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Interview with painter Konstantin Ray

Konstantin Ray
I discovered the work of painter Konstantin Ray on the internet. He was also involved with a beautiful little studio gallery in Bulgaria, where he is originally from, and when it turned out that he also lives in Chicago, I thought this would all make for a fascinating interview. I wasn't wrong. Even though English is his second language, Konstantin talks eloquently about his art, and the state of the art world in his home country.

Philip: Where is the Studio Gallery Artray, and what is its history?

Konstantin: The studio gallery Artray was opened on June 18th, 2010 in the old capital city of Bulgaria, V.Tarnovo. It’s by the riverside in the old part of the city (“Mahala Asenov”) and it’s surrounded by historic churches. The gallery is the first and the only art gallery in this remarkable spot of the town. Previously it was the art studio of a famous artist from the town, Georgi Raychev (1936-2004). Now the gallery exhibits his paintings as well as works by some talented local and foreign artists. The studio gallery Artray is one of my most significant projects.

Studio Gallery Artray, V. Tarnovo, Bulgaria
Philip: What is the art scene like in Veliko Tarnovo and Bulgaria?

Konstantin: Although V. Tarnovo is my hometown, I’m not very familiar with the art scene there because most of my time I spend in Chicago, USA, where I have been living for more than one decade now. Every year I spend about three months in V. Tarnovo, so probably my opinion won't be absolutely correct, but I can share here some of my impressions from the Bulgarian art scene today. Basically I'm not very enthusiastic with the condition of the world’s contemporary art and I can’t say anything much different about Bulgarian art today, which somehow is still under the heavy influence of a not-so-creative past. I have a feeling that Bulgarian artists just can’t enjoy their freedom enough, even today. After forty-five years of restrictions under the Communist regime, there is still some fear and confusion in the air which prevents artists from thinking outside the box. I can’t see many challenging and provocative ideas in the local art galleries. Of course there are a few exceptions, and I hope that my gallery is one of them. I personally like the international art scene of the sixties, the eighties, and earlier in the 20th century. The art of that period of time was based on feeling, an inspiring feeling; today it is mostly thought, and is kind of boring. Though thank God there are exceptions too!

Studio Gallery Artray overlooks the Yantra River in
V. Tarnovo, Bulgaria

: You are also an artist. Tell us about your work 

Konstantin: I'm wandering between the European and American painting traditions. I like the style of European Expressionists and America’s Abstract Expressionism. People like Munch, Baselitz and Twombly are a great inspiration for me.

'Doodle 8', Acrylic on board, 56 cm x 50 cm, 2009
Lately I’ve been enjoying working with digital photography. Even though I'm not a young artist anymore, I'm still seeking and trying to find my own spot in the art scene. I guess it will be a long process without any guarantee for success, but at least there is hope that this process could give me some inspiration and excitement, and could save me from the routine and the dullness with which everyday life is full of.

'Doodle 9', Acrylic on board, 90 cm x 70 cm, 2009
Philip: How is life for a contemporary artist in modern Bulgaria?

Konstantin: The life of the contemporary Bulgarian artist is the same as for the rest of the Bulgarian population today: not easy at all. Most of them are on the edge of surviving. Bulgaria is the poorest European country and the Bulgarian people are the most desperate in the European Union by all statistics. This leads to much skepticism inside the artistic community. Most of the Bulgarian artists are forced by the tough economic situation to make compromises with their art work just to put something on the table at the end of the day. Of course it's not the case with all of them. There are some with privileges but for sure they aren't the most talented. Unfortunately, the remains of the previous creepy Communist autocracy are still visible everywhere in Bulgaria.

Philip: Is the internet, Facebook, etc. useful in connecting you to a wider world of artists?

Konstantin: Yes, the internet, Facebook and other social networks can be helpful sometimes. Some of the artists who are presented in my gallery now I've met on the internet.

Philip: What are your plans for the future, both for your art and for the gallery?

Konstantin: I'm not a great plan maker but I hope I will still be crossing the Atlantic every year, trying to be here and there. I would like to be something as a bridge between the greatest art scene in the world and one small and poor but also beautiful and promising European country. And I believe that I will be one strong enough bridge.

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  1. Thank you, Philip, for helping us to ever broaden our horizons, be they written or visual.


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