in her Studio
by Laura Horne-Gaul, September 2, 2015
Anna Pantcheva met me at Dundas West and walked with me through the urban decay that is Sterling Road, heading to her studio. Pantcheva’s tall, dark, lean figure glides through the chocolate factory landscape, the piles of rubble and broken chain link fences. Peering into open doors of abandoned spaces. Reminiscent of a science fiction movie intro like David Bowie in “The Man Who Fell To Earth”.
Her shared studio is smallish but has tremendous light beaming from the largest and only window in the space, showcasing the almost perfect blue summer sky. Pantcheva takes advantage of a large blank wall where she is experimenting with paper, cuttings and painting with black ink. This work will be installed in the Howard Park Institute window (Dundas West and Howard Park Avenue) in December. This piece is inspired by Pantcheva’s recent travels to Eastern Europe, where Pantcheva reconnected with her roots.
“I became compelled to work on something more grandiose and 3-dimensional after my recent travels in Eastern Europe – I was simultaneously thinking about what I would work on for my spot in the window once I got home to Toronto. Particularly, i’m referencing the Devil’s Throat cave in Smolyan, Bulgaria that dates back to the Roman times; as well as the terrain of Bulgaria’s Rhodope mountain range in general. I wanted to take the amazing landscape and mythologies of my motherland and apply it to my existing drawing practice – which has always been a practice of rendering my navigation through nature and my personal mythologies.” explains Pantcheva.
Pantcheva’s work is delicate, veiled dark figures and lacey collages. A stack of wood panels in the middle of the studio, currently being used as a coffee like table, await attention. The precise cuttings from her paperwork are left on the studio floor, a soft covering like snow. Pantcheva’s mild, mysterious and somewhat compliant character are juxtaposed with the her dark, assured studio endeavors.
Pantcheva has recently had solo exhibitions at Walnut Contemporary in Toronto and works at the notable framing company “The Gilder”.
Laura Horne-Gaul: Can you describe the idea behind the piece that you are currently working on?
Anna Pantcheva: Right now I am working on a large paper and ink installation piece that will be up for the month of December 2015, coming right up, at the Howard Park Institute Window Gallery on Dundas Street West in Toronto.
I became compelled to work on something more grandiose and 3-dimensional after my recent travels in Eastern Europe – I was simultaneously thinking about what I would work on for my spot in the window once I got home to Toronto. Particularly, i’m referencing the Devil’s Throat cave in Smolyan, Bulgaria that dates back to the Roman times; as well as the terrain of Bulgaria’s Rhodope mountain range in general. I wanted to take the amazing landscape and mythologies of my motherland and apply it to my existing drawing practice – which has always been a practice of rendering my navigation through nature and my personal mythologies.
Here I am pushing my drawing practice to a more physical level; it’s been what feels like an athletic and grueling pursuit to excavate my graphite drawings and turn them into multiple 10 foot long 3D cut outs.
LHG: Do you feel like this work is a departure from your previous work?
AP: Yes, because clearly it is a departure from the oil on panel paintings I have been doing where I was focusing more of veiled portraits. I do feel like I have to have more direction and planning employed here since I am working on a particular space in mind. Flat work has no real setting or physical destination in mind when it is made, it renders the space with in the frame, but now I have so much more logistic and trouble shooting to consider. I’m trying to render a space with in a much bigger frame that people can relate to on a more physical level.
LHG: You mentioned that you used to draw a lot outside, where are some of your favorite places to do this?
AP: It’s true, I have this particular summer ritual of cycling to various spots and spending the day drawing alone. I’m fortunate enough to live pretty much right on Toronto’s waterfront, so you know I’m taking full advantage of this. A favorite spot is this rhododendron park in Mississauga, about a 1 hour bike ride west of Toronto, it’s never crowed and you get to be surrounded by rhododendrons! I also had a pretty sublime time drawing on beach in Greece recently; the shells and things that I hand picked from the perfectly salty water.
LHG: How do you choose your colour palettes for your paintings?
