1956 – 1960
On March 29th, 1956 is born Anastas (gr. Αναστασιος – resurrection). His mother Maria is an exceptionally religious and devoted to the family woman, and his father Konstantin is a legionnaire, alive due to a happy concurrence of the circumstances after being sentenced to death in a political lawsuit during the communist times.
Konstantinov’s family descends from Ohrid, one of the centers of book-learning and the struggle for the Bulgarian national survival. The town is named after St. Clement of Ohrid, a disciple of the brothers St. Kiril and St. Methodi (originators of the Slavic-Bulgarian alphabet and champions for the recognition and initiation of the Bulgarian language in the church service). Anastas’ great grandfather, Kostadin, actively participates in the struggle against the Ottoman domination in Macedonia and as a result has to immigrate into liberated Bulgaria. His son, Anastas’ grandfather, amasses a fortune from business and has the prospect of giving education to his children in Europe but the setting in of the communist regime in 1944 and the following as a result of it property nationalization leaves the family forced to earn its living.
Despite the great poverty and the many hits from the authorities Anastas’ family manages with huge efforts to bring up their two sons, Anastas and Nikolay, and to ensure their higher education. The family starts moving from town to town, from village to village. These travels appear to be quite beneficial for the imagination formation of the future painter. The direct contact with nature, the plays among the ruins of ancient civilizations’ temples, the enigmatic whispers of the elders for buried treasures and shrines in the mounds, the encounters with the Karakachani, the koukeri and the fire-dancers leave a deep trace in his childhood memories. He could not even imagine that the mystic charge of the places from his childhood would turn to a reasonable motive for rewriting the history of ancient art after the phenomenal archaeological discoveries for the Minoan-Thracian civilization made there in the last years.
The family settles in Plovdiv. The city is a center of historical accumulations, dating back eight thousand years, bearing the imprint of: Neolithic civilization, Thracian, Roman, Byzantine, Proto-Bulgarian and Slavic cultures. The diversification and great number of cultural strata has turned it into a natural center for the National Revival thriving, which has given an impetus to the development of enlightenment, architecture and art. Plovdiv has the reputation nowadays as the “painters’ city”.
Anastas is 10 years old. His hobby is to pick out soft stones from the railways passing nearby their block of flats and to shape them into little sculptures which he gives as presents to his mother. She collects them in an improvised exhibition behind the cabinet’s window at home.
On a visit in one of the neighbors he notices a small icon, hidden due to political reasons behind the china arranged on the kitchen shelf. His interest in the icon touches the elder woman and she gives it to him as a present. Later on he decides to make a copy of it and his first attempt in art is encouraged despite the naïve child’s image.
1964 – 1969
Poor but happy childhood, filled up with many exciting moments. Together with his brother Nikolay (at present a successful engineer in the air-conditioners’ field) they go fishing on Maritza river. In school he is engaged actively with athletics and starts taking part in competitions which bring him success and many awards.
He falls badly ill with hepatitis. He discontinues his sports engagements and takes a break from school for a year. In the period he has to spend home he starts drawing. His mother notices his love for art and brings him to the first art lesson. He claims that most of his success he owes to her.
1971 – 1975
He is admitted in an art school. He studies drawing, sculpture and painting. The curriculum envisages visiting to a number of exhibitions. He is deeply impressed by the exhibition “The Painter at Work in America” presented on a large exhibiting area by the American embassy in Bulgaria. This cultural exchange is light at the end of the tunnel in the dark years of communism when the western culture is a distant, pale shadow behind the Iron Curtain.
He graduates first in his year. The law in force at that moment requires from him two years compulsory military service. Discovering his talent his superiors make him a studio. There he starts executing their orders for pictures needed for establishing beneficial contacts in the scarce socialist economy. This relative freedom allows him to listen to the broadcasts of the muffled by the regime Radio Free Europe from where he hears the truth about Georgi Markov and amuses himself with the feuilletons of Velko Verin.
1978 – 1980
He starts his studies in the University of Veliko Turnovo, subject – painting. He studies theory and history of art and aesthetics. He takes interest in the works of Velasquez, Michelangelo, Goya, Van Gogh, Modigliani. He is stirred by the mysticism of the Byzantine icon.
He obtains furtively literature published before 1944. He realizes that greater part of the truth about art and life has been saved and distorted so that it can satisfy the communist regime needs. His fellow students consider him strange because he does not show any interest to social life and constantly paints. He starts selling his works which share nothing in common with the curriculum saturated with the communistic doctrine. This provokes contrastive feelings: from hatred on the part of some of his teachers expressed in treading of his works and reproaching his strongly manifested sensitivity, to the open admiration of others who foretell him a glorious career in art.
