Interview conducted by Emily Tallo
In 2012, Michelangelo Celli approached Anastas with a vague, improbable idea that would later become the US Project. Without Yordanka Palkova, an intelligent Bulgarian woman who speaks near-perfect English and whose friends call her “Dani”, it is hard to imagine how the project would have moved forward. Whenever she was called upon, Dani would unselfishly translate materials or act as an intermediary for Anastas, whose English skills were then non-existent, and Michelangelo—in addition to her full-time job. Throughout the interview, she answers my questions almost poetically, constantly returning to the spiritual and meaningful aspects of his paintings. It is as if I’m listening to a tale about Anastas, the mythical artist, instead of facts about Anastas, the mortal painter. Continue reading if you want to immerse yourself in her singular perspective.
Tell me about yourself and what you do.
I’m a partner in a marketing company based in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. I’m naturally predisposed to all kinds of creative work. I graduated with a degree in English literature from University in Plovdiv and afterward I graduated with a degree in European Studies from the University of Sofia.
How long have you known Anastas and how did you come to know him?
I have known Anastas since 2001. I was just out of secondary school and he and Emilia invited me to help them with translating. Neither of them are really good English speakers so they needed somebody who they could trust to help them with their interactions [with collectors and museums] and to translate various kinds of materials that they needed for Anastas. So we got really close and they asked me to be the [maid of honor] at their wedding.
What are some of the things you have done for Anastas both in Bulgaria and with the US Project?
The really important and major thing was assembling the retrospective catalogue and being part of the whole creative process of creating it. It was a lot of work; it was like 2 years of work. It needed attention to every detail because [the point of] this retrospective catalogue was to gather all the things of his life up until now. Being a very, very prolific painter, he had a lot of paintings to be exposed there as well as a lot of materials in terms of art and in terms of interviews that had to be published. We had several months of selecting which of the materials would go into the catalogue. Afterwards we had to decide how to lay out this catalogue so that it would be readable. After that we started translating it. I had to do a lot of work to find the right expressions in English. For the US Project, I was the person who was there from the very beginning, during their first meetings with Michelangelo. I guess I was the intermediary who interpreted all the initial ideas of Michelangelo to Anastas and who translated all of their brainstorming in the very, very beginning. So I was part of the American project from the very start.
Why do you think the US Project has caused such a stir in the Bulgarian media?
Anastas is a very important Bulgarian painter. So, being exposed on the world level and on the really important art scene in the US was big news. Michelangelo is more famous in Bulgaria now than Anastas is in the US!
Describe the art scene of Plovdiv. What is it like? What role does Anastas play in it?
There is an art scene, but I don’t want to compare Anastas to anybody because he is a unique painter in terms of style and even in terms of individual presence. I am not an art critic, but for me he is unmatchable. There are other painters. Plovdiv is known as an art city, where most of the Bulgarian painters are seated—most of the notable painters. But speaking of contemporary painters there are very, very few who can match Anastas’ importance, and if you speak in terms of value he is the only one who has a private gallery that displays only his works.
Why is art important to Bulgaria today?
Art is always important to the people who are looking for the spirit. Everywhere in the world is the same—if you are looking to find spirit or to find meaning, yes, you are going to find it in art. Anastas’ art is meaningful, and that’s his value I believe, unlike the decorative paintings that are everywhere on the contemporary art scene at this point.
What impact do you think Anastas has had thus far on Bulgarian art? What about European art?
During the communist period because of his background his father was in concentration camp. Anastas was very rebellious so he made an exhibition at that time called “The Red Pigs.” It was closed by the communist regime so he was called to the communist regime to give an explanation. You can imagine what a hard life he had at that time. After the fall of communism his creative energy was able to spring out naturally and to give full display to all his ability to paint in color. This was his rise in his career. So he is a legendary painter for Bulgaria. He’s unique. He can’t be compared to any painter who lived before him or who is living now. He is unmatchable. He has collectors from all over the world—from the US, from Japan, from the Netherlands, from Germany, from all of Europe, basically from everywhere.
How do they find out about him?
When you have seen something like the phenomenon that is Anastas you cannot forget it. When you go back you usually tell your friends and to people who are interested in art that you have really seen a phenomenon in terms of art. Once they have a chance to come by they go to see the paintings of Anastas and to meet him.
How does Anastas’ art affect you?
It’s like a door, a special door in my consciousness is opening to something of value, something of meaning. It gives me back a feeling of contentedness that there are still people in art who can convey meaning. When you have seen people crying in front of Anastas’ paintings, you will understand what I mean.
What experiences does it induce?
Art is about emotions, so in this sense he is very true to himself because you would never see a painting by Anastas that can be compared to or that copies another painting. He’s not making posters. He’s making unique pieces of art. In any painting, there is deep symbolism at the same time it is bursting with bright colors. The layers give the feeling of this 3D impact, so basically, when you see it, it grabs you no matter if it brings a sad feeling or a happy one. It’s a deeply emotional painting, and depending on your personal state and emotions of the person who is the spectator, he projects his own emotions on the art of Anastas.
Do you have any of Anastas’ paintings? If so, how did you come to acquire them?
I always say this to my parents: owning paintings of Anastas’ is my biggest investment in life. In all my work that I have done with them I have never requested to be paid in any other way than in art. I have sculptures and paintings and I am pretty happy with them. I have a huge painting that was painted especially for me. It’s called “Beyond Unconsciousness” and it is signed “To Dani, with love.”
I can’t imagine having so many of Anastas’ paintings hanging in my home!
You know Anastas is a painter who needs a wall—you cannot put too many of his paintings of Anastas one next to another. Each one of them needs a wall because it is precious.
What do you think makes Anastas’ artwork so remarkable and singular?
His connection with God…Whatever his connection is with heaven, he is investing it into the canvas and it’s visible. You cannot look at a painting of Anastas’ without getting a feeling of this connection.
What about his painting style?
Usually they refer to it as “new expressionism,” but it’s something like a vibrant expressionism. Probably the critics will mark a whole new trend after his style. He will become a trendsetter, I’m sure.
What place do you think Anastas deserves in art history?
I think he deserves to be world known because he is a painter who belongs to the whole world. He’s not a painter who belongs to a given country, like Bulgaria or the United States; he belongs to the whole world because he’s with God.
Dani, thank you very much for your insight!