“I believe, if you carry creative genes, creativity runs like a program and always finds its way to the world in a creative language. In my case, it is painting and crafting things.”
Tanya Atanasova is a Bulgarian born figurative painter, currently based in Antwerp, Belgium. Born in 1978, in Koprivshtica - the very heart of The Balkans. At the time Tanya was born, Bulgaria was a communistic people’s Republic. She can still recall a lot of the regime-time-feel of the country and the mentality back then. On the surface, her family was a standard, middle-class, working family, but digging deeper - it had a rich history of extremely emotional, intense moments and strained relationships, which have played a significant role throughout Tanya Atanasova’s life. Her father was a creative soul, who was interested in architecture and interior design, but never found a proper way to express his creativity. Instead, he ran the busiest restaurant in town (picture those old-days-chic restaurants, with a garden and an orchestra playing), where everyone’s wedding and funerals took place. Everyone in town knew the Atanasova family. Tanya's mother was a ridiculously strong woman. She was the daughter of a “bomber” - her father used to make a living detonating rock-formations, working on some of the most significant infrastructures (roads, railways and tunnels) of the country. Tanya still remembers secretly playing with dynamite in the attic of her grandparents’ house. Tanya had two brothers, who were very much into painting, drawing and inventing things. When she was nine, her brother Iliya (11) - an incredibly bright kid, died by an insane accident and that was the beginning of a very different life then. Her father could not bear his depression anymore and quickly found his way to abusive drinking and gambling. Tanya's mother left them behind, starting a new life and becoming super-religious. In a sense, they both found their consolation in different niches and they were left behind, growing up with all the complexity of “neglected kids.”
As Tanya grew up, the socio-political situation in the country had changed (the fall of The Berlin Wall times). The small-town mentality together with the too many family secrets started suffocating Tanya and one night, when she was 13, she left the house of her father and took the train to no return. Tanya arrived to Sofia and she found her mother, she moved in and lived with her during the next few years. Those were trying years of changes, chaos, comprehensive, pervasive crisis, hyperinflation, mafia wars and general misery and impoverishment. The ones who could - left the country, many people just didn’t make it. Back in those days, Tanya met a family, who almost adopted her and thanks to their moral support and the super hard work of her mother and her brother, supporting Tanya financially –she graduated successfully from the National Art Academy. In the hungriest years of the modern history of Bulgaria, she studied art and everyone claimed she was crazy. Many stories later, Tanya became the very first Erasmus exchange-student in Sint-Lucas Academy in Ghent and a year later, she moved to Belgium to stay!
When observing Tanya’s artwork, there is no need for explanations. You simply delve into the moment and somehow, really unknowingly, just partake in that experience. What is painted, suddenly becomes what is lived. What is felt. What is experienced…even if just vicariously. In a very subtle manner, through her artwork, Tanya personally delivers to you the keys to freedom. In a peculiar way, she is able to depict a sort of liberation that is of the type not confined to a structure, but more so, a liberation of the soul.
Q. What role does the artist have in society?
A. Nowadays, it is unthinkable to imagine a society without the Artist. The Artist has a key role and I can’t even imagine what life would look like without painters, dancers, actors, filmmakers, singers or writers…. People often consider the Artist to be the communicator and the repository of a society’s collective memory. The Artist in general, catches something, that fact-based historical records cannot – namely: how does it feel to exist at that particular historical moment….
Art not only fosters the human need for self-expression and fulfillment, the Artist also has the little less romantic side of being economically viable. The creation, distribution and management of art in all forms employs many and it's a perfect moment to realize that, after all the heavy Covid-months of massive unemployment.
Q. What’s your best childhood memory?
A. I have many crazy memories from my childhood, but somehow, I love the most, some weird ones, related to places, aromas, textures or sounds, giving me a sense of safety, I guess.
I used to love going with my granny, Christina, to the public mineral bath for instance. Just us. The hot mineral water gave me that awesome sense of total relaxation. I still remember the smell of the fresh, cotton, white sheets, they were wrapping you in, after the final soaking in the hottest pool …The Bath was also the very place I got used to seeing, accepting and appreciating naked bodies of all shapes and ages, a lot before my first nude drawing classes – such a fascinating and so very animated place.
Q. As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up?
A. As a child I never had a clear idea of what I wanted to become really (there were not so many artists-role models around me in my childhood), but by observing people around me, I perfectly knew, what I didn’t want to become.
Q. Do you remember the first art you made? What was it and how old were you?
A. No, I must have been too young to remember my first artworks, but I sure remember my very first “exhibition” at the age of 8!
The town I was born in, is the most popular and preferable place by many Bulgarian art schools. Thousands of students have had their summer practices there – practically, due to its unique architecture it’s officially a “town-museum.” The house of our neighbors was one of the classics, many students were going for a centuries-old and very charming house. And whenever I saw students drawing/painting on the street, I took my block paper and my colors and came to join them, copying all the rituals they were doing.
