Tanya Atanasova, “Smokey Eyes, Joëlle,” 2017, oil on linen, 120 x 110 cm.

If you haven’t heard of artist Tanya Atanasova, it might be time.

I was born in Bulgaria in 1978, in a small town called Koprivshtica, right in the heart of the Balkan mountain range. With its special architecture and brightly colored houses, Koprivshtica is well known as a UNESCO heritage site. It is also a major tourist destination in Bulgaria.

I spent my early youth in a country that was still under a communist regime, though I inherited some spark of rebellion from my father, who was running a local restaurant in Koprivshtica.

Tanya Atanasova, “Lore Entangled,” 2017, oil on linen, 120 x 110 cm.

I was infected by my two older brothers’ love of drawing and painting. The three of us used to go to art classes together, but this ended abruptly when my youngest brother died in a tragic accident. My parents couldn’t cope with this great loss and got divorced. Our mother left us in the care of my father, but in practice my brother and I were raised by my grandmother.

From my early days, I felt that I was born an artist, so when my father started talking about building a hotel and started to insist that I would work there as a receptionist, I fled from the small village where I grew up, to the city of Sofia, where my mother was living. I was 14 at the time, and the changes in my life were accompanied by changes in my country, which went from a communistic dictatorship to a state run by the mafia where corruption and hyperinflation ran the game. I remember vividly that at some point my mother’s salary would be barely enough to buy us a piece of chocolate at the end of the month.

Tanya Atanasova, “Connected II,” 2017, oil on linen, 100 x 70 cm.

In my country’s darkest days, I finished high school and my mother wouldn’t provide for me anymore so I started working, taking on any job I could find, mostly bartending in a local jazz-café in Sofia. When my father died at the age of 47, I was devastated, but I was still dreaming of getting an art education, so I tried to take private lessons during the day and worked in the café at night.

Tanya Atanasova, “Michel,” 2016, oil on linen, 120 x 110 cm.

After three years, I was finally accepted as a student at the National Art Academy in Sofia. However, I wanted to take full advantage of the doors that had opened up after the fall of communism in Bulgaria. During an exchange project, I met a Belgian guy, fell in love, and decided to go to Belgium. After a year of struggling with bureaucracy, I managed to become the first Bulgarian exchange student at Sint-Lucas School for the arts in Ghent, Belgium. It’s there that I discovered and developed my interest in contemporary figurative painting. After finishing my BA in Sofia, I decided to stay in Belgium permanently.

Tanya Atanasova, “Octoman, Michel,” 2017, oil on linen, 150 x 110 cm.

These days I’m working as a full-time artist from a painting studio in Antwerp — a city rich in history and culture — where I’ve been living for 10 years now. I’ve been struggling to find my artistic voice in a society where I will always feel slightly “out of place,” but after taking a master class with the Spanish master Eloy Morales, I set out on a project of portraits that pays homage to the people that have inspired me and helped me on the bumpy road to where I am right now, even though very often I could only offer them friendship in return. It’s my way to thank life for putting them on my path and pointing me in the right direction.

Atanasova’s exhibition, titled “You My Dear,” is scheduled for 2019, so stay tuned! To learn more, visit Tanya Atanasova.

This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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