Radosveta Zhelyazkova: I seek emotional bond with fans. Interview for BTA

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They crave more than simply an artwork; they want the artist

Art has the ability to affect mood, a moment. I believe that frequently contemplating or listening to art infused with positive messaging and energy has a beneficial impact on people’s nature, says artist Radosveta Zhelyazkova in an interview to BTA.

How did you land the cover of the Peripheral ARTeries magazine and the first page of the Twitter Art Exhibit 2019 album?

Peripheral ARTeries discovered me through social media and my two official websites – my main one and another that focuses on my works for children, which present a serious departure from my usual style. The magazine asked me to send them photos of various paintings of mine; I was also sent interview questions. Later, I found out they were going to put me on the cover.

As for the Twitter album, the social media platform has an annual charity exhibition, which takes submissions from hundreds of thousands of artists from around the world. Every edition has the show in a new location and with a different cause, which culminates in an album of the selected original paintings. I was surprised to see my Don Quixote picture on the first page of the catalogue alongside the Twitter logo.

What has your path in the world of arts been like?

I grew up in Plovdiv, going to painting classes from an early age. I wanted to attend an arts school, but my mother decided that I should go the classical route by taking exams in mathematics and Bulgarian and literature. I kept taking private lessons in painting, but the exam dates overlapped and I could not apply for the National Art School in Plovdiv so I ended up attending a high school specialised in humanities. Later, I studied marketing and then international relations in Italy. Following my return to Bulgaria, I started working on EU-funded projects, but I never stopped painting, showing my works and participating in competitions. Commissions considerably increased, I would often have to travel abroad, and once I had my children, I realised that I had a choice to make because I could not balance everything. It took me no more than 10 minutes to choose painting, of course.

At the time, I had no official training. I won a traditional-costume-themed competition organised by the Florence academy of arts and got a one-year scholarship. My paintings left a great impression there and three of them are still on display at the Accademia Riaci. Painting traditional costumes made me realise that the look in the subject’s eyes drew too much attention when my goal was to highlight the costumes. It occurred to me that one solution would be to paint faceless people and thus showcase what is timeless – the Bulgarian culture and traditions. Naturally, the faceless portraits cause quite the stir and wonderment – many asked me about the reason behind this treatment, others disliked it. Most artists misguidedly believe that art speaks for itself; that showing their works on social media, a website, a blog or in an exhibition space is more than enough to attract attention, increase their following and ultimately sell. My entire experience on the art market suggests that is a myth. Art fans crave more than simply an artwork, they want the artist. What intrigues them is not so much owning an artwork as the idea of the artist. They want to know not just the artist’s biography and how many pieces and exhibitions they have had, but the story of their life, artistic path, eccentricities, and motivation to create art. The more entertaining their CV, the greater chance they have to establish an emotional bond with their fans.

What prompted you to make art especially for kids?

I made some of the items in my children’s series when I was a kid, with tempera. I stumbled upon them 10 years ago and decided to try and recreate them with oils on canvas. I do not remember how I chose those specific themes back in the day, but the memories rushed back. I started with 2-3 trial projects and was delighted with the results. The colours just popped off the canvas, spreading positive energy. I saw the potential for an entire collection and the project started a life of its own. People from all over the world made orders and it even came to a point when I wanted to have an exhibition and lacked enough paintings in stock. I also have two children and I consult with them about the themes. This is how My Art for Kids was born. It turns out that my children’s works are often bought for adults.

Where do you find your inspiration? What gets your creative juices flowing?

I find everything around me thought-provoking, but people especially, as they are the living creatures with whom I communicate most. As of late, I would catch myself gazing at a person with interesting facial features while we are commuting together or passing each other on the streets. Sometimes I try to secretly take a picture and then paint from that image when I get home. I have also asked strangers to pose for me. I choose people who fascinate me on a physical and emotional level as the two are connected. I also like painting people from different nationalities. The human is definitely what inspires me and that interest pushed me to start an experimental series of portraits done in three colours and not only on canvas but on wooden surface as well. The result resembles a sepia effect, instead of the normal skin tone. These images are somewhat unsettling because the faces are covered in what looks like wound marks and scars. I enjoyed experimenting with that effect and noticed that irrespective of the abstract concept, the emotion in the eyes and the overall vibe of the face were unchanged. I think the result was interesting.

Can art change reality?

Art has the ability to affect mood, a moment. I believe that frequently contemplating or listening to art infused with positive messaging and energy has a beneficial impact on people’s nature. A month ago I received a letter form the conductor of Instituto Cervantes in Warsaw, asking me to use my Don Quixote painting in the institute’s poster because the image elicits positive emotions.

What is next for you?

Some time ago, I was contacted by Mariette Hathor who is from Cape Town and is the author of a very interesting philosophical children’s book. As she tells the story, she had been seeking the right artist for the illustrations for eight years until she saw my works and immediately knew I was that person. We got along so well that I became something of a co-author of the book, which is soon to be published.

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Radosveta Zhelyazkova is a multi-layered artist who dreamt of becoming a painter since she was a child. She attended the National Academy of Arts in Sofia and Accademia Riaci in Florence. Her paintings are featured in numerous catalogues and private and public collections. She has earned many accolades at international forums and competitions such as Celebrating the Genius of Women, in Orlando, US; the 2018 Visionary Art Award, in Moscow; World Wide Art Show, at the Caelum Gallery in Manhattan, New York; Accademia Riaci, in Florence; and the Twitter Art Exhibit editions, in Australia and Edinburgh. She also appeared on the June cover of the British contemporary art magazine Peripheral ARTeries.

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