This story was written by Doneliya Deneva
Set in a small town, nestled in the heart of a small country, this is an ordinary story, but not quite. The year is 1981. A young woman, who rents a room in the basement of her landlord’s house, is expecting a girl. It’s midnight. Ivelina Ivanova comes to life on the 23rd of March. The place of birth is a city founded 3200 years ago, a cradle of culture and spirit – Shoumen, Bulgaria. This is a story about Ivanova, a young painter who will never give up on her dream.
Ivanova shows a passion for drawing from an early age; she is the only child and the first artist in her family. She paints since she was 12, why, she doesn’t know. She just does it. Ivanova uses mixed media – watercolors and pastels – but most of her art work consists of oil paintings, combining hot colors and strong emotions. Ivanova’s paintings have recognizable elements of modern abstract, but always with clear and influential messages. “My paintings illustrate my life expressed in an abstract way through my feelings and emotions,” Ivanova says, pauses for a few seconds, and adds, “and my brush of course.”
Ivanova’s first solo exhibition was recently held in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. This public appearance of her work evoked positive reactions from the public. “The exhibition was a rare opportunity to share my world with family and friends and meet new artists. The feeling that took over me during the exhibition is indescribable,” Ivanova says.
In 2003, Ivanova graduates with a bachelor degree in Fine Arts from St. Cyril and St. Methodius University of Veliko Tarnovo, where she majored in graphic art. The same year, her work — consisting of a few graphics illustrating human bodies — appears in the “Lessedra” graphics exhibition in Chicago, Illinois; but soon she discovers a much greater talent with a brush, exploring the emotional possibilities of color on the canvas surface. The same year she also finds someone special to love, which is the reason she moves to Stara Zagora, another city in Bulgaria known for its rich culture and influential art community. There, she spends the next six years. Last year, unpleasant circumstances in her life — that Ivanova doesn’t want to share – force her to move back to her hometown. Fortunately, she recovers quickly and adapts to her new life. In a few weeks, she converts the attic of her mother’s house into a small, but very inspirational and cozy art studio, which she calls “work and home.”
At first sight, Ivanova’s studio seems disorganized but the artist’s signature all around the room is quite notable and pleasant for the eye. Despite the chaos, every object and piece of furnishing has its own purpose. Abundant light comes from the large balcony facing east. Almost everything is handmade, decorated by Ivanova, or a present from her artist friends. Even the oven, painted in dark green, and the couch, decorated with small handmade pillows in olive and cherry colors reveal the painter’s touch.
There are paintings on every wall of the room, on the floor, on the table, on the corners, and even on the curled stairs that lead to the second level of the studio, which she turned into her bedroom. Ivanova lives here alone. The computer monitor on the small desk hiding in one corner is outdated and no longer sold in the stores. “I thought about buying a new monitor, but I’m sentimental about the time when technology wasn’t capable of taking over our souls,” Ivanova says and then she adds,” I bought mine used a few years ago, but the quality is great; I even use it as a heater during the winter.” Ivanova starts giggling and lights a cigarette.
Ivanova and two of her friends are sitting around the small square white table in her studio. A bottle of “Johnnie Walker,” a tall vase painted by the artist in white and purple, and a large orange candle form a triangle in the middle of the table. Ivanova’s dark brown hair is messy, not too short and not too long. She wears jeans, a plain black long-sleeve shirt, and a dark purple scarf. She doesn’t wear any makeup or jewelry, but her nails are painted in light purple. Her big brown eyes are deep and expressive, in a way, revealing her soul. But most notable is her shining smile, so contagious that could make the saddest person smile. “Everyone loves Ivelina’s attitude, her unpretentious personality, and idiosyncratic outlook,” says Kristian Jeliazkov, a rock musician whose father is also a painter. Jeliazkov feels at home in the studio, relaxing in the wooden purple chair on the left of the beige couch, holding his cigarette in the smoke-laden air. “Ivelina can be obnoxious sometimes,” Jeliazkov smiles and as he turns towards Ivanova adds, “But she is a great friend. We grew up together and we inspired each other through the years.”
