Crazy horse. 2019.
* 1982 in Bulgaria
Oil on canvas. 200 x 160 cm.
When I was fourteen, I began to study icon painting in Bulgaria. The course was five years of in-depth training in technique, typical of Eastern European art education. A day would start with four hours of portrait studies or still lives in the morning, followed by anatomical drawing, and end after a lesson in art history or colour theory. All lessons were held in the studio. You might say, what a blessing, however this training covered neither contemporary art nor allowed for pursuing one’s own artistic interests. “First learn the basics, then you can think about self-realisation,” was the typical attitude of socialist art schools as far as I know it.
Nevertheless, after this schooling I was pretty good at drawing and painting. But I had a notion that this wasn’t going to be the end of my journey. The better I became technically, the more I became interested in art as a way of sensuous self-expression. I decided to study painting at the art academy in Sofia, but my application was rejected. I found out later that to be accepted I’d first have to attend the private courses of professors. They were quite expensive, but in Bulgaria one “knows” all about the art of “palm grease”. So, I enrolled in the private lessons of a professor. After a year I felt I had visited enough classes and duly adapted my style to the professor’s (considered to be advantageous), and took the entrance exam again. 80 people applied for 10 places on the much desired painting degree course. It was an open competition, life drawing, and it was all about who was best. I felt confident, I was well prepared. The result came as a blow: I was not accepted – by a close margin. Gutted, I asked “my” professor why I had been rejected. Taking me aside, he quietly instructed me about the dynamics of cronyism, explaining that my application had been superseded by the children of important sponsors – not an unusual scenario at Bulgarian schools. I was so angry and disappointed that I decided to leave the country. Today, I am grateful to the fates that led me to my chosen path…
I eventually ended up in Germany. It took me a while to find my feet and to get in touch with contemporary art. I had to come to terms that my portraits and clumsy surreal compositions were not going to get me into the academy in Munich. But after a couple of attempts I was finally accepted in 2012. At the academy I was known as a proficient painter, but I felt very insecure when it came to making “real” art. I spent a lot of time in museums and exhibitions as I have a strong liking of Renaissance, Baroque and 18th century art. But I didn’t know how to integrate this fondness into my art.
So one day, after much searching, I began to paint over my art books. For the first time the results were playful and inspiring. As I wasn’t keen to end up with a stack of neo-Arnulf Rainers, I tried to use the painted-over pictures as references for paintings on canvas, after all I love painting, and that is how I got to doing the art I do today. It allowed me to make best use of my early technical training (that I now despised) and to indulge in my fondness for earlier centuries. With time I really began to enjoy the synthesis between Rococo painting (Francois Boucher in particular) and my own painting. But why Boucher? Why not Rembrandt, for example, whom I adore? I think it’s Boucher’s soft colours, his delightfully staged figures and rendered fabrics that I like to combine with my rather dramatic and sombre kind of art. I seek contrasts and I find them in 18th century art.
I should also mention that my work doesn’t quote. It is an unmediated synthesis of a picture. I like to apply the brush and spatula freely, but to enjoy this freedom of gesture I require solid boundaries. The picture’s composition, its form, the light and shade set exciting presets that I can challenge with free gestures.
Translated by Christine Liese–Schikaneder