AP: It’s funny you say that because lately I’ve been thinking in black and white exclusively. This certainly came about at a time of a major personal shift in my life very recently – dealing with an ongoing family health related crisis that has left me particularly stripped of sentiment. It just feels right at this time, it’s probably a reflection of how black and white my personality has become.
John Scott (Toronto artist) once told me that he thinks I should be working only in black and white. This was during a studio critique about 7 years ago in my thesis year at OCAD. I remember I totally shrugged him off about it, I didn’t even want to consider it at the time; I was obsessed with colour! But now I can see the value of his suggestion. The black line is so charged – it is complete and whole, it is precise and is absolutely definite, it has an irrefutable beginning and end.
LHG: Can you share some of your top travel experiences on your recent trip to Bulgaria and how they have affected your work?
AP: Yes, I recently went back to Bulgaria, which is where I was born. Pretty much every Canadian I meet can’t place it on a map, I swear, most people have never even heard of it. But it’s a beautiful place and a dark, sad place at the same time – a land of paradox - with a rich culture that dates back to Neolithic times. I actually did a road trip from Sofia, the capital, down to the coast of the Aegean Sea in Greece, stopping on the way in Plovdiv, Pamporovo and Slatograd.
Pamporovo was very striking to me visually and emotionally. First of all, travel through there was kinda surreal and terrifying – the roads are awful and narrow and you’re just driving up and down mountains for hours and hours in circles and the people are all absolutely insane on the road, so naturally you travel around contemplating your mortality. Aside from that – Pamorovo has some serious majestic forests, with floors lined of tall glorious pine trees – while embodying eerie post-Communtist vibes with all of the abandoned ski-resort construction sites that interrupt the flow of the mossy, foggy, fairy-filled, fairly-tale forest terrain. It is a lively ski-resort town in the winter, but in June when I went, it is a ghost town, absolutely like a something out of Stanly Kubricks’ The Shining.
LHG: Who are some of your influences artistically?
AP: I’ve been really into Hilma Af Klint as of late. She was a mystic painter – regarded as the first abstract painter. I love this idea of artist as mystic. I think to be an artist is to be a mystic.
Cartoons are very important -- Betty Boop, Aeon Flux, Fantastic Planet, Gandahar, Ren & Stimpy…any animation that is brash and blunt really, I’m all over it. As well as Anime like Wicked City and Akira. Also, the novel Against Nature by Joris-Karl Huysmans is very dear to me; its unrelenting descriptions of visuals are a drool inducing visual and sensual overload!
I’m struggling to admire a lot of contemporary art at the moment. I think that is because of my day job, I’m just saturated by it! I do however appreciate that it exists and is being made; I just can’t bring myself to rave about it.
LHG: Do you have a favorite artist that you follow?
AP: Eva Hesse. She’s dead so I can’t actually follow her – but that’s what I’m looking at right now.
LHG: When did you know that you wanted to be an artist? What has been the most challenging thing as an artist so far?
AP: In the 3rd grade we had to do a project about Ancient Eygpt. I was obsessed with Ancient Eygpt and made this big painting on paper of the supreme Goddess Isis with her wings out-stretched. The painting was close to life-size – everyone loved it and it was up on the wall for a while. Every time I looked up at it, I thought about how glorious it is! I got such a rush out of getting so much praise for doing something that I genuinely wanted to do and was good at.
The big challenge is that in adult life, doing what you genuinely want to do and are good at doesn’t always jive with what your responsibilities are. I honestly don’t think I should be complaining though. I have a good life. I have a good job, I make work at my nice studio and I love where I live. I work hard and I make it all work for myself.
LHG: What is the most helpful thing that you have learned since graduating from OCAD in 2008?
AP: I really did learn a lot more outside of OCAD then in it to be honest. I’ve worked at The Gilder (a custom fine art framer) for the past 5 years – that place has certainly become more than a just job for me. It’s given me more experience and knowledge about the art world and how it functions than art school, anywhere, for any money, could have ever taught me.
Working on the inside like that has given light to how much dedication and passion goes into running such a unique business as The Gilder. As well, it has also given light to me of how others (i.e. commercial art galleries and institutions) run theirs – which is a very privileged perspective to be afforded.
Most helpful lesson since OCAD : if is doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.