Anastas Konstantinov was born March 29th, 1956 in Peshtera, Bulgaria. From a young age he possessed a creative eye, creating small sculptures out of clay near the family’s home in Plovdiv. After a sudden illness in 1970 that caused him to take a break from school for a year, he began to take up art seriously. Anastas’ artistic development included four years of preliminary art school and then another four years at the University of Veliko Turnovo. His education introduced him to his first artistic inspirations and allowed him to master his art, but also made him aware of the way that the communist regime had distorted reality to fulfill its needs. He grew defiant while listening to Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago” covertly on the radio and reading banned literature. To his outrage, communism had even managed to infiltrate the art world; when his art began to reflect his intellectual development, displaying themes of dissidence and rebellion, many of his teachers expressed their repugnance toward his opposition to the communists. Nonetheless, some of his teachers recognized his singular talent and applauded his potential.
After he graduated from the art school in 1982, Anastas continued to paint and to absorb all that he could about life outside of the Iron Curtain. But it is during this time also that Anastas began to turn to the word of God for help while facing totalitarianism. Many Christian symbols such as the crucified man, still so dominant in his work today, began to emerge in his paintings. In the next few years, his status as a legitimate artist started to solidify. His works were sold to museums and private collectors in successful solo exhibitions based in Plovdiv and he joined the Union of Bulgarian Painters. In 1986, Anastas installed a conceptual exhibition called the “Gates of Light,” an old door with a lit candle replacing one of the panels. The exhibition was open for only one week before the communist party denounced it as “religious and ideological diversion.” In response, Anastas painted a new series, “The Red Pigs,” to be exhibited in Sofia laden with even greater themes of social discontent and upheaval. His paintings shortly began to foretell the failure of communism to subsist just as they gained critical approval. With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, Anastas was finally able to openly express his anti-communist political views by participating in protests. At this point in his career, Anastas had completed exhibitions all over Bulgaria, as well as in Paris, Pittsburgh, New York, Toronto, Hanover, Hamburg, Geneva, Madrid, Helsinki, Vrotslav, and more. Nonetheless, his artistic development had yet to be completed. With the fall of communism, his constant battle against the state took a back seat to further artistic explorations.
In 1993, a new series, called the “Sacredness of Love,” garnered a positive response, including an article that asserted, “the spirit of time has softened the anger and ennobled the emotions…[Anastas] has realized that a lie cannot be deadened with violence, but only with love.” At this time also Anastas finished the painting Eucharistia (Holy Communion), which took him a total of ten years to complete. An article claimed that the painting “marks a high point in Anastas Konstantinov’s artistic growth” and that “Anastas has skillfully found the plastic expression of the worldly and heavenly aspirations and the thoughts of man.” Another landmark painting in Anastas’ career, Charisma (Gifts from the Spirit), was formed as a result of an impactful visit to Italy in which Anastas was able to connect more deeply with ancient art at various museums.
After almost two decades of concerted artistic development, Anastas finally began to construct the Anastas Gallery in an old part of Plovdiv where ancient peoples had lived some 7,000 years prior. So as to preserve the Neolithic, Thracian, Roman, and Medieval remnants, archeologists supervised the construction. The gallery opened in 1999 alongside 90 completed works during an important cultural month in Plovdiv attended by many famous Bulgarian politicians. Shortly after, he was asked to take part in a German documentary about Bulgarian culture and was invited by the Bulgarian Cultural Institute in Berlin to create a solo exhibition, a sign that his status as Bulgaria’s most important living painter was truly becoming solidified.
The new millennium brought about a new focus for Anastas: the Thracians. Deeply impacted by what he saw during the construction of the gallery, he creates a series of drawings called The Thracians’ Song and the large sculpture Astral Thracian King. His visit to the Aegean islands inspires a series of paintings and sculptures called Aegean Visions. Anastas’ prolific and remarkable work continued to garner him critical acclaim from European art names as large as Christian Noorbergen, the French art critic who recently included Anastas in his Carte Blanche exhibition of important contemporary artists at the renowned Schwab Gallery in Beauborg, Paris, but his artistic talents have yet to be truly acknowledged within the United States.
Believing in the merit and power of Anastas’ art, Mr. Michelangelo Celli, an art collector and businessman based in Pittsburgh, created the US Project in 2012 in order to promote Anastas’ work in America over a five-year period. As a result of this project, Anastas traveled to Pittsburgh, opening and working in a new studio supported by Mr. Celli to create the US Project paintings that would later be exhibited at the Select Fairs Miami and New York City. After completing the paintings they were privately viewed in a successful open studio covered by local media. In a beautiful act of spirit Anastas painted a portrait of the architect Mr. Thomas C. Celli which was unveiled at the historic Duquesne Club during a private party hosted by his son, and attended by many friends including the Ambassador of Bulgaria to the United States, Her Excellency Elena Poptodorova. A second private exhibition of 10 watercolors was opened in May 2014. The project is currently in its second year out of five. It is building a strong awareness for Anastas in the US, as well as exposure and excitement for the spirit of his art.
The US Project has generated even more enthusiasm for the art of Anastas in his own country, gaining the interest of television, radio, and art publications in Bulgaria who are increasingly understanding Anastas’ important contributions to European and world art. As a result of this enthusiasm, Anastas was asked to present nearly 100 of his paintings in a successful exhibition at the City Art Gallery in Plovdiv. Anastas continues to reside in Plovdiv, the city of his childhood, where his gallery has become a centerpiece of culture.
Written by Emily Tallo