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When did you start to be interested in art? Why did you choose to draw?

My parents say that the first articles I’ve begun to denote in baby language have been pencil and sheet. This remarkable event, even though it was fully appreciated later, has suggested the direction of my life. The family momentum couldn’t explain it. My parents were fans of painting and theatre, yet their work, and accordingly their everyday life were far from the sphere of art.

Special in me was not my ability to draw, many children did it not worse. All kids draw. For me, painting was not simply an amusement. I just couldn’t imagine doing anything else. This impulse was my mysterious link with the very foundation and purpose of human life. It was still early for me to understand that the creative human nature is a sign, revealing in us the Image of our Creator. Deeply, instinctively, however, I felt some kind of higher expedience in art which made me feel not just attracted, but rather obliged to devote my life to it. I think this is what is called vocation. It could sound naive, but in a sense, I didn’t chose art, it chose me.

By the time I began to understand that the so-called “Art” is something much more complicated and bigger than my children's drawings. I began to see it as a way of perceiving, assimilation and transformation of the world, continuous process (let me use an unusual term) archetypezation of the experience...
Later, I have been taken up with a lot of different art forms, but my first love has always been my favourite in this "harem" of interests…

Do you remember your first artwork, what was it like?

I do not know, it must have been a kind of baby scribble. I have been painting since I can remember and "works" have always rolled around me.
Actually, I can remember very few of my paintings and drawings. My memory is pretty poor, alas. Well, some say that the most useful property of the human brain is its ability to forget. Maybe it is true ... I console myself that it is more important for a person to keep in mind its reasons for doing things, to warm up his motivation. Thus, one clears his priorities and acts purposefully, with strong will and determination.

I have a justification of my poor memory, however - I quickly forget the implemented projects because I entirely focus on the new ones.

Anyway, my first painting has been made in the days of my forgotten childhood.
See, if you mean whether I remember my first work that has met my criteria for completeness, i.e. for real "artwork", the answer is that I haven’t created it yet. Hopefully my first "work" (in the full sense I put in that term) is still waiting for me somewhere in the future. When I create it, I promise I will let you know before I have forgotten it.

What are your favourite topics and why? Is there anything you would not depict?

I have no favourite topics. Each new event or piece of knowledge gives me new ideas that I would like to embody in some kind of art form. Even the years of the Adam's life wouldn’t be enough to research half of the half of the things I’m interested in. Therefore, I am very resentful of death ... I feel sorry that I will not be able to learn and do all the things I want. On the other hand, this awareness helps me to appreciate life's greatest capital, Time, which pushes me to act.

Actually, I may put one "subject" above all others. It does not only dominate, but in a sense it also embodies all the others. This theme is the Man.
Why? Because, the Man is the centre and the creator of the cultural Cosmos.

Indeed, there are some subjects that I am not interested in. Which one should I mention? ...
Eroticism, for example. I do not mean just a naked body, I myself have painted hundreds of naked bodies. I've always studied the human body simply as a mechanism whose value is in the brilliant design, just like the bodies of butterflies, birds, etc. No less, no more. The body is a great divine artefact, but its reproductive processes are unworthy of being an object of art. Placed in subjection of physiology, the creative potential is profaned and respectively its products are worth nothing (even if they are formally perfect).

How education has influenced your creativity and changed your professional way?

My education has always been specialized in the field of arts. I followed the chosen path without any hesitation or looking around for alternatives. In this context, a major change has never been considered but rather subtle adjustments in orientation.

Maybe I should start with the National Art School, which I entered at the age of 14. The school program was pretty good indeed, versatile and balanced at the same time. There, I mastered some basic knowledge and skills; and laid one truly stable foundation. On the other hand, then and there, I felt acutely the price of freedom and intellectual honesty, the courage to think independently, to swim against the tide, to doubt even evidences, seeking truth and standing up this demand in terms of gross oppressive system, which abomination has sucked in and subordinated not only the organization but also the very mentality of society. Paradoxically, but dictatorship is what suggested me the meaning of freedom; and the ubiquitous lie made me believe in the existence of truth.

Well, I also went through other extreme conditions, much like constant alcohol abuse and many "extras” that almost killed me.
All these are great excitements for a teenager. This whole experience was directly or indirectly related to my education in the art school and has reflected all sides of my interests, view of life and further development.
Later, one experienced and astute professor helped me in my academic orientation. At our first meeting he examined my work and cut down: "You must study mural painting”. Then we had a hearty and thorough discussion that convinced me to follow his advice. Indeed, that was a shot in dozens.

