I have first heard of Atanas from the owners of a small town gallery. I like fine arts and I have told myself that every time I earn some more money I will spend some of it on works of art. I want to be a small link in the almost non-existent art market in Bulgaria. In this way, I will be of the few people who want the art to develop. For this to happen, artists have to sell their works, make new ones and have an incentive. I know it is hard but I think the spiritual side is just as important as our survival. So I do it. Not constantly, not often, but I do it. Once, after the end of filming for a series, I went to “Grita” gallery. The gallerists already new my taste and told me that there is a great artist who paints watercolour. They showed me his small format works. Unfortunately, however, they were already sold. I said I would very much want to have a painting of his and they promised to talk with him. After some time, they called me and said there was a canvas that did not leave for exhibition in China due to customs problems, and that he could give it to me. They said it was big. I went there straight away. I saw the painting and I almost fainted. I had seen photos of the stages of creating the work in the artist’s social media channels. It was my favourite of all his paintings. I did not hesitate and took it. What impressed me most was the detail of the painted. I have stared it for a long time and I still cannot figure out how such thing is created, what eye should an artist have and what goes on in his head while creating it. I am sure about one thing – it is art in its pure form, which makes you think, discover your meaning of it, calms you and makes you a slightly better person. I wrote to him an enthusiastic message, he replied, thanked me, and that was it. After some time, I wanted to buy again a painting of his. I visited the gallery and it turned out it was almost impossible to have a work of his. In the last 2-3 years, Atanas Matsoureff has transferred to the other art dimensions – the global ones, and is already in the list of the greatest gallerists, collectors and patrons. I was very happy. First, for me, I was happy with my taste. It was a proof that I like quality works. Then, for him as well, because he is a Bulgarian and an artist who deserves this.
I am very happy that Glenfiddich’s team has noticed what I do on my website, and thanks to the project we do together, I got the courage to invite a person like Atanas to participate in it. He agreed, and I waited for him to return from Italy. There, he received a prestigious and significant award – First place at Marche D’Acqua Biennial Watercolour 2018. What I would like to tell you about him is not his art. If you like his works, you will be interested and see yourself. I want to tell you about his Road, the Road to success, about his character and the constant pursuit of dreams, regardless of what it cost him. I have to admit, I find his story similar to mine in many ways, but I will not talk about this. The road to success is almost always the same, regardless of the profession.
He is from Bansko and as a child he was not aware of his talent. His grandfather was a painting teacher and took care of him for five years. This period was actually very important because then he noticed his grandson’s abilities, taught him aesthetics, tasked him to make different small clay sculptures, mosaics of wheat and beans, and naturally paintings. But not to make a painter of him necessarily, rather to inspire him and teach him how to create beauty, to make him a spiritual person and appreciator of art. Later, Atanas stumbled upon albums of old masters of watercolour. Gradually, he began to like the water, running into the paints, and he realized that it is a delicate technique. After several attempts, he understood that it is so difficult that he will never master it. It seemed impossible. The watercolour was present somewhere in him, as a great unreachable beauty. The time for applying to the National Academy of Art came, he applied for “Graphics” major. He was rejected three times. After the third time he decided it would not happen like this, and he took the matters into his own hands. He would develop on his own. Still, he tried to join the Union of Bulgarian Artists, where the application was only with own works. They accepted him but soon he realized that this union would not help him and there was nothing he could expect from it. He took the difficult road of an artist without academy, to pursuit his dreams on his own, without the help of an institution, teachers and protections. He turned firmly to watercolour. He learned on his own, and soon he became good friends with the unachievable for him technique of the watercolours. Soon afterwards, he began to offer his works to small galleries. At that time, nobody knew him and that was why he had to offer his works personally. They quickly attracted the attention of the people, started to sell, and he realized that things might happen. At about that time, I too saw his works. Thank God, there are such small galleries, because thanks to them you can discover artists like Matsoureff. Thanks to them, these artists gain self-confidence and an incentive to work. Those were the years when he had definitely decided to do only this, regardless of the price he would have to pay. There had been months when he was at the edge of survival, but he continued painting. Galleries were selling him, but the costs of materials had often exceeded the incomes from sales. But, it has never been a problem for him, he never suffered for not having money or for things being difficult. He just continued creating. He said success came without him noticing it. With small steps and small battles. Slowly and gradually. It had never been a goal for him, it came because of his persistence and desire, because of the love of what he did. At one point, everyone already knows who you are, and then it is the best, because you gain independence. He was invited for exhibitions, sometimes for competitions as well. Quickly came the time when he became extremely sought after. After the success in Bulgaria, the next torment came. There was no one to compare with, he did everything to the maximum of his abilities and asked himself: “I am good, but how good am I actually, what does it mean to be good, what is good of the good?”. Then he started getting interested in what was happening in the world, and the desire to measure his strengths with the world artists quickly came. He did it, and successfully.
