, she has found a way to evoke both body and garment, another example of her work’s ability to inhabit in-between spaces. The human scale of the pieces and their skin-like surfaces, particularly the latex sheeting, results in a creeping sense of the uncanny. The resonances of Yellin’s chosen materials add a further layer of meaning. “Leatherette is tacky, seedy, and latex is condom material” she said. “It’s the perversity, it’s a challenge to make something gross be elegant and beautiful, to see if that’s possible.” 

  • Installation view of “Do a Double Take and All Will Be Clear,” Vigo Gallery, London. Courtesy Vigo Gallery and the artist.

Yellin had just a few more works to complete before her opening on September 10th. Does she see the work migrating entirely from the wall? “A part of me does want to move away from the wall,” she conceded. That desire will be reflected in her exhibition, which will feature a large installation piece—another new departure for the artist—which will spread across a wall. “The idea around it is the hug and a second skin, the fake skin, the façade, the control of corsets.” It’s this focus on the physical encounter that makes Yellin’s work so compelling, and judging by the pieces in her studio, this new show will present an encounter not to be missed.

—Laura Purseglove

Do a Double Take and All Will Be Clear” is on view at Vigo Gallery, London, Sep. 10–Oct. 1, 2015.

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