There are a lot of things that I appreciated in my higher education. For example, the opportunity to practice traditional skills undisturbed for 6 years; the same skills that so scare the "progressive" modern academics. However, no one has limited me to experiment, and generally do anything I wanted. I had a complete freedom. There was no need to waste myself in ideological conflicts with the "vanguard" or with the totalitarian traditionalism. I avoided mindless parties, pubs and the circle of ever-happy, boring student-loafers. I had a lovely library in the academy, met interesting people and generally used my time well. Now that I am thinking of my higher education, I realize that it was a rare luxury, a period of meditation over the questions that interested me without any distraction with prose worries.

Given the chaos of the 90's, education has suffered also from some consequential faults. The end of socialism bursted as a balloon the illusory expedience of the system, including education. Fragments of the 'bubble’ suspended in the air without any relation to one another. The world had changed its proportions, logic, requirements, and in the new conditions there was no clear idea what and why should be done. Art had lost its application, which previously depended entirely on the ideological situation. The lack of adequate practical orientation was disadvantage of the educational approach.
The real "action" surprised me with unexpected challenges. I had to find the solutions by myself, often in the tension of projects with large pledges and short deadlines. Well, there are gains for all our losses, as the saying goes. These difficulties have provoked me to search, analyse, systematize the lessons that I’ve learned and so I discovered many things that otherwise I would have overlooked in the inertia of the professional routine. Anyway, my workaholism and love for my profession have always helped me, rather turning difficulties into interesting adventures, which educate me further (a sort of continuation of my education).

You often present your artworks outside Bulgaria. Is attitude to painting different abroad?

At first, I would like to correct you, actually I am sparing of appearances. A mania of frequent appearances usually converts the creative process into stereotypic production.
In essence, since the "there" in question is a too broad concept, it is better to start with few words about the situation in Bulgaria. Unfortunately, we will need again to address the dismal past to explain the present.

I will start with the question - what is the attitude to art in my country?

In general, our attitude to things is usually linked to our cultural archetypes found in and completed in the experience. Art in Bulgaria is extremely marginalized sphere. The majority of Bulgarians do not have authoritative example and experience in this scope. They are touched only by the impact of design, which occurs in everyday life and media kitsch. Their viewpoint is still using the archetypes of a picture of the world, formed, or rather deformed under the pressure of totalitarian propaganda and reality. This model naturally reproduces itself from generation to generation and dominates the post-socialist society.

In such a situation, I do not see any attitude to painting we could talk about at all.
Naturally, the situation in countries with undamaged cultural tradition is better. They live with the inertia of a beneficial hierarchy of values. I am not talking of morality, but of overall cultural worldview model, which governs the relations of people among them and to the world, puts these relations on a constructive basis and gives a civilized aspect to their society. In that hierarchy, art occupies a respectable position. Once upon the time, the Romans have found that "the art softens temperament”. It is true.
Generally, post-socialist cultural climate is unproductive (this is the reason for its infertility in many other fields too) and is not preferable. Great artists may appear there, but they will exist not because, but in spite of it, and without any chance of becoming socially significant factors.

From which authors do you get inspiration? (Which authors inspire you?)

A friend of mine told once that the bottom of degradation of an artist is when he begins to plagiarize himself. I have not yet reached the maximum in this respect, yet certain success I have. I’m joking, of course ... But who knows?

Actually, I would put the question in a broader context, because I usually think in other categories.
Firstly, I should emphasize that far not all that I like is formally reflected in my work. I like great diversity of things, often incompatible with each other. Overall, I relish mixing up mish-mash of different products. Most of them are not quite obvious in my paintings, because they are used after good “rumination”. Probably, the strongest feeling is the flavour of Middle Ages and Pop Culture.

