Using airbrush techniques, Elena Rotenberg paints her parents, buildings and stony deserts

The Tel Aviv-based artist turns towards the everyday as her inspiration, including pictures of her mum and dad on holiday in Europe.

20 March 2020
Reading Time
3 minute read

By employing a bountiful mix of painting and airbrush techniques, the work of Tel Aviv-based Elena Rotenberg is intensely surreal. Finding inspiration in “everydayness”, Elena seeks to observe the small moments – like her parents taking a selfie in front of a museum – and transforms them into art.

Elena’s creativity began in school, where she would turn towards painting as a way to express her emotions. “[It] was the only way I could process feelings, and later, for a few years, painting from observation was my way out from dissociations and panic attacks, because it forces one to be present,” she tells It’s Nice That. As a child, she never considered art to be a viable career option, instead, venturing into hairdressing – “because it’s artistic” – and later graphic design, interior design, “and so on”.

The more she traversed through the creative industry, however, the more she wanted to find out more – “while realising that I really can’t do anything else without losing my mind,” she adds. To combat this, a year ago she began working as a guide in a Tel Aviv Museum – a move she describes as the “perfect day job” because she’s surrounded by original art works and passionate people in the art world. As a consequence, Elena’s surroundings have unsurprisingly had an effect on her work: “I explore the unavoidable tension between raw reality and its romanticised and subliminal representation and interpretation,” she explains. “I am interested in both these aspects of reality, the raw and its opposite, because I believe they shape our necessity to translate life into images in order to create a fantasy – a representation of an experience.”

GalleryElena Rotenberg

With her day-to-day activities as busy as ever, Elena makes sure to paint in any spare moment. The use of airbrush is a conscious technique she bestows for the fact there’s no direct contact between the hand and the surface, “and the paint is spread by the air”. She adds on the process: “The blurriness is dependent on the distance between the gun and the canvas, and the sharp borders are obtained by means of stencils.” It’s the tension between the handmade and the digital which Elena finds most interesting, and in order to achieve this, she creates sketches in dry pastel or Photoshop, which enables her to “simulate” the airbrush technique.

Throughout her portfolio, you’re greeted by a humorous depiction of a couple travelling the world, which cohesively sit alongside desert landscapes, buildings and animals. For the desert paintings, Elena explains how the paint behaves like a sandstorm, “tying the aridity of the wilderness with the dryness and the wind.” Additionally, she tells us how the smoke in the barbecue painting uses “the airy materiality” which connotes an essence of dreamlike fantasy, while the spray painted porcelain figurines have been constructed to imitate those from real life. “Initially, I outlined the three-dimensional body, defined the volume of the object using light and shade, and then added stains of spray paint,” she says. “So the spraying became the thing itself, rather than a visual representation of the thing, as it often happens in paintings.”

As for the selfies: “They travel a lot in Europe and send me photos,” says Elena, adding how they are both very much aware that she uses their pictures. “Sometimes they ask whether I would like a photograph from a specific site, and sometimes I give them general instructions and requests before they leave.” A team-playing approach to say the least, where the family work together to produce the best possible outcome.

While describing her most recent works, the artist explains how she’s incorporated an extensive use of stencils to aptly imitate the aesthetic of computer games. This is achieved through 3D simulation, texture colouring and stretching the image. “This results in objects with sharp, crude borders which appear cut, however the surface and the details are blurred ” she continues.

Elena’s fantastical creations are an absolute bundle of joy. “My interest in the ways that an image can shape an object or a space got me thinking about painted installations that interact with the viewer’s movement and vision,” she says of her future plans. “So my next projects are going to be site specific installations that communicate with the space and the viewers’ experience.”

GalleryElena Rotenberg

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and continued to work with us on a freelance basis. In November 2019 she joined the team again, working with us as a Staff Writer on Mondays and Tuesdays. She's contactable on

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