He eagerly listens to the broadcasts of Radio Free Europe where they read excerpts from Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago”. He ardently absorbs each word of the free-thinking people. He would never forget the words of his associate professor in art who has graduated in the class of one of the most famous Bulgarian painters and philosophers, Iliya Bezhkov. He often cites the words of his eminent professor which have stuck to Anastas’ mind for his whole life: ‘Jazz is the free people’s music. America will conquer the world through jazz improvisation. And culture will triumph over power.’
He gets in touch with foreign-trade company “Hemus” which in order to fulfill its currency plan looks for young talented painters whose works they sell abroad. The company’s director is quite impressed with the innovative ideas of the painter.
1982 – 1984
He graduates and returns to Plovdiv. He starts working strenuously 10 to 12 hours a day which makes him extremely prolific. He lives in full asceticism in order to allow his sharpened senses to hear his inner voice. His introvert personality feverishly analyses the external world and looks for flight from conformism. As he never forgets to mention later in his interviews he has always tried to stay away from the servile art which is spice to meal of the authorities at that time: ‘I have never wanted to fit. I have always tried to be myself!’
The knowledge gained during his student’s life from the aesthetic treatises of Kant, the views of Schopenhauer and the forbidden Freud give him the opportunity to find his way in the surrounding sea of social realism. But the Holy Scriptures has the strongest influence on him. In his works appears for the first time the image of a crucified man which becomes integral part of the background, regardless of the plot. In negation of the ossified norms of totalitarianism which restrain the individual and freedom of creativity Anastas often lets his images in a state of imbalance, hanging with head downwards.
In professional aspect he starts cooperation with ‘Martinus Nijhoff’. Up to 1990 they export more than 150 of his works for whose destiny today the painter knows solely that they have been sold out through auctions all over the world. In 1983 is his debut exhibition which gains success. The success is confirmed the following year in a one-man show, presented within the Autumn Exhibitions in Plovdiv where museums and private collectors buy out the whole exposition.
A year marked by important events in the painter’s life.
He becomes member of the Union of the Bulgarian Painters.
He takes part in an international plener in the town of Poznan. Poland has just passed through the military situation introduced by general Yaruzelski. Flags of “Solidarnost” wave proudly and on the cathedrals could be seen Polish flags spotted in crimson like drops of blood on the white part. The shops are empty, the people – hungry, but inspired. Only a few days before the pope, John Paul II, has been with them.
Anastas visits the museum of modern art in the town of Lodz where he becomes familiar with the world tendencies in conceptual art. He is highly impressed by the Polish modernists and some of the freedom-loving Polish painters who have found strength to secede from state union of the Polish painters by exhibiting their works in the cathedrals.
The visit in Poland proves to be a turning point in the philosophical, life and aesthetic views of the painter.
His son Konstantin is born.
Crucial for the painter. There are rumors about openness and reconstruction. Anastas makes the first conceptual exhibition (installation) in Bulgaria. Its opening in March is accompanied by huge interest and gathers at one place great part of the free-thinking people and intellectuals. There comes one film crew to shoot. As part of the exposition Anastas displays an old door with a lit candle on the threshold where people start instinctively putting coins as on an icon in gratitude. The exhibition lasts only a week. The first secretary of the party arrives in his black Mercedes advised by a titled local painter and closes the exhibition under the pretext that it is “a religious and ideological diversion”. Part of the works are broken into pieces by the “party lord’s servants”. Anastas is called for examination in the security services. He is severely warned that he has a record already and each of his actions will be vigilantly supervised. He is threatened to be expelled from the Union of the Bulgarian Painters (UBP) on proposal of the union of the Plovdiv painters. ‘Instead of standing up for me they chose to kiss the boots of the party’, says in disappointment Anastas. Exclusion from UBP means unequivocally permanent prohibition for any exhibitions both at home and abroad. In contrast to the free world where the intellectual’s individuality has never been suppressed Anastas’ life oscillates between the poles of Hamlet’s dilemma: “To be or not to be!” Convincing himself again that he is not a man of the compromise in art he paints a new series in response to the closed exhibition. He exhibits it in Sofia. The exhibition is opened by the art expert PhD. Aksiniya Dzhurova, daughter of the defense minister at that time, who is the only person who dares to defend the talented painter. In the opening speech she addresses sharply the Plovdiv colleagues of Anastas who have proposed him for exclusion and have not paid tribute to the present exhibition. The exhibition consists of dramatic paintings charged with social messages. The series The Red Pigs is part of the exposition. Anastas’ name starts being discussed more and more often publicly.
The film crew which has shot the closed exhibition tries afterwards to realize the material. Producer – Milan Ognyanov, script-writer – Petar Manolov. With an approved screenplay by the state commission and assured budget the film remains unfinished and is banned due to the envy of a colleague of Anastas, a spy for the secret services.
