Elléna Lourens is a South African artist based in Cape Town who is making waves with her illustrations, street art, painting, and embroidery.
Her style incorporates imagery from the past through ancient symbols, patterns and colour schemes. At the same time she expresses an innately modern aesthetic that resonates and seeks to reinvent emotional iconography.
Lourens has worked alongside established multi-disciplinary artists, such as Faith XLVII, in addition to expanding her practice, taking part in shows, and creating murals in both this country and globally.
She completed her first public piece in 2017 on the rooftop of a friend's studio building in Queens, New York. She created this in collaboration with Los Angeles based South African multimedia street artist Keya Tama.
"The main thing I remember from that experience is that it had been raining," Lourens says.
"The water on the ground had frozen over so we were standing in ice and it was freezing. I wasn't particularly happy with the final piece, but I fell in love with making street art right away."
Tama and Lourens also recently collaborated on two pieces in Woodstock. The first was a collection of found symbols and phrases, some translated from other languages.
The second piece shows clasped hands and a man riding a giraffe with two phrases, "dancy face, hidden heart," and, "hard to bear, sweet to remember," written alongside it.
When asked about it, she says:
"I imagine a personal narrative behind the words and design, both of the designs were influenced by old-school, hand-painted signage and formatting."
The real deal: Mixing up styles and emotions
An example of embroidery by Cape Town street artist Elléna Lourens. Image: ellenalourens.com
Lourens describes her style as, "a mixture of minimalism and realism, with the influence of emotion and reference to ancient design".
When scanning through her social media presence, it is evident that she is a fan of different shades of pink. She originally began working with pink paint because it was the last bucket of colour she had left.
She says she has never been a "pink person" but she enjoyed working with the different shades of peach and orange, exploring the mood they bring to her work.
"Often a harsh design will be softened by the colour, and the piece will take on different energy, or a soft design can be grounded by the earth tones."
She believes it is important to have a distinct style so that your work can stand out from the crowd. However, she believes that there is a fine line between having a unique look and limiting yourself creatively.
New York, New York: Spreading her wings and brush stroke
Over the last two years, Lourens has spent roughly half of her time in the United States (US). While there she assisted artist Faith XLVII on several large walls and projects, as well as doing her own work.
"New York City is by far my favourite place I have travelled to, it is alive and making art there is so much fun."
According to Lourens, the main difference between the two countries regarding street art is opportunity and demand.
There is a much wider range of creative opportunities presented in the US, be it street art festivals, artist residences, or commissioned work.
"But I think the creative scene in South Africa is growing, and as it does, so will the opportunity," she says.
When asked what local artist she looks up to, she mentions Cape Town-based embroiderer Danielle Clough. She says she is also lucky to have a group of very talented friends, including Inka Kendzia, Hana Jayne Sho, and Elie Benistant./\r\n/
The freedom of painting…
While Lourens practices with illustrations, street art, painting embroidery, and sketching, she says painting is her favourite although she loves all these disciplines independently.
"I love the freedom of painting, how challenging it is and how satisfying it is when you manage to achieve something you feel happy with," she says.
She has mentioned her love and fascination with the fashion industry and admires the work of people such as Virgil Abloh, particularly his work in Off-White.
She says she would love to move into fashion and plans to do so soon.
Lockdown life and art
During lockdown, Lourens has been working on some paintings and embroideries, as well as a few other projects she's very excited about, but can't get into just yet.
She says she has been lucky enough to have all the materials she needs already in her apartment, so she hasn't been forced to stop working.
Other than work, she has been keeping busy baking, making tie-dye, dyeing her hair, making kimchi, giving her housemate Sarah a hair-cut (which she sincerely apologises for), and making homemade alcohol.
"I want to further explore my ability and potential in the creative fields I already work in, as well as in new directions, such as fashion."
Lourens is showing recent work in Out of Touch, a group exhibition to benefit the COVID-19 health crisis and the fight against racism.
This is an exhibition where 30% of the proceeds from art sales will be split between two beneficiaries. These are Color of Change, an organisation dedicated to racial justice, and Heart to Heart International, which provides medical aid and supplies worldwide.
Visit her website, www.ellenalourens.com, or find her on Instgram @elenalourens.