I find the old Byzantine, Western European and Persian illuminations unrivaled in beauty. I'm fond of Medieval Chinese and of the Japanese arts. The famous six laws of Master Xie He are still matchless as a statement of priorities of the figurative painting. I am a fan of the pop art. The German Expressionism, which tragic visual perversions entertained my school years is also worth mentioning. I considered it most relevant to the “environment". From that period is also my partiality to the northern Renaissance, which gave us superb standards for perfection and creative "madness". Here I should pay tribute to the last genuine, although not properly appreciated, successor of that line, Werner Tubke, who died in 2004. I'm a fan of comics and graffiti.
The aesthetics of old maps, as well as any ancient machinery and equipment I find really charming. I love cities where antiquity is well incorporated in modernity, where past and present could be seen living in organic unity. I love the aesthetics of Puppet theatre. A well found stylisation or scenography anywhere in theatre or in a movie (Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” for instance); a beautiful roomscape (as far as I know this term was introduced by Renzo Mongiardino, one of my favorite decorators); an interesting design of an object- all these are things that make me happy. Of course, I admire also the art of the great ancient civilizations in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece.

I like a lot of authors and artworks in the Contemporary architecture (from L. Sullivan to Frank Gerry), in the furniture and interior design, fashion, etc. I have friends with whose works I’m delighted not less than with those of their famous colleagues. I restrain from enumerating names because the list will become too long.

What, do you think is the place of visual arts in today's life? Do you think art can influence the public life?

I believe art is a multifaceted phenomenon that can’t be understood as one and only concept. There’s no way to determine its place on the equally indefinable map of “today's life.”

I would risk making generalizations only with the proviso that I do not claim any authoritativeness. Generalizations are always associated with a certain subjective stylisation.
I think the Media dictate both the presence and the influence of art in today's "mass consumer’s" lives. They create logical models and icons of Contemporary global mythology. In this context, I would like to indicate that no age has ever been more overloaded with Visual art than 20th-21st centuries. On the one hand, this art reflects the average needs of the average majority. On the other, exploiting these needs, it turns them into ideal. This process forms the unwritten ideology, which imposes the dictatorship of the crowd, of the mediocrity, including in the aesthetic realm.
I think this is the general trend, although there are few exceptions.

Is there a universal definition of art?

Scientific and technological euphoria infected us with fashion to lock everything in formulas. We are not interested anymore in the meaning of things, but we are interested in their mechanics and definition. We are not looking for conceptions but for descriptions.

Fortunately, it is impossible to enslave with formula a phenomenon, in whose power is the capital of inexhaustible surprises. Therefore, any definition in the best case reflects one of the countless potencies of art and can be just the beginning of a new adventure.
However, it is worth banging our heads with this kind of impossible questions. The road in such intellectual expeditions is more important than their final destination. Although we could suffer shipwreck following our ultimate goal, we always discover new exotic spaces during the voyage.

In my first answer I improvised something like a definition of art. I do not insist on it and I don’t think it precise. My personal speculations on the subject put more questions than provide answers. They are aesthetisation rather than scientific description.
Art for me is not so interesting in itself rather than in a more general context. If we go in this direction, however, things become even more convoluted. We always come down to confusing terms, too broad and controversial like "culture", "myth", etc. They are not only difficult to explain, but often they are so interpenetrated and merged that it is almost impossible to distinguish them from one another.

Let me finish with one more improvisation of definition - art is a manifestation of the Godlike human nature in the dimension of culture.

What do you prefer – the mural painting, icon-painting or painting?

I would rather wish to work not only in these fields, but in many others, as well. And I’ve already done this. The three specific areas that you asked me about are three different adventures. Each of them provides resources to support the successful implementation of the others.

In the area of the mural painting, my work can broadly be called “trompe l'oeil”. Characteristic of my approach is that actually little do I care for the "tricking the eye" concept. In the aesthetic hierarchy of my priorities, it is quite low and always in subjugated position. In short, my starting point is that beauty gives rise to image, not image - to beauty. This maxim sounds simple and even silly, but it has important theoretical and practical implications.
Mythological basis of my work there is the age-old idea of the garden as a symbol of Heaven. Lets put it more poetically – I play the role of "distributor" of fragments of Eden, of panoramas of its abandoned gardens. Well, I love to paint Eden, which is lightly wild, barbaric ... There's no way; long time has gone since the man was expelled from it. This wildness has a charm of its own and appears as a counterpoint to the modern sterility. Heavily on paradise, trimmed from the hand of the modern man. It would soon be turned into a triumph of lack and deadly boredom– some of the qualities today's artists are very proud with.