For the first time he travels beyond the Iron Curtain limits. He visits Greece.
He finishes The Conscience Seller – a painting worked upon on stages, having politically prophetic content, and dedicated to the fall of communism.
His paintings are displayed in exhibitions in New York, Pittsburg, Madrid, Helsinki, Vrotslav and Torun, where he wins the special award of the first art forum for small-sized paintings.
He completes Series 33: Fish. The artist is 33 years old and the exhibition consists of 33 works.
He passes through the Berlin Wall. He eyewitnesses heartbreaking scenes – machine-guns arranged along the railway station, dogs under the trains and grey gloomy shadows emitting the increasing sensation of unabated sadness coming from the separating borderline. He takes part in an exhibition in Hamburg, organized by Baroness Maria Luisa Warburg and displayed in hotel “Intercontinental”.
The same year he has an exhibition in Geneva in De L’Athene Museum. This appearance of Anastas encounters him with the proprietor of Petit Palais – Musee d’Art Moderne, Mr. Gess, who shares with the painter his personal memories and impressions from the great Bulgarian painter George Papazov. He reveals to Anastas his admiration from the painter who by being a part of the French Montparnasse has found proper place with permanent exposition in one of Geneva’s showrooms.
The same year happens to be a turning point in the history of the whole Eastern Europe – the communism falls. The servile social realism retreats to the rear. In front of the long oppressed talented people and intellectuals open new horizons for work. Anastas actively expresses his anti-communist civil position by energetically taking part in rallies for overthrowing the regime in Bulgaria. He is invited to enter the government first as minister of culture and later as a member of parliament but he does not find his vocation in these occupations and indulges on the long cherished creative freedom. Under its impact he creates a painting which is an anthology of all his works – Memorial Service for the Victims of Communism.
1990 – 1991
An exhibition in X+ Gallery which the artist considers nowadays with mixed feelings. He receives a tempting proposal for five year contract as painter from which only the happy chance saves him. He eyewitnesses an attempt of the director of company “Hemus” at that time and the gallery art dealer to steal three of his paintings. This disappointment makes the painter take the back flight to Bulgaria earlier than it has been envisaged and refuse entering the contract. On the board of the plane comes to his mind the idea of opening his own gallery in Bulgaria which he decides to celebrate by treating with a bottle of whiskey his fellow passengers. This act acquaints him with proprietors of a gallery in Luxemburg who sit on the nearby seats. He invites them to make a visit in Bulgaria and the invitation is returned with an exhibition in Luxemburg in 1991. The gallery is 88 and two of his paintings – The Moon Kisses the Earth and Aqueduct are bought by shareholders of The Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The same year his paintings are exposed in Toronto, Paris, Hanover, Sofia and Hamburg.
He travels to Geneva where Gallery 88 has arranged for him participation in the international fair of art “Europe Art”.
He has exhibition in St. Julian’s Gallery in Malta. The exhibition passes with tremendous success. All works are bought by an American collector from New York.
Influenced by the Maltese sun he paints 3 paintings in an explosively-warm range of colors which later become possession of the football star Krasimir Balakov.
The same year he realizes 2 one man shows in Bulgaria.
A year and a half he works upon a series of 70 paintings under the topic Sacredness of Love which become emblematic for his art. In spring 1994 due to invitation from Apollo and Mercury Gallery in Sofia these works are exhibited on 800 sq.m. area. From them can be felt new aestheticism and the critics describe the artist as a painter of new generation.
By the end of the same year in Plovdiv he displays the series Pearls from the Sky which comprises of 40 small-sized paintings, sold out almost on the spot.
Two one man shows at home.
He finishes Eucharistia, a painting executed on stages which takes him 10 years. The sale of the painting at a very respectable price assures him that his dream for his own gallery will come true.
He takes part in an exhibition in Palazzina Azzurra in San Benedetto del Tronto, Italy. There he has the opportunity to touch to the spirit of the ancient art and the Italian quattrocento. He visits Ufizi Museum in Florence, Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.
The strong artistic charge obtained from the visit in Italy he realizes in the completion of the painting Charisma (Gifts from the Spirit). It attracts the attention of a German colleague who sees it just finished in the artist’s studio. Strongly charmed by the spirit of the painting the German guy kneels in front of it, makes a cross sign and kisses it. He shares with Anastas that the painting is a significant achievement in art and he considers a variant through one friend who is cardinal to cooperate the painting to be bought by the Vatican Museum. Meanwhile, on seeing the picture and hearing for the intentions of the foreigner to it a Bulgarian lover of art decides that it should be preserved in the Bulgarian national heritage. He buys it and in this way the painting never makes its way to any showroom and is not known by the public. The strong jealousy of its owner to its charismatic spirit makes him lock it in a room where the external people’s access is forbidden.
