TORONTO ARTIST USES PAINT AND COLLAGE TO DECONSTRUCT THE TRADITIONAL PORTRAIT

Story by Meaghan Collins

Anna Pantcheva is a talented young artist and self-proclaimed colour enthusiast.  After graduating from the painting and drawing program at OCAD four years ago, she is successfully making a name for herself with her captivating paintings and collages. Her work combines sensual femininity with the grotesque; paint being her main medium; acidic, bright, saturated colours being her palette. As of late, she has been feeling a need to “tone things down”, but with an upcoming group show in October, as well as a solo show in March, both at the Walnut Contemporary gallery opening in Liberty Village this fall, it doesn’t seem like Pantchev will be taking a break anytime soon. 

Tell us a little about yourself.

I came from a small town in Bulgaria and grew up in Mississauga where I went to an Art High School majoring in Visual Arts –I spent most of my time taking pictures with my SLR camera and sewing like a fiend on my sewing machine that I got for Christmas one year. I came to Toronto to attend OCAD and immediately clung to painting since all of a sudden I had the facilities to do so…painting was always my dream occupation. Now I am working out of a studio that I maintain in the West End of Toronto and show my work constantly throughout the city.

In the past you have done some collage work, but you are also a painter.  Can you tell us a little bit about the portraits that you’re currently working on?

I think my paintings come from collaging, and I’m interested in the application of paint as though you are collaging – as if you were cutting things out, which is why I incorporate different surfaces both flat and dynamic, matte and glossy, to get that collage like affect. The only reason why I did collage in the first place was to lay out paintings; it’s a very instant way of laying things out, letting chance take you somewhere, which is what collage is for me.

I’ve been working on these portraits for a couple of months now.  A lot of the images come from Tumblr – one source image I’m using right now is actually a picture of Kate Moss wearing a lacy veil; it has a certain ambiguity to it. It could be a wedding veil, a funeral veil, or even a burka. I grew up looking at images in fashion magazines, so these types of images are sort of engrained in my mind. In using them, I want to really break down their implications and deconstruct piece by piece a love-hate relationship that I have with the cult of beauty and desire.

Can you explain why so many of the figures in your portraits are veiled or slightly concealed?

I definitely have a pull towards veils, cloaks, and masking when I paint portraits. I think it’s an interesting way to tackle this traditional subject. Exteriors speak volumes about the inner clockwork of a being. I’m always drawn to covering and the wrapping of the body with things like armor or fabric. Portraits are always inherently set up, and I set my girls up in cages, drapes and ridged structures that grow like microorganisms.

The female face (and form) in our culture is so ingrained as a site of desire. I am interested in what happens when that is obscured and manipulated – how there can be sublime in something crude and jarring…how the masking of form reinforces it and protects like armor.

Who are the subjects in your most recent portrait series?

Although taken from images that are not of me, in a way these are all self-portraits. The element of self-analysis in these paintings is what makes the perfection of aesthetic idealization meet its opposite; monstrosity.

What is your process?

I spend periods of time making little drawings, like this winter I felt pretty uninspired and kind of just went into hiding and made almost 200 drawings, and then I always come back to painting.  I work a lot on panel, and I like to work multiple pieces at once.  I apply acrylic paint as a base and usually start off with some sort of house paint; right now I’m using one called “ballerina pink.”  I find the way companies name paint so interesting; it’s sometimes so utterly gendered.  I always think, when I’m mixing a colour, what would I name this colour if I were to present it to a boardroom trying to push some paints to the masses? What could I get away with? It’s so strange.

I must also say that my Macbook is another studio item that is key –I never thought that I would be saying this! Last October, I signed up to tumblr and I must say that it has revolutionized the way and pace at which I consume, digest and sort source imagery. I’m now always working from something that I have tucked in my “liked” folder.

What artists do you admire and inspire you?

My influences are so vast…science fiction, cartoons, extreme makeovers, extreme beauties, teen girl fantasies, teenage subcultures and the gothic, negative spaces, the shapes that tree branches make when you look through them, nature…all of its beauty and horror…

In terms of artists, Phillip Guston and Gerhard Richter to me are timeless. I developed an interest in German painting while at OCAD for sure.

Recently I saw Natalie Djurberg + Hans Berg’s exhibit called “The Parade” at the New Museum in New York that really blew me away. The New Museum in general blows me away.

Do you have any shows coming up?

I am working on some pieces right now for a gallery that is opening this fall in Liberty Village called Walnut Contemporary. There’s going to be a group show with all the artists that will be presenting throughout the year. I also have a solo show coming up in March 2013.

As someone who is colour obsessed, what is your favourite colour right now?

Rusty copper against a subterranean teal.

Check out Anna Pantcheva’s work on her and Tumblr.


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