Regarding my artworks, I have always insisted that I am less an artist but rather a toy maker and storyteller. My paintings are myths, where seemingly the only just mastered chaos threatens to get out of control. Actually, these pictures are spaces full of symbols and enigmas, harmonized according to their own internal logic. Why I call them toys? The Play is surprise, quest, knowledge and contemplation. In the same way, I try to provoke the spectator through my pictures-toys, inviting him to become a co-author and to participate in the game. His task is to actuate the mechanism with the power of his imagination. And once he has got lost in the mythical world, he is challenged to mobilize his intuitive-intellectual orientation and to make his own discoveries.

Icon painting, unconditionally, I regard as the highest art. Nevertheless I have limited my activity in this field. I rarely make icons and mostly by order of acquaintances. The Icon is an art beyond the art itself; it is rather a theology. At the same time, it is a synthesis of ancient traditions of philosophical and practical approach to the image. I can say that the first 1-2 years practice and analysis of iconpainting have given me more insight into the art than all the years of academic practice.

Do you think that nationality has its place in art?

It depends on how we understand the nation. There are many conflicting views on this issue.
Talking about blood, I think that heredity predisposes a certain type of sensitivity. For example, I have some percentage of Mongolian blood. Thereby, I explain some things in my character, partly my affinity for Asian art and aesthetics. On the other hand, I determine myself as Bulgarian. For me, nation is a concept of supra-ethnic, culturaly- spiritual order. Thus, it could not be less than a bearer of potential with universal meaning. Another question is whether a nation will develop this potential, or self-satisfied will capsulate itself in the cocoon of tradition. By the way, the latest can happen even in advanced cultures, which had their universality deployed and proven in the past. There is always a risk for a culture to degrade to the level of ordinary tradition. Tradition is the sustainable steadfast form of culture that helps its dynamic layer. If it loses its driving force, its spirit, its thirst for going up, for elevating above itself, the tradition becomes a beautiful but lifeless shell. I'm afraid that this is what happens with the post-Christian Europe.

Each nation has its specificity, its unique point of view, which can complement the panorama of the world culture. The question is in the approach to the resources of tradition. Heritage, whatever great it is, can free you up, but also can enslave you. A reasonable successor will be able to find and creatively use the universal element in his tradition. Fool, on the contrary, will either deny and destroy his heritage, or narcissistically will go numb, rapt by the ethno or "the good taste".

The talent is inseparable with the internal movement, with craving for more and better, for him tradition is a tight clothing. However, he does not ruin it, but transforms it, gives it a meaning and eventually builds it.
So, in order to answer to your question, if the national element plays the role of a dictator, and proudly closes all doors for interaction and influence from the outside, then this approach is actually harmful and hinders the deployment of the national potential. Purpose of this potential is not to reproduce vacuously its past forms, but to develop itself.

Which books are you reading lately?

Firstly, I must mention the Bible. And I have also a shelf of books, which I am reading "recently". Little by little. This "recently" is a long period of time, maybe years. The list is long because I constantly start reading new titles before I have ended the old ones... And so the number of books on the shelf increases.
Here I have: "The Interpretation of Song of Songs" by Gregory of Nissа, 2-3 books by Andrei Kuraev, a book by Daniil Kharms, several books of poetry, the grandiose title "The Great ideas of 20th century” (yet the book is interesting), one for Mozart, "Politics and the Devil" by L. Kołakowski, Oscar Wilde's "De Profundis", "Confessions" of Rousseau, "Hands up or the Enemy Number One" with Gencho Simeonov’s illustrations ...Well, a complete cacophony. I have just finished a "History of the Middle Ages," "Numbers" by Pelevin and a whodunit by Agatha Christie ... I re-read the "Portrait of Dorian Gray" and "For Divine Names" of Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagite ... There are few more in the pile.

Are there any projects you are working on at the moment?

I am working on a few paintings. I’m thinking of a project, associated with hand painted furniture. But I will refrain to tell you more now.
I have spent the last year in privacy, reconsidering my previous experience. And what have I found you are asking? Well, I found there is no sense in any reconsiderations, because after that inevitably comes a reconsideration of the reconsiderations and etc., it’s endless. I’m joking, there are always benefits from thinking and balancing. If only one could afford it.

13. How do you see your future?

I do not see it. And I don’t try. I prefer to do what I have to, no matter what happens.

Would you say in one sentence what is the art for you?

I can say it with one word. Adventure.

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