A year marked by intense work. The building process of Anastas Gallery starts in the old part of Plovdiv where the painter has had the unique chance to buy property with his own funds.
Due to invitation from “Rayko Alexiev” foundation he makes one man show in Vitosha Gallery in Sofia. The irreconcilable creative spirit and the strong non-conformism win him a place among the names in the lead of the Bulgarian art.
Opening of Anastas Gallery. Despite the great difficulties during the realization of the project for the gallery, Anastas manages to create 90 new works which to exhibit in his personal gallery. The dream has come true!
The opening coincides with the European month of culture running in the old part of Plovdiv, when Plovdiv is an accompanying cultural capital of Weimar. Famous people and politicians as the Bulgarian president Stoyanov and the Greek one Stephanopoulos attend the cultural event. The Prime Minister, Ivan Kostov, lover of the painter’s art, avails himself of the opportunity to join the multitude of Anastas’ collectors who have come from all parts of the world to pay tribute to the opening of the gallery.
A month later Anastas takes part in a documentary dedicated to the Bulgarian culture shot by a German crew of documentary experts. The production is broadcast in a number of European countries.
Due to invitation from the Bulgarian Cultural Institute in Berlin he makes a one man show and gathers at one place all his German collectors. He visits the new national art gallery in Berlin. He admires the originals of Edward Munk.
After coming back in Bulgaria he completes Blessing Angel, a painting executed on stages.
He makes large scale exhibition on 1000 sq.m. in Sofia which is nominated for cultural event of the year.
The national television shoots film in 2 parts for him, entitled “Shining Door”.
Impressed by the vitality and culture of the Thracians he draws The Thracians’ Song, a series of drawings. Without directly using the samples of the latest archeological discoveries connected with them he regenerates the sensation of their spirit in a new modern shape. The mysticism of the childhood’s favorite places and the place where he currently dwells is unveiled and gets real outlines. The character of the exhibition provokes general interest and is a basis for the creation of numerous paintings and sculptures.
His quest in art finds its way to the creation of the series Sun’s Resurrection. It bridges the Thracian culture with the Christian tradition.
He makes acquaintance with the poet William Meredith, Pulitzer winner, who is significant figure in the popularization of the Bulgarian culture abroad.
With yacht he cruises around the Aegean islands due to invitation from one of his collectors, Mr. Wendel Simonis. The voyage is truly inspiring for the artist. He visits Cos island, where was born the father of medicine Hippocrates, Patmos island where was written “Apocalypse” by St. John, the biggest temple of the art patron Apollo in Miletos, Troy and Efes. On the way from Patmos to Samos Island they get stuck in a sea tempest from which only a miracle helps them to survive.
In spring he presents the series Aegean Visions. It is a combined exposition of paintings and sculpture. The new line of the artist in sculpture receives general approval and he gets an order for casting one of the exhibited sculptures in monumental sizes. The whole process of its casting is made in film which is broadcast in one of the national televisions in Bulgaria.
In autumn he travels on a business visit to New York having been invited to make two exhibitions which he refuses afterwards. His stay in USA is filled with business meetings and gives him strong artistic incentive. He manages to see Whitney Museum, Metropolitan, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Noguchi Museum. In the state art gallery museum he pays special visit to Christo’s exhibition which precedes his large scale project The Gates in New York. He avails himself of the opportunity to see the galleries exhibiting modern art on 24th Street. He is truly impressed by Gagosian Gallery and the selection of the artists exposed there. He is invited at the opening of an exhibition of Maillol in Marlborough Gallery. He gets familiar with the work of his colleagues from all over the world on the day of “Open Studio”. Being present at an auction in Sotheby’s he eyewitnesses one of Modigliani’s paintings being sold out for more than 32 million dollars. He makes acquaintances with shareholders of Metropolitan Museum and leading art dealers with whom they discuss future plans.
He works strenuously on many sculpture compositions and the project Astral Thracian Warrior, a sculpture which is envisaged to be executed in 7,70 m size.
In May he welcomes once again the poet William Meredith. He introduces to Anastas Doug and Ancha Casey who buy afterwards several paintings and a big share of the sculpture exposition exhibited in the gallery.
In July he gets married to Emilia, the woman who faithfully shares his artistic and personal life.
A visit from the great archeologist Dr.Georgi Kitov who has made the sensational discoveries about the Thracian civilization during the last years. Together with the painter they consider the idea of a mutual project.
End of February he completes with gypsum mould of the huge sculpture Astral Thracian Warrior.