Interview with Stefan Todorov
Stefan Todorov is probably one of the best known artists in Sofia, Bulgaria. His work is popular internationally and among his clients you will find Hillary Clinton, King Mohamed VI of Morocco and The Imperial Court of Japan.
Do you paint in silence or with music? If with music, what genre of music?
Always with music! Most of the time, I paint with contemporary music but not commercial. I listen to Arvo Pärt, John Surman, Eleny Karaindrou, Tord Gustavsen, Anouar Brahem etc.
Would a work of art turn out differently depending on if Baroque or Jazz is playing in the background?
My work and music are the way I express myself. They are organically linked. They combine a mutual sense; music is translated into a shape. However, I do not need music for inspiration.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I don’t look for inspiration. I feel when it’s the right moment to start the process because drawing is a communicative process; it’s a kind of language. I don’t paint or draw out of a burst of inspiration. My last work took me a year to produce so it could be compared to writing a book; completing one of the little elements in the painting would be like finishing a chapter.
Are your works of art always abstract?
It is very common to use the word “abstract” but yes, you may label it that way. I prefer to express emotions, the senses, the feelings of music and mind, and I would go so far as to say the subconscious.
What do you feel an abstract work offers the viewer compared to a scene or a portrait?
Space! You have a free space to explore, freedom to feel, to communicate, to ask yourself questions, to answer those questions. Nowadays, you have photography for portraits and landscape so for these there is no need for a painting. It is far more complicated to get in touch with invisible things.
Which famous artists have most influenced and inspired you?
No one has influenced me apart from architects. I love Art Deco. Regarding paintings, I love Austrian painters, especially Egon Schiele. I also like the doll drawings of Leon Bakst and I very much enjoy sitting in front of Francis Bacon paintings.
Watching you paint, you choose each line and brushstroke without hesitation; before you begin a painting, do you plan how it will be?
No, never. You can’t create invisible shapes if you have a plan, if you anticipate.
Does your art style and also your colour choice change with your mood?
No. Mood has nothing to do with the creation of shapes, colours, composition, graphic symbols... although shapes can create moods. To be honest, I don’t understand artists who are under the mood’s influence for their creativity. I believe that you have to rise above your mood. Even if your mood happens to be dark, you can’t be mood guided.
Does painting help you to control your mood?
It is more important to understand and to accept the mood I am in, to be aware of it.
Would you say there is something dark in some of your paintings despite the beautiful colours and shapes, a similar darkness that we witness in some Picasso or Dali paintings?
I can’t speak about Dali and Picasso paintings because I’ve never been there during their making process.Please define dark, a dark colour, a dark shape? There is no link between these and dark feelings. Black is as spacious as white but in a different direction. The communication between objects placed on white is different from the communication of objects placed on black, but black does not mean dark. There is absolutely no bad combination of colours. There are only bad combinations of shapes, dressed in colours.
What is your definition of beauty?
It is a question of knowledge (experience and education) in the first place, but also genetics and social background. Beauty is not when there is nothing to add, but rather when there is nothing to take away.
Is art a full-time job for you?
Can you describe to us a typical working day?
There is no typical working day. Every day is different by the people I observe, communication, talking, movement, different kinds of interactions. There are moments when I lead some kind of communication the direction or to the point I’ve wanted to. All this kind of “daily baggage” plays a part in my creative process.
How do you feel as you paint?
I feel what I paint, not myself. I can paint for 12 hours without stopping and when I finish, physically I feel absolutely exhausted while emotionally, I am just tired.
Are you thinking many thoughts or is the process a kind of meditation?
Meditation is a deep process but a very different process; it is less communicative than painting. Meditation is a technique to discover your inner self but it isn’t about discovering in the general sense. Discovering is observation, space, light - but nothing to do with the Buddhist understanding of light.
Many people do art to relax from their day job. As art IS your day job, what helps you to relax after work?
I just experience my feelings after I finish work. I don’t relax. It is again a kind of observation. Nonetheless, I relax when I feel myself moving.
How did your life path lead you to become an artist?
In a letter I wrote to my dad - who lived in Tunisia for 10 years - I made a drawing. I was only 3 years old. I’ve never been led to become an artist; it just came to me naturally. My mother, who is also an artist, never pushed me into art.
Did you come from an artistic family?
Yes. My grandmother was a stenographer and was one of the first Bulgarian fashion designers. My mother is also a fashion designer and a cartoonist. My dad was an architect and both of my grandfathers were architects too.
What were the consequences of communism on the art scene in Sofia?
The Art scene was totally crushed. No further explanation is needed.
How is the art scene in Sofia nowadays? Is there a thriving and supportive artistic community?
There is no art scene. There are many little galleries but they are more into jewellery, candles, pens, tacky paintings etc. There is no support for artists in Bulgaria. Or if there is any, it is linked to the mafia structure.
Do you ever feel that Sofia is too small for you?
Do you believe we all have artistic ability, or do only certain lucky people have talent?
I believe that only certain people have talent and ability. Talent is a translator and ability is the way you judge yourself.
What sort of commissions do you receive? From individuals? From corporate clients?
Do you find that children and adults respond differently to your art?
Yes, of course. Children have the courage to not shape words. Regarding the arts, the attitude of a child sounds like wonderful jazz. Adults have many boundaries and their music sounds like the tuning of an orchestra just before a performance.
Interviewed by Annie Solomons and Pierre Scordia - FΩRMIdea London, 11th July 2016.