Skip to main content

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.

 Subscribe to Praeterita in a reader


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


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

How to etch a linoleum block

Linoleum as a material for printmaking has been used for nearly a hundred years now. Normally, you cut an image out using special gouges similar to woodcut tools, cutting away the lino around the image you want to print. This is called relief printmaking, because if you look at the block from the side, the material that remains stands up in relief from the backing material. You then roll ink with a brayer over the surface of the block, place paper over it, and either print by hand or run it through a press. You can do complex things this way (for example, reduction linocuts), but the beauty of the process is that it is quick, simple, and direct.

A few years ago, I saw some prints that were classified as coming from etched linoleum blocks, and I loved the textures I saw in them. In the last few months, I've been trying to use this technique in my own studio, learning about it as one does these days from websites and YouTube videos. I've also had email exchanges with several pr…

Brancusi in Plastic

Artist Mary Ellen Croteau is showing these columns made from recycled plastic cartons and lids in the window of the Columbia College bookstore on Michigan Avenue. They are a playful homage to Brancusi's "Endless Columns", with a serious environmental message for our times:

Mary Ellen also runs a wonderful experimental art gallery in a window space in west Chicago, called Art on Armitage. I will be exhibiting a mixed media piece there during August 2012.

A List of Every Drink in Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises"

I first read Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises" when I was a teenager, and immediately fell in love with it. For the last couple of years, I have had the incredible privilege of teaching a class based around Hemingway in Paris -- while living and teaching in Paris itself, close to the Boulevard du Montparnasse, where most of the action of the novel's first half takes place.

Of the many things that one notices about the book, the colossal amount of drinking is something that stands out. These people didn't just drink like fish: they drank like whales, as if the ocean they swam in was alcohol and they had set themselves the task of drinking the seas of the world dry of it. During my read-through of the book before class started last year, I tried to underline every mention of drink in the book. And now, purely in the interests of science, I am listing the entire menu of booze mentioned directly by name. Some preliminary observations:
Most of this is…