Jeliazkov’s girlfriend, Gergana Georgieva, sits on the floor next to him with her legs crossed. She is dressed casual, in blue jeans and a red sweater. Her curly long brown hair falls gently on her pale face. “Ivelina is a constantly evolving artist; her work is utterly distinctive and notable,” Georgieva says as she curiously studies Ivanova’s newest paintings, which will be shown at an upcoming collaborative exhibition in the painter’s hometown. “Ivanova is also a person with a great sense of humor and an extraordinary personality that touches the heart of everyone she meets,” Georgieva adds.
Some of the paintings at Ivanova’s studio are smaller than others; a few graphics and many colorful images resting in frames of different sizes. From the top of the black and white cabinet, Jeliazkov picks up one of Ivanova’s small graphics, “After the Spectacle,” which illustrates a clown in his costume, sitting on a bench with crossed legs and holding a large ball in one hand. “Ivelina’s work is already admired by many, and it will be by many more in years to come,” Jeliazkov says as he pours scotch into his empty glass. Then he lights a cigarette and continues, “Her approaches to painting and dealing with people are extraordinary.”
Intoxicated by dreams of art, Ivanova reads, writes, and paints. She is also a poet who doesn’t want to be discovered. She writes poetry, but with the single purpose to label her paintings with distinctive names. In fact, she dedicates a poem to each of her paintings, which helps her connect with her art. She also listens to alternative rock music. She visits art galleries. She doesn’t miss a good performance at the theater — whether it’s a musical, a ballet, or a play. But her inspiration doesn’t come only from music, literature, or art. “What inspires me is the reality in which I live – its beauty and its cruelty. In my paintings, I try to express in a personal way, everything that surrounds me and everything that I experience in this life,” Ivanova says.
Ivanova doesn’t have a job because she can’t have a boss. “I feel the need to break all limits and find freedom. But I know I could do that only in my paintings,” Ivanova says. This independence comes with sacrifices and at times she faces financial hardship. During most of Ivanova’s time in Stara Zagora, she didn’t have a stable job, but every day she worked hard — observing and learning the world around her to rediscover herself and improve her paintings. Between 2003 and 2007, Ivanova participated in about a dozen exhibitions, collaborating with other talented young painters. Then, she won the young artist consolation prize of Stara Zagora in 2007 and the Art Grand Prize in 2008. Unfortunately, since 2003, she has sold only a few paintings even though the average price of one of her paintings is about $300. But led by her passion for art, Ivanova is able to improve herself and her talent every time she overcomes financial difficulties and other obstacles in life.
“I have no other choice but to constantly reinvent myself,” Ivanova says. This process of reinvention is expressed in many of her paintings. Some are painted in dark colors, revealing the artist’s melancholic mood. Others, painted in bright colors, show Ivanova’s obsession with life. Ivanova brings people and objects from her memory and gives them life by the gentle touch of her brush — every time in a new, different way.
“Her willingness to scarify everything for her passion of art is what makes her exceptional,” Jeliazkov says. Georgieva explains that after Ivanova quit her job as a graphic designer in May 2010, she spent the summer in a small resort on the Black Sea. There, Ivanova gathered many emotions that she later expressed in paintings shown at her first solo exhibition. “We discussed some of her paintings while in progress. She was calm the whole time and extremely happy. I never seen her like this before,” Georgieva says.
After two drinks, Ivanova talks rapidly, she smiles more, she makes gestures with her hands more frequently. A lot of emotions are gathered in the small room. Jeliazkov notices Ivanova’s blushing cheeks, and while she is jumping off the couch impatient to show her newest painting, he says, “Alcohol stimulates our minds and allows us to go beyond the limits and explore our potential as artists.” Then, he gets up off his chair and follows Ivanova. “Around people, Ivelina is shy; but when she is around friends, you can’t stop her from talking,” Georgieva says and secretly observes Ivanova as she enthusiastically presents her new painting to Jeliazkov. “A Shooting Star” was painted after Ivanova returned from her summer vacation on the Black Sea. As one of the most distinctive paintings presented during Ivanova’s first solo exhibition, it reveals Ivanova’s romantic persona — illustrating a bright star falling from the sky in the dark night, golden sands, and small waves playing in the blue sea.
