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Professor Iliya Iliev, Chief of the Department of Mural Painting, Mosaics and Stained Glass at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sofia, Bulgaria has been exploring the possibilities of mosaics for over 30 years. Classically trained in both art and architecture, Iliev’s mosaics exploit both of these doctrines. His work is unmistakeable; always organic, always ordered by a geometry that gives wings to his eclectic materials. We asked Iliev to answer the question: Why mosaic? Why not painting or sculpture? His response is below. Enjoy – Nancie
I was born in Burgas, a port on the Black Sea, in the country of Bulgaria in 1931.
The sea gave me the freedom to be an artist during the difficult period of total oppression of my country between 1944 and 1989. During my lonely walks along the seaside the horizontal line, the eternal and always changing rhythms and shapes of the waves – their spilling on the sand, over the rocks and over the polished pebbles – the snails, the clams, the seaweeds, the jelly fishes passing away, the whole of nature . . . all of that inspired me to be an artist.
When I was not accepted into the Academy of Fine Arts in Sofia 1950, I decided to study architecture. After graduation, I spent five years working in an architectural company in Burgas. At that point in my life, I thought this was a waste of time. Later, I realized that this work was extremely useful to me. In architecture, I learned the constructive thinking, the logic of building things, the scale, and the geometry that would become a strong characteristic of my work. It would add to my love of nature and lead me to mosaic.
At 29, I was finally admitted into the Academy of fine Art where I received my Masters degree in 1966. My background in architecture directed me into the Decorative and Monumental field at the school – an area that permitted me an escape from the ideological rules of the time. This discipline was focused totally on the architectural and natural environment; the scale and the character of architecture itself. In this period, I spent a great deal of time working in different mural techniques from fresco to the plastic decorative relief – sgrafito – in many large works.
After my post-diploma specialization in Paris with the king of colors – (industrial designer) George Patrix – I found somewhere in the south of France the beauty of easel mosaics.
I think I already had mosaics in myself from the spontaneous mosaics of the sea that I loved so much – the sands, shells clams and flooded water. A strange, polymorphic mixture from so different and maybe eclectic materials.
And, once again, I will say that the decision to pursue a life making easel mosaics also came from my background in architecture. Like mosaics, architecture starts with the creative design process, then there is thinking through the logistics of construction and finally there is the act of construction, itself.
When a mosaic work is to be a wall made of stones, lime, and cement it must follow the rules for vertical and horizontal lines.
For other fine arts, these concepts may just be principles, but for mosaics they are a necessity. The materials in classical architecture are the same as for classical mosaics.
In easel mosaics there is everything. There is painting in the color of materials. There is the graphic scale of black to white. There is sculpture in decisions around plasticity.
In mosaic, you have the possibility of making all kinds of compositions from cleanly abstract (which I don’t use frequently) to those which give the impression of space, perspective, depth, landscape, illusion.
Sometimes I explore real landscapes or the illusion of flowers, trees and even animals.
Sometimes I look to serious philosophical problems.
This divine technique, mosaic, gave me the option to be a contemporary artist and to take part in a creative life.
I love and give great importance to the materials used in my mosaics – materials which I have made and prepare myself or occasionally find in the magical space of nature. For the most part, I use the beautiful stones of my country. But, my work with the binding materials (cement adhesives) of mosaics is another game. I bend or dissolve or even destroy the spaces between the tesserae, introducing into this space some brilliant colours.
My visits to Ravenna, Thessaloniki and Istanbul gave my mosaics golden backgrounds and the brilliance of the noble materials.
I began using and making hot glass elements after my meeting with (industrial designer) Tapio Vircala of Finland and (hot glass pioneer) Bill Boysen of the US. My kiln helps me to produce different forms, interesting details, and coloured glasses. The discovering and making of materials is the job of the artist him/herself and that is a personal and creative laboratory which also attracts me to mosaics.
And so, these three things THE NATURE, THE GEOMETRY and THE MATERIALS are the three things that made me forever a friend of the easel mosaic. For the mosaic and my technique I am very grateful and do not regret my choice.
Prof. Iliya Iliev August, 2012
Brief Biography: 1985: Becomes professor of mural painting at Academy of Fine Arts, Sofia, Bulgaria. 1987: Participation in a monumental art and mosaic symposium Senege, Moscow, Russia. 1987: One-man mosaic exhibition Sofia, Bulgaria. 1989: National prize for decorative arts “Ivan Penkov”. 1990: Membership in the International Contemporary Mosaicists, Ravenna, Italy. 1991: Becomes chief of department of mural painting, mosaics and stained glass at the Academy of Fine Arts, Sofia, Bulgaria. 1991: Visiting professor in the South Illinois University, USA. 1996: One-man show (glass mosaics) in USA . 2000: Participation in the Mosaic show AIMC Alexandria, Egypt. 2003: Participation in VII Congress and mosaic exhibition in Ravenna, Italy. 2003: Participation in a “Dante” mosaic exhibition in Ravenna, Italy. 2004: One-man mosaic exhibition, Sofia, Bulgaria. 2004: One-man mosaic exhibition, Plovdiv, Bulgaria . 2004: One-man mosaic exhibition, Burgas, Bulgaria. Over 70 works in architectural spaces. Easel mosaics is in national galleries and private collections in Bulgaria, USA, France, Netherlands, Japan, Germany, Greece, Hungary, etc. Iliev is the author of two books, Parqueting Convexing Pentagon: Mosaics of The Pentagons (2009) and The Ornament.