Lions & Monkeys 2 Process

Painting: Oil, Acrylic and Pastel on Canvas.

Lions & Monkeys has become a thread in my art, I always seem to go back to it. This time I aimed at consolidating the composition so that the detail doesn’t disappear in the lavish background. I have also done a gold leaf finish on both paintings as I find the combination of warm greens and gold enchanting and fun to work with.


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To galleries and agents…

To galleries and agents: honor the artwork! 

I have had the opportunity to work with some great people, but there are a lot of “misunderstandings” in the world of art. Not all, but most issues concern money and that very tricky concept called “salability”. It is unprofessional to assume that the artwork isn’t ”sellable” when it doesn’t sell, it does indeed take two to tango. Here is a checklist I put together after talking to several other artists with similar concerns:

  • Be aware that you are working as a team and everybody has expenses, not only you. One of the biggest misconceptions is that gallery people are ”taking all the risks”. If I know that I have a show coming in 6 months, I will spend the 6 months working, which means I will not earn any money outside my print sales or the sales of older work. During that time I will also be spending on materials, framing, transport, studio fees, et cetera.
  • If you do not intend to actively sell and promote the work, don’t bother. Do not hog the work. Do not sit on somebody’s work for years pretending to sell or promote it. This one goes especially to people who adopt the ”pop-up” gallery model. Pop-ups should function like fairs, you go in, do your best and when it is over, it is over. If you keep the work then it is not over and you continue selling and promoting it. Don’t get me wrong, some agents work really hard and not all artwork is salable.
  • Store the work responsibly. Keeping art in small storage rooms pressing against other work (often framed or in other ways 3d) vastly increases the risk of damaging it. If you happen to damage it by accident then you should reimburse the artist. The only one who has done that for me was SaatchiArt and it wasn’t even their fault (UPS and UK customs cut the tube in the middle to see what’s inside instead of removing the very visible lid).
  • Man the exhibit properly. If you have a show running, make sure it stays open. If you can’t have it open then involve the artist, but do not take advantage of the artist’s willingness to help. If an artist is actively working in a gallery selling their and/or somebody else’s work, lower your commission, because the artist is actually doing your job.
  • Put yourself in the context of the work not the other way around. If you suddenly decide that you want to be creative with your space and exhibits should be moved around or in a separate room, plan for that together with the artist and adjust your fee accordingly. If you sell other merchandise that doesn’t have anything to do with the exhibit, prioritize. Anything else will confuse potential buyers. If you don’t honor the work, they will not value it.
  • PLEASE learn about the work! It takes me between 2 weeks and several months to plan, sketch and paint an artwork, the least you can do is to learn a little something about my process and that particular work. A couple of months ago I was told by several people (unrelated to each-other) that a promoter was explaining my painting process to people totally wrong. I had 3 hand-finished prints in the gallery and rest of it was hand-painted. Somehow rumor spread that all of it was hand-finished prints.
  • Be upfront and transparent about your fees and expenses. Do not attempt to put ”surprises” in your invoice or costs that do not concern the artist or the exhibit. There is a list of things that a gallery should provide, it’s not just the walls. One is actually manning the exhibit with people that know their art. But there is also paperwork, internet, payment and card-payment equipment, social media and other promotion, mailing lists, invites, and more. I’ve been charged with all sorts during my career, from card-reader fees to internet provider fees. If your commission is 40-50% then that is included in your commission.

“Fed The Lions” Exhibit starts 15/4 at 6:30pm

At Dynamite Gallery in Brighton, UK.

Fed The Lions official site – Link

Pre-Raphaelite art takes a spin in the face of postmodern, postcolonial, post-heteronormative parallel reality. Meet Contemporary Art Excellence Award Artist of The Year 2016 Iva Troj!

15/4 – 15/5 2016. Featuring entirely new collection of works.

Exclusive for Dynamite Gallery and the exhibit: Renaissance-style original paintings for under £2000! Pre-release of original works at great value! Also Collaborative Series “Iva Troj Features…” with artists: Masakazu Yamashiro, Justyna Neryng, Cassette Lord, Greg Gilbert, Andrew Victor Stock, Shizuku Rumi and Seiko Kato.