Nadia Pavlova and her husband, Boris Pavlov, are the owners of Art Gallery Paris located in Sofia. Ivanova’s first solo exhibition, “Transitions,” was hosted there in September 2010. “Ivelina is a young and talented author who has a lot more to say through her art,” Pavlova says. Pavlova comes from a family of artists; she is a painter herself. “I’m sure that with time her style will change and she will continue to rediscover herself in her paintings,” Pavlova says and then she adds, “I’m also sure that she will never stop creating art in any form.” The goal of Art Gallery Paris is to discover young talents and give them an opportunity to expose their work. “We saw Ivelina’s talent. We like how she fills the canvas surface with pure color. She has a great potential and that was the reason why we hosted her first solo exhibition at our gallery.” Pavlova says. Pavlova explains that the exhibition was a very special occasion that brought together many of the painter’s friends and family to share Ivanova’s “moment of glory,” while enjoying red wine and viewing her paintings.
Ivanova calls the exhibition “Transitions” because many of her paintings express a transition between the material world and the spirit, which shapes the painter’s style as distinctive and recognizable. “The characters from Ivelina’s paintings are rough on the outside and soft and lonely on the inside,” Pavlova says. Pavlova believes that exactly this contrast between form and emotional condition is what Ivanova calls “transition.” Ivanova says that the “transitions” are those moments when she enters a new reality — different and unfamiliar — when for a short time she is able to control her life. “The transition is a form of the spirit, which doesn’t recognize substance or time — those beautiful but hard, extraordinary and mysterious moments, when in the silence I realize I’m not alone,” Ivanova shares.
One of the paintings displayed during the exhibition, “Portrait,” illustrates a face without contours that expresses Ivanova’s reminiscence of a person who has transformed into the painter’s emotional memory — stored in her heart and soul, it could not be destroyed by the passage of time. Pavlova says that “Portrait” was a very distinctive painting that separated itself from the rest and that’s why people noticed and enjoyed this painting the most. “Ivelina is a strong-minded and sincere person; an emerging artists for whom the ‘transitions’ are only a small part of her chosen path,” Pavlova says.
Van Gogh and Salvador Dali are among the painters from whose work Ivanova learns different painting techniques; painters that she greatly admires. But her favorite is Paul Gauguin who was a leading Post-Impressionist French painter of late 18th century. Gauguin’s bold experimentation with coloring significantly influenced modern art and many great artists like Pablo Picasso. Gauguin’s masterpiece, and Ivanova’s much loved painting, “Where Do We Come From,” symbolizes Gauguin’s life. “I like Gauguin because I relate to his view of the world and I like how he expresses his life in his paintings,” Ivanova says. Her favorite musician is David Bowie, “I like the influence of his music on me,” Ivanova notes. Her favorite writers, Gabriel García Márquez and Ivo Andric, are both winners of the noble prize in literature. In short, Ivanova learns from the best.
The writings of Gabriel García Márquez are important to Ivanova because she closely relates to his “Hundred Years of Solitude,” where every character struggles against isolation to maintain a connection to a rapidly changing world. “Marquez work helps me shape my style as a painter and an artist,” Ivanova says. Similarly, the works of Ivo Andric expressed through material drawn mainly from the history, folklore, and culture of his native Bosnia, have a close connection to her life in Eastern Europe.
One of Ivanova’s favorite paintings, “Grandpa’s House,” illustrates her grandfather’s house in the country side — painted in brown, black, and wine colors — where Ivanova spent many summers with her father and her grandparents during her childhood. After her father died from cancer in 1999, Ivanova moved to another city to pursue her art degree. “I couldn’t live in the house during those hard times. Everything reminded me of my father,” Ivanova says and her voice trembles.
“I paint life,” Ivanova says passionately while taking a puff of her long skinny cigarette. Then she smiles. She raises her glass of scotch and takes a sip. She smiles again, and as she takes another puff of her cigarette, she whispers, “Life is like a burning cigarette – enjoyable and poisonous – so addictive, you don’t notice when it’s over.” She puts out her cigarette and lights another one.