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“The Nature, The Geometry, and the Materials” Why Mosaic? by Professor Iliya Iliev

On 29, Aug 2012 | 18 Comments | In Uncategorized | By Nancie

Iliya Iliev “Sesif” (Sisyphus) 2010 70x120cm diptych. Stones, glass

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.

"Venice" (2014)

“Venice” (2014)

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.

Iliya Iliev “Sport Palace” detail 1986

“Sports Palace”  1986  detail

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.

Iliya Iliev “The Green Algae” 2002 25x25cm Marble, glass.

Iliya Iliev “Land Slide” 2008 40x40cm Stones, glass.

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.

Iliya Iliev “The Wall”  1990  60x60cm  Stones

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.

Iliya Iliev “Agression of the Circles” Triptych, 3 60x60cm panels. Stones, marble, colored plasters

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.

Iliya Iliev “Geometry” 1967 60x120cm Stones

Sometimes I explore real landscapes or the illusion of flowers, trees and even animals.

Iliya Iliev “Pella” 2005 40x40cm Marble, glass

Iliya Iliev “Quarry” 1990 80x100cm Glass

Iliya Iliev “Santorini” 2012 70×110 cm Volcanic rock, marble from Tassos, granite.

Iliya Iliev “Meditarenium” 2012 White cement, marbled sand, shells

Iliya Iliev “The Tree of Life” 1989 90x90cm Marbles, stones, glass.

Iliya Iliev “Sunflowers” 2008 Various. Coloured glass, galvanized copper.

Iliya Iliev “The Wolves” 1990 60x120cm Granite, marble

Iliya Iliev “Fish” 2012 40x40cm Marble, coloured plaster

Sometimes I look to serious philosophical problems.

Iliya Iliev “Sisif” (Sisyphus) 2010 70x120cm diptych. Stones, glass

This divine technique, mosaic, gave me the option to be a contemporary artist and to take part in a creative life.

Iliya Iliev “Japan My Love” 2011 2 40x40cm diptych. Granite, marble, glass

Iliya Iliev “London” 2012 40x40cm Marble, smalti.

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

Also on MAN:  “A Hard-Bound Master Class by Iliya Iliev: A Review of Ornament by Allan Punton”

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.


Iliya Iliev "Sport Palace" 1986


"Sports Palace" detail 1986


Iliya Iliev "The Green Algae" 2002 25x25cm Marble, glass.


Iliya Iliev "Land Slide" 2008 40x40cm Stones, glass.


Iliya Iliev


Iliya Iliev "Agression of the Circles" Triptych, 3 60x60cm panels. Stones, marble, colored plasters


Iliya Iliev "Geometry" 1967 60x120cm Stones


Iliya Iliev "Pella" 2005 40x40cm Marble, glass


Iliya Iliev "Quarry" 1990 80x100cm Glass


Iliya Iliev "Santorini" 2012 70x110 cm Volcanic rock, marble from Tassos, granite.


Iliya Iliev "Meditarenium" 2012 White cement, marbled sand, shells


Iliya Iliev "The Tree of Life" 1989 90x90cm Marbles, stones, glass.


Iliya Iliev "The Wolves" 1990 60x120cm Granite, marble


Iliya Iliev "Fish" 2012 40x40cm Marble, coloured plaster


Iliya Ilieve "Sunflowers" 2008 Various. Coloured glass, galvanized copper.


Iliya Iliev "Sesif" 2010 70x120cm diptych. Stones, glass


Iliya Iliev "Japan My Love" 2011 2 40x40cm diptych. Granite, marble, glass


Iliya Iliev "London" 2012 40x40cm Marble, smalti.


Iliya Iliev "Visantia"



Ilya Iliev Inspired by the sea

"Venice" (2014)


Share this article


  1. Karen Drosnes

    after a cold winter both in temperature and in ideas I found this article and this wonderful artist and have fallen in love again with mosaic.

  2. juan carlos paniagua

    para artistas solitarios, arquitectos extraviados, buscadores de la belleza nueva, tantos perdidos que creemos que sentimos algo único, y somos muchos ¡muchas gracias!

  3. Con Kiernan

    Here I go again; blown out of my comfort zone. This work totally captivates me. Wonderful.

    • Nancie

      Con, I know exactly what you mean.

  4. Sonia King

    I first learned of Iliya’s work at the AIMC conference in Ravenna in 2000. He was one of the first artists I contacted when I was choosing the gallery for my book. Over the years, I’ve been lucky to listen to him talk about his work and proud to count him as my friend. Thank you so much for bringing his thoughts to everyone’s attention.

  5. Lynn Adamo

    Thank you so much for re-posting this article! I missed it the first time around, as I was travelling last fall. Wow! I am entranced by Mr. Illiev’s work and am amazed I hadn’t heard of him before! Every comment made above is exactly how I feel about his work. I expect to study these beautiful works often.

    • Nancie

      I’m so glad you caught this “the second time around”, Lynn. Perhaps we will run into him in Ravenna…

  6. Jennifer Blakebrough Raeburn

    I have long been in awe of Professor Iliev’s fine work; can’t wait for Ravenna, when at last I will realize my dream of seeing these mosaics in person.

    • Nancie

      Me too, Jennifer. I think that Iliev’s work is going to be a whole new experience seen live.

  7. George Fishman

    The calm crystallization of conception and realization infuses the writing as well as the work. What a treat to accompany Iliya on his long journey of discovery. Nothing has been lost or wasted. He achieves a wonderful union of rigorous structure with lyrical spontaneity. Thanks to you both for this inspiring presentation.

  8. Rachel Sager Lynch

    “This divine technique, mosaic, gave me the option to be a contemporary artist and to take part in a creative life.” What a perfect way to express the concious decision to work in the medium we all love. I am sitting here wondering how in the world I have not discovered the work of this incredible artist yet. So, yes, THANK YOU Nancie, for pushing your buttons and introducing him to us. When I see work like this, I feel things clicking into place that I didnt realize were out of place. Look at that andamento perfection and experimentation (both at once by the way) in “Agression of the circles”! This guy has it goin on. I would love to sit down and talk theory with him someday. Great article.

  9. Carole Choucair Oueijan

    Dear Nancie,
    I’m in awe! Thank you so much for sharing this amazing article with us!
    I was so excited to know about Lliya Lliev… His work is so inspiring and his words made you want to read more.
    I really enjoyed every thought and tiny description of his work. He is so perfect in that!
    I liked all his work, but I loved his “Sisif”! and of course his latests creations with his own glass. These kind of articles makes me feel good and hungry for more.
    Lliya Lliev, it was nice meeting you!
    Thank you
    Carole Choucair Oueijan

  10. Katherine Aimone

    This article was extremely helpful for my deeper understanding of the connection between the ancient lineage of mosaics and work by contemporary artists. This work takes so much dedication. It is truly a decision to become a mosaic artist. And the more I learn and see, the more I feel the depth of commitment that the artists have, the true love they have for this art. It’a very exciting and dynamic medium, and I’m so glad to have the opportunity to read these articles. Thank you, Nancie. Amazing.

    • Nancie

      Don’t thank me, Katherine – it’s artists like Iliev who speak so eloquently