In Conversation with Yelena Beliaev


Israeli textile artist Yelena Beliaev uses the felting technique to create fruit and vegetables that are afterwards put together as installations. In our conversation with her, Yelena told us more about
how she got into felting, the challenges she faces in her career as an emerging artist
& why she cherishes the art community that she has found through social media.


For those who don’t know you, who are you and how did you get into art?

I am an artist. A textile and mixed media artist. It took more than 40 years to come from a childhood unfulfilled dream to learn at art school to this point. All these years I have been learning and working in different fields (teaching foreign languages, learning museum studies and garden design, growing flowers and parallelly drawing and painting, quilting, and dying batik fabric). I believe it enriched me as a person and artist.

Four years ago, I knew nothing about felting. In the beginning, I just enjoyed felting but soon I realized that those felted pieces became my new media and I could show more than beautiful fruits and vegetables. Covid and Instagram helped me at this. I had more time because of non-stop quarantines, and I created my Instagram account, got to know art communities, and began to make an art career.

How did you get into the needle felting technique and choosing fruits and vegetables as your objects?

It was a double mistake. Once I saw amazing vegetables of Rachel Nettles in Gardens illustrated magazine. Then my daughter Nina came back from a school trip and excitedly told me about this technique. As a result, I found a workshop for her. Rachel didn’t work in needle felting technique and my daughter didn’t want to learn felting. In the beginning I didn’t want as well. I thought that I had learned enough techniques and could live happily without felting. By this day I have already felted about 100 pieces.

I like needle felting technique although I use others too. It is a very intimate activity. It doesn’t require much space, many materials and equipment. It is a miracle to see how a fluffy amorphous “cloud” of wool changes into a recognizable shape. Of course, Rachel’s works played a huge role in my choice. But it isn’t the only reason. I think I admired her works because of my love for fruit and vegetables. They are a big part of my routine life. I am surrounded by them everywhere during the whole day. In my kitchen and garden, fresh and cooked, painted and felted. I admire their perfection and flaws, colors and shapes, flavors and scents.

Still life installation with felted fruits, 2020/2021

In your opinion, what does to work with 3D objects and installations offer you that drawing or paint don’t?

For me it is a challenge to work with 3D objects, both felting pieces and arranging installations. It is harder to deal with them. They always remind that they not only have a “front” but also “back”. They are active participants of my installations. I begin a dialogue with spectators and the pieces continue. This dialogue depends on many circumstances which are unknown to me. Where will the installation be hung up? How will the light fall on it? What shadows will they cast on the wall? What colour will the wall be? I am also planning to make interactive installations which will change with the  positions of the fruits.

In your email to me you wrote “Mostly working in a still life genre I touch both memories and actual themes such as ecology, equality and so on.” Could you specify a bit on that, please?

I love this genre very much. It is associated with home, coziness, family traditions. This is exactly what I dedicated myself to- brining up my daughters, taking care of my home and garden. I used to explain complex things to my children with examples that were understandable to them. They grew up but this habit remained.

The “White Series” appeared after talking about how we are saying that it is not important what ethnic group people belong to, what they wear and so on. Do these characteristics disturb us to see just a person? Works from this series are devoid of colour which is responsible for the emotional component. But the shape continues saying that it is an apple or a banana. I was very surprised to see different spectators’ reactions on white fruits (calm and unsurprising) and unrealistic colour fruits (a little bit aggressive – Why? What’s this? It’s wrong!)

So, our attitude towards anything is often based on our emotions but not facts.

Felted fruits life-size, 2020 / 2021
Felted fruits life-size, 2020 / 2021

Please tell me a bit more about your creative process – from an idea to a finished pieces or installation

This process begins from inspirations by any fruit or vegetable. It can catch me at any place. The trigger may be a shape (a challenge for me as a sculptor), a complex colour, or a flaw of the fruit. I don’t use references and work only with a real model. During the work I can smell its scent and touch its rough or smooth skin. I don’t try to copy it. I work with the most “speaking” details. Some fruits take about a fortnight to be finished.  Sometimes, these scents form an idea of a new installation which is based on past memories or impressions. Sometimes, an already felted fruit remains in a keeping box for a long time and then is put out of it to “illustrate” my actual thoughts or experiences in a new installation.

It takes a time from an idea to its implementation – looking for and choosing materials, consulting with an engineer about all details of a future assembly – the last stage which I can do alone. It requires both delicacy and physical strength.

What are the challenges that you are currently facing in your work and/or career as an emerging artist?

Having begun my artist career, I found how many additional skills and knowledge I needed. It requires much time, so I am learning how to organize my working time better.

Felted grapes in life-size, 2020 / 2021
Felted maize in life-size, 2020 / 2021

Any advice for emerging artists that you like to share?

My personal experience shows that communication with other emerging artists helps me make an artist career. We share information about open calls and support, praise, motivate each other, talk about our positive and negative experience. This communication helps not to stop in the middle of the project and encourages me finish it. Also, I understand my aims better if I have an opportunity to discuss them with somebody else.

Any emerging artists you’d like to recommend?

Rita Rozynek and Yana Ovrutskaya

What are you currently working on and where we see your works?

At this moment, I’m participating in an Internet marketing course and learning a new felting technique. I have many ideas which I am planning to work on in 2023. It is mixed media still lives with felted fruits and vegetables, inspired by photos from my favourite gastronomic magazines. I am planning to make a free-standing installation. If I am pleased with the result, I’ll continue working in this direction.  I want to continue working in digital with felted fruit images. These works are very successful. I think most of these works will be exhibited in Art Fair in London in March 2023 and in a group exhibition in Tokyo in May 2023.

What are your hopes for the future?

I hope to have my own recognizable style as an artist and to develop a strategy for my art activity.
I hope to have an exhibition in Israel where I live but my works haven’t been exhibited here yet.

Yelena Beliaev with one of her works.
Get in touch with Yelena

Instagram: @woollygems

All Photographs courtesy of Yelena Beliaev
Written by Yelena Beliaev & Nina Seidel
Edited by Nina Seidel
© Copyright 2023 Suboart Magazine
All rights reserved

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