He has shared with me what he is working on and what proposals he has received for the coming years. He wants to organize an exhibition of his world competitors, in Sofia in September 2019, and he is developing the project. He is painting marine art for gallery in Antwerp and by 2020 he should be ready with 20 paintings. Also in 2020, he will do a solo exhibition in Italy, for which he has to paint 25 new works. A few days ago, the most famous merchant and gallerist in China has invited him for an exhibition, for which he has to paint 10 paintings. Great collectors from America and Europe call him wanting to have new works of his. It is hard to manage. He works every day. Engagements are increasing daily, time – remains the same. So far, he has painted about 700 paintings, each of them taking between 4 to 7 days. Does he rest? No, he does not rest. After a whole day of painting, in the evening he likes to have a glass of good whiskey.
I asked him how he chooses what to paint and how he actually does it. He said topics find him. When I went to shoot him for a second time on some beautiful rocks near Ahtopol, I got personal impressions of his work process. I realized he is one of the artists who have chosen the hard road. An artist who seeks for the place of his next canvas regardless how far it is, walks daily there and spends hours fighting the changing light, the different shades of the object during the different hours of the day, and everything not being able to stay still for 20 hours, about as long as the creating of a painting of his takes. To outsmart the weather, he chooses two objects on the same spot. One of them he paints in a sunny weather, the other – in a cloudy weather. The concentration is extraordinary, because his brain has to remember the exact colour and light as they have been a while ago and have already changed. I could not understand how you could remember such thing, how you remember the light. He said the only chance is to merge with what you paint, to become one with it, to shut down the surrounding world, to fall into an over-concentration, something like a mediation. In such moments, he stops hearing, feels no hunger, and when he gets out of such state and comes back to reality, he feels the pain of the stiffness he has been in the last hours. His technique and the pursuit of perfection has turned into madness for him. He constantly looks at the colours, what green is this leaf, just how green is it, and how can you recreate the same colour. I asked him why does not he just take a photo of the object and paint it at home in coolness and comfort. He said that this way he would not be able to feel the soul of the nature surrounding him. Everything matters for the painting – the walk to the place, the sun burning you, the rocks you climb down, the uncomfortable place where you paint, the silence, the seagulls. Everything. When he paints he wants “to take” the soul of the object, he touches it to feel its warmth, he looks at its colour and its shades. A bit of a maniac who does not get satisfied with just a little. If a square centimetre of a painting is not good enough for him, he is capable of working on this detail for two weeks until it turn a satisfying result. No one would notice this difference, but he would know it, and it would not give him peace. He constantly thinks of unnoticeable details – he wakes up in the morning and falls asleep at night with this. He has developed also a mania for the paper he uses. He enters auctions to buy two centuries old paper. This obsession, of course, has its price. But, his level as an artist cannot be achieved any other way except this. With the endless dedication to his art. An endless dedication to his master – the Watercolour. He inserts also the soul of the place in his works.
When some day you come across a painting of such an artist and its price seems too high, you should know it is not an easy work, to catch the life from the matter and insert it on the paper. Something like a magician, except that it takes hours of sweat and fatigue, while the magician would do it with a swing of the magic wand.
Atanas’s grandfather, who has died two years ago, would probably be proud that without explicitly wanting to raise an artist, without much effort, he has created a great master. A master, who I am sure, years from now, will be a classic and his paintings will remain for the generations. And the merit for this to a great extent will go to the painting teacher in Bansko, asking the boy to make clay figures and mosaics. Because every great artist has an authority and a teacher who has built the base, taste and love of art.
Currently, Atanas Matsoureff is among top 10 best masters of watercolour in the world. He has exhibitions in Europe, Asia and America, teaches Master classes in Russia, has numerous invitations to participate in major projects.
With the support of Glenfiddich Whisky
Text – Vladimir Karamazov
Photographer – Vladimir Karamazov for #Karamazovfoto
See the entire project Mission Maverick
Visit Diana Alexieva’s website at interview.to
Visit Atanas Matsoureff’s website at matsoureff.com
18.09.2018 Vladimir Karamazov®