Interview with Iliyan Ivanov
Could you please introduce yourself and tell us how you started in the arts? and your first experience in art making?
I was born in Burgas, a city of artists and poets in communist Bulgaria. Since 1996 I have lived in NY City and consider myself a New Yorker; but for all practical purposes I see myself as citizen of the world. My first memorable art experience was making art with my grandfather when I was 6 years old as we had a kind of an art contest drawing animals – I think I did 10 drawings in 5 min.
How would you describe yourself and your artwork?
I hesitate to define my art in terms of “style” or “-isms”; it would be more accurate to think of it as bodies of work or series. Each series is driven by a main idea and the means of expressing this idea may vary from figurative to abstract – for most part some type of mix of both representational images and free brush strokes. For instance, my latest series “The Forest of Grimm” is based on the fairytales by the Grimm brothers and includes large scale canvases, tall vertical works on paper and small 8X8inch works on wood panels. All these formats mix acrylic painting with collage and drawings. The main idea is the study of resilience and perseverance; the audience can identify some well-known characters (e.g. the Red Riding Hood and the Wolf) but these are “hidden” in the overall texture of free executed painting that creates light and movement.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I went through conventional training and looked up to the masters of the Renaissance. When in Bulgaria I started learning about Russian avant-garde art from the early 20th century. I got acquainted with contemporary American art later on and I am still discovering it. Lately I have been more interested in art brute, folk art and self-taught artists.
What emotions do you hope the viewers experience when looking at your art?
First – curiosity so that they may come back, see it again and learn more about it. But I mostly hope they will connect with the genuine rawness of the work – it is an eastern European recipe of melancholy, hope and desire with a light twist of unfulfilled dreams.
When do you know that an artwork is finished ?
As they say, when it is done you will know it!
What has been the most exciting moment in your art career so far?
It is usually the latest show – I just had a solo exhibit in NY in March 2018 at the Gitler & __ gallery I Manhattan. But there are moments that I will remember for long – among those the anniversary exhibits for two art collectives I have been part of. These were the last show for the Curb group in 2007 and the 10th annual show for the Openings collective in 2017 both in NYC. For those I participated as both artist and curator. I was also very excited to be one of the top 3 selections for the Canvas magazine contest in 2012 and the back cover of Art and Beyond magazine in 2016.
How long does it take to produce one work?
I usually work on more than one piece at the time. Some works, even large scale ones, can be done in one painting session. Some take few months; but it is not unusual for me to go back to a “finished” work and retouch or change parts of it – sometimes a year or two later.
What exciting projects are you working on right now? Can you share some of the future plans for your artworks?
I just completed two pieces for the Audubon Bird project in Upper Manhattan that presents public mural of birds endangered by climate change (the NY Times had covered it 2 years back). My selected bird is the woodstork. My next personal project is called Connect Four which is a body of 35 paintings that will be installed like a sculpture (an approach I have used in the past). The individual panels are painted on both sides – one side represents an individual token (red or blue) which is based on a monoprint from an image of a politician; the reverse sides are fragments of a large scale painting of trees battered by hurricane winds. The overall theme is a commentary on a system that is preoccupied with political games (hence the title) and remains indifferent to real life challenges.
Do you have any upcoming events or exhibitions we should know about?
My last solo show just closed on March 29th – so I am in preparation for the next one, but there is no date or time as of yet.
Where do you see your art going in five years?
Hopefully I will be ready for another solo exhibit in couple of years. I am still working on getting included in something like the Whitney biannual. I also wish to find a good place (preferably a public collection or a museum) for a 30 foot mural on paper that I created with my late friend and artist Mark Weiner called “Cross narratives” which I consider one of my best efforts.