Originals / Mixed-media Paintings / Collectable Prints

Bride Series – The Boy

I remember reading a poem by Anna Ahmatova when I was about 10…

“To the right, wasteland by the cemetery,
Beyond it the river’s dull blue.
You said: ‘Go, get thee, to a nunnery
Or marry a fool…’

Though that’s always how Princes speak,
Still, I’ve remembered the words.
As an ermine mantle let them stream,
Behind him, through endless years.”

The part about marrying a fool still gives me nightmares…

It’s our duty to stop

I know that this is supposed to be an artist blog, but at this moment I would like to pause and talk politics.

I have been browsing social media all morning, hopping from one article or podcast to another, in a desperate attempt to manage my emotional state. I find it really hard to do so, because the events in Lebanon and France feel personal.

My family is from Bulgaria and Greece. Food and similar music are far from the only things these two countries share. One big part of our shared history is being occupied by the Ottoman Empire for 500 years. Dealing with a colonial past is like dealing with a bad marriage that lasted most of your adult life. You share so much that it is hard to separate your own experience from that of the other. At one time it almost seemed like we needed each-other in order to live. We had this pending joke in my family… we used to say that India was lucky to be occupied by England because England was ”civilized, while the Turks were dumb and dirty”. It was a cynical, stupid thing to say, but it was funny, because it was self-irony in a way, aiming at the fact that Turks and Bulgarians are basically the same people. When Soviet collapsed, the borders opened and that led to our people blending again. My cousins run a taxi service between Svilengrad and Istanbul and my aunt manages the accounts of Greek/Turkish/Bulgarian border control. It’s all back to family business.

This may be working fine for now, but I see a burning issue here, a burning issue that is also present in other countries around the world. The process of dealing with a colonial past seems to be left in the hands of the occupied. The colonial powers are not dealing with what they did. In fact, they are still doing many of the things that define a occupier. We are supporting dictatorships still. General el-Sisi in Egypt is just one example. We are still debating around the issue of rebellion against the same dictatorships we are supporting. Are these people terrorists or not? How can they be legit if we are supporting the dictatorships they are rebelling against? Frisk explains it well here:

Bulgaria is dealing with the mess left by the Ottoman Empire without pointing fingers. So is Rumania. I’m proud. Still… the beggars around Europe are a consequence of that colonial past just as much as they are a consequence of communist regimes’ inability to deal with the Roma and Turkish speaking minorities. It’s all connected and what is happening is a chain reaction. Syrian refugees from one end and Roma people from the other end are flooding Europe. My now native country of Sweden is dealing with its own so called ”neutral” past as the new government is trying to figure out what to do with the increasing amount of nazi sympathizers, while dealing with the refugee situation (a challenging task indeed). USA is conveniently observing from it’s usual tower and China is figuring out ways to capitalize on this. What is really bothering me is the fact that we are right now somewhere at the middle of the chain. The events ahead will be quicker and more severe if we don’t stop and deal.

Thoughts on “purity” and the ongoing devaluation of digital arts

Why is the result of numerous hours spent trying things out on a computer, studying strokes, lines and shades and thinking up new ways of translation to the physical realm, less valuable than creating an image by dipping a tool into a jar and pressing it onto a piece of paper? Is it because of our love of all things ”natural” or is it because there is an element of fear attached to somebody else’s knowledge of technology? Can it possibly be that not knowing how something is made makes us feel uneasy?

Creating something that is ”hand-made” would immediately add value to the creation in question. But how come ”hand-made” almost always means created with old-fashioned tools or no tools at all? Isn’t digital art made using one’s two capable hands also ”hand-made”? Even a hand-painted piece can be part digital if the original sketch emerged digitally. I do this all the time. I plan my paintings on the computer to the point where the sketch is more “original” than the painting. My canvases are usually a painted copy of a complex idea I created digitally. 

