Simona Ruscheva in her studio
I'm excited to share my interview with Simona Ruscheva, a Bulgarian, London-based artist I met a while back and whose art mesmerized me instantly with its intricate detail and mysticism.
Simona's paintings are windows to Bulgarian culture, a culture I was utterly ignorant about before meeting her. Each individual painting allows the viewer to explore various subjects from Bulgarian folklore and heritage by analyzing a subject figure who typically wears Neo-folkloric costumes with embroidery surrounded by rugs and ceramic designs, typical of this region. Soft gradients and aura-like radiances in her paintings contrast sharp edges and bold shapes, creating a hazy atmosphere that surrounds the subject with a reinvented tradition with a contemporary twist.
In today's day and age of globalization, which continues to diminish the differences between cultures, it is very refreshing to learn about the beauty which makes cultures different, which Simona's paintings encapsulate so beautifully.
I welcome you to continue reading so you can learn more about the artist's background, daily life, inspirations, and so much more.
Please tell us about your background and what inspired you to become an artist.
I am originally from Bulgaria, where I was born and grew up. I attended a mathematical high school, which quickly gave me the realization that I did not want to pursue math, but art instead. I was very into the hip-hop culture as a teenager, so naturally, I started doing graffiti first, which became my first art outlet. Later on, I began drawing classes, which led to doing an art degree in painting. This is a very classical training, which has the sole purpose of developing your technical skills, so it was essentially four years of painting figures. This has been very clearly influential on my style and subject matter.
Simona Ruscheva, "Glow" (2022). Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.
What does a day in your life as an artist look like?
These can differ tremendously as I have a small child, and my practice currently flows around that. My real work usually happens in the evening and at night, when I can do more prolonged stretches of uninterrupted painting sessions. Since my son was born, one of the first things I learned is how much time I used to waste on non-focused work. I had to quickly adapt and make the most of the limited time I had on my hands to paint. I usually work on at least 3-4 paintings simultaneously, which allows me to switch between and cut drying time, for example, and trains my focus.
Simona Ruscheva, "Violet Viel" (2022). Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.
Your work explores various subjects from Bulgarian folklore and heritage. Has this always been the case, or has this been an evolution in your artistic practice?
There has been a lot of evolution in my works. As mentioned above, I started with graffiti. There was a short abstract phase inspired by that afterward and many figurative explorations and experimentations since then. I was never purposefully looking for my style or voice, but my work constantly evolves and reflects my interests and drives at the time of making. The Bulgarian-inspired works began after I moved to London, which looking back now, seems very natural. Once I detached myself from my source and roots, I had to find a way to reconnect and keep the connection alive and present. It quickly became an endless well full of symbols, bonds, and stories that I was fully immersed in learning more and translating into my works.
Simona Ruscheva, "Gaze" (2022). Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.
How do you develop your art skills?
Through painting, I am experimenting with making mistakes. Painting is like a puzzle, making it work together and ultimately as a whole piece. I like trying new things, paints, and tools, making my own, and while doing this, I may find something that tickles my curiosity, and I want to explore it further. This is why I usually work in series rather than individual works. The same applies to the ideas before the actual painting starts. I always have a vision I follow, but I approach it a bit more loosely to allow myself to make mistakes and learn.
Simona Ruscheva, "Pull" (2022). Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.
Which art movements inspire your current work?
In my visual language, I am inspired by contemporary works of the moment and the digital aesthetic, not necessarily digital art. Because of the traditional nature of my works, they are a lot more interesting with a contemporary twist. I have always loved symbolism, where I find inspiration and ideas for my works. My main inspiration doesn't come from art itself. It comes from many different sources, predominantly from reading, movies, graphic design, and even fashion.
Simona Ruscheva, "Behind the layers" (2022). Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.
Who are the living artists that inspire you?
They really are a lot, but to name a few: James Jean, Sainer, Robin Francesca Williams, Jocelyn Hobbie, and Amir Fallah. They all have very different styles and approaches, which is why I find them so inspiring. I always look into the details and love seeing close-ups of their work, which is where the magic is for me. I can see the process and trace their steps, which is both educational and inspiring.
Simona Ruscheva, "Red Sun" (2022). Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.
What advantages or setbacks have you encountered as an artist living in London, one of the art world capitals?
As with everything in life, living in London also has two sides. The biggest advantage is being able to see a lot of art. There are also a lot more opportunities here, and they are easier to access. I consciously focus on the positives and make the most of everything I do.
Simona Ruscheva, "Up and above" (2018). Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.
Finally, if you could acquire any piece of art (from a dead or living artist, could be off the market in a museum, etc.), what would it be and why?
I have had one work stuck in my mind for many years - Arnold Böcklin – Isle of the dead (image below). It is not technically one work, as he did a few variations, but I find them all extremely powerful, deep, and mystical. For me, the work symbolizes the cycle of life, death, incarnating, and the energy field surrounding sacred spaces.
Arnold Böcklin, "Isle of the dead" (1880)
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