At the end of every season, I must have had so many drawings of that house. Aunty Lily, the owner of the house made an “exhibition” of them. We carefully selected all the paintings and hung them in the garden, on the washing wire with clothes pegs. We made cake and elderberry lemonade and invited the neighborhood grannies! It was such a lot of fun!
Q. How and when did you first become seriously interested in art?
A. I guess when I was 6 or 7, in the studio of my first art teacher. It was one of my favorite places and I was taking everything that was going on there profoundly serious.
Q. Share with us some of the highlights of your artistic career?
A. I’m fortunate - my work has been published in a numerus blogs, newspapers and magazines, but there are some I really felt it was so special being published in there - American Art Collector is one of them, Fine Art Connoisseur(USA), Beautiful Bizarre (Australia) and many European art magazines…
Because I often take part in international concourses, my works sometimes make their way to some pretty impressive venues, but the warmest, the most welcoming and memorable show I ever had, was curated by Didi Menendez and Jose Manuel Infiesta for MEAM, Barcelona for International Women’s Day, last year. Jose Manuel Infiesta - the director of MEAM, threw such a stunning, and I mean STUNNING, opening ceremony for us - we all still talk about it. There were so many friends, from all over the world, we were surrounded by such a good energy all the time – they truly made memories for life!
Q. What does your art aim to express?
A. I paint figuratively and detailed anyway, but I most enjoy the moment when I succeed to reproduce the character of my model, not only his/her physical likeness. I love telling a little more about that person to the viewer so they can connect.
Q. What medium(s) do you work with?
A. I work in oil and use different mediums for oils, but I have my trusty materials and don’t like messing around with different mediums too much. I prefer to work on Belgian linen and preferably of the best quality – I’m a bit of a maniac about quality, not only about my own work, but also about the materials I use.
Q. What personality trait has gotten you in the most trouble?
A. In contrast with now, I was a very courageous and curious child and an extremely rebellious teenager. Those three things in combination with the historical momentum I grew up in, were an extremely dangerous combination. If I hadn’t run into my second family and wouldn’t have had my few older guardian-angel-friends – I would probably have ended up in jail, I bet on it.
Q. What have you had to sacrifice for this career?
A. Nothing actually… I live a life nobody calls “normal,” but being an artist is the only thing I know and can do organically. Being an artist is inseparable with being myself and what’s better than being a good happy version of yourself? It saved me as a human many times and it was the most logical outcome for the person I am. The many “sacrifices” I’ve done to get where I’m today – I would do anyway, I guess…
Now luckily, I have found my boyfriend, who enjoys the same kind of “non-normal” living and appreciates another creative weirdo around, so… it’s all good.
Q. Who are your biggest influences, are you inspired by the work of your peers or anyone else in particular?
A. I believe my first art teacher, Varcho Varchev, has influenced me a lot. He always treated me with lots of respect and was the first one to advise me to go for an art school, which I didn’t know how to achieve on my own back then at 6, but I did remember it later, it seems.
My second big artistic crush is the father of my best friends – Nicky Sredovski, who is a very good imaginative-realism artist. He spent years and years, teaching, preparing and supporting me for art schools and career. He is the best father figure I ever had in my life and I still enjoy our gin & tonic moments talking art & life.
For the rest, oh they are many: Dino Valls, Nick Alm, Aleah Chapin, Eloy Morales, Jeremy Geddes, Alyssa Monks, Osamu Obi, Benjamin Björklund, Pamela Wilson...
Q. Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
A. Hummm yes, in a way working isolated in the studio, can be very lonely indeed, but I have a little strategy against that – one day a week I teach painting at a local hobby school, which gives me a vast social contact with my students for 13 years. I regularly see friends too, many of whom are also artists, I spent hours weekly video-calling with my family and friends who are not around.
Q. Apart from your art, what do you love doing?
A. I love traveling and seeing friends. I love inspiring conversations about life and art.
I love architecture, beautiful interiors, all kind of craft ateliers and handmade items.
I love spending time in wild nature. I live in a busy city now and I miss nature tremendously, so just for the fun, I make one or two LandArt-installations a year as a little city-escape…
Q. What is your philosophy in matters of art?
A. Just be very open and honest with your public – that’s all.
Q. What does 'success' mean to you?
A. I guess, it’s a matter of being respected, based on your own skills and knowledge.
Q. What are the biggest things you've learned in life thus far?
A. I’m still planning to write some books about this in the future where I can probably give a better answer to this question, but knowing where I come from and how my life has developed till now, I’ve learned to trust and love people unconditionally. I learned there are so many good people out there ready to love you, forgive you or support you and that is all I need to know in life.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and by who?
A. Never settle for the money - my granny used to say.
She was a beautiful, courageous woman with a fascinating life story, who married the rich/wrong guy. Her sense of humor and funny pieces of advice are still alive with me today.
Q. What advice would you give to the next generation?
A. I don’t really feel that wise to give advices to others… I guess, everyone will find his/her own way of going through life and that would be a unique event anyway, so just being yourself is enough!