If an artist draws a line on a piece of paper, that line is labeled ”unique” and priced accordingly. But what if that same artist decides to draw a number of different lines, scan them and examine them on the computer, while thinking of interesting ways to take them back to the physical world? Isn’t that also unique? The solution to the problem may then lie in the decision to make something a one time event and not “mass-produce”. If that is the case then we should be able to move forward and leave the real vs. fake debate behind us.

The problem is that we are not willing. Why is that? Can it possibly be that people in the art industry want things served on a silver platter? Not everyone is like the late art critic Brian Sewell, always asking questions and always probing and learning (I’ve had two long conversations with him and he didn’t let me go until I answered his questions). Lines on a piece of paper are easy to understand, convey and sell. A combination of lines that has traveled from paper to scanned image to collage to print to paint and even more paint and sometimes glazes, is not easy to comprehend, convey and sell. If the person selling it does not have the willingness to learn about it and verbalize around it using the right vocabulary, then that person will not do their job.

People in our contemporary culture want easy answers, some more than others. This is why we have labels for everything… hand-made”, “rare”, ”up-and-coming”, ”groundbreaking”, ”icon”, et cetera. Selling your work is often directly related to two things: how well your work fits into the buyer’s mindset and how much it costs. The first has everything to do with things not being ”lost in translation”. Art that is created using a very complicated, and let’s not forget, very personal, process that only the artist can ”fully” comprehend (I don’t believe fully comprehending it is possible) leaves very much unsaid.

I can’t help but wonder if the art world has lost its way to such extend that only a revolution can save it. Beauty is imperfect and impossible to explain. Easy answers are never true. Obvious art created with the intent to provide easy answers is boring and of very little value in the big scheme of things. Technology is available to those who seek knowledge and see the world differently so… why can’t we embrace that?


The image featured in this post is a part of the Journal series. This is how it’s made:
I drew all of the imagery separately using a layering technique I’ve developed over the years. I start by drawing a rough version of the figures using strong contrasting colors on transparent paper and add the details on another transparent sheet (sometimes two). When I’m happy with the drawings I scan the material and start combining figures in various ways until the first draft emerges. This part of the process is usually much more demanding than creating the drawings. I spend days, nights and sometimes weeks trying to put together a first draft. At this point the process becomes somewhat unpredictable and unique to the specific artwork. Sometimes I would print the first draft onto canvas and paint until I create something totally new (“Like China” series, “Stop Motion”). Sometimes I would use the canvas print to develop the base for an entirely new painting disregarding the drawings entirely (“Never Sleep”). Sometimes I’d throw away the whole thing or only use it as reference for a traditional art piece (“Dancer” series, “Journal” series I and VI, “Lions & Monkeys” series, etc).

In the case of this artwork I used the first draft to create a new painting adding layers of drawings and paintings on the top of the print. I later scanned the piece and put away the original. The finished result is only available as a limited edition plexiglass print. The entire process took about a month.

Lions & Monkeys

DIPTYCH /Size: 144 x 144 cm; Technique: inks, pastels, acrylics on canvas //

The whole thing started with an old tale Ma (my grandmother) used to tell. I don’t remember the actual tale, but I remember how she described the heroine: “The lion tamer was extremely subtle, to the point of formlessness, and extremely mysterious, to the point of soundlessness, so she became the master of his soul”.

In my head the heroine was an Asian beauty but I had no idea Ma was quoting Sun Tzu. Ma went to school for exactly three years and traveled rarely. Her knowledge of Sun Tzu and Japanese concepts like Wabi-sabi remains a mystery.

“Wabi-sabi” was a funny word I saw her write on a newspaper. I asked her what it was and she told me the story about the lion tamer. The story was about transience and imperfection. I remember that. Beauty is ”imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete” she would say. I am not sure how I came to find the clues to Japanese culture. She never talked about China or Japan, “intimacy”, or appreciation of the ”ingenuous integrity of natural objects”. That was not how she spoke. Her language reminded me of the Romani fortune-tellers and their magical ways. Instead of using fancy words she showed me things and explained their beauty to me. Her house and her garden were full of evidence of beautiful imperfection. The lion tamer story taught me that subtle was beautiful. Which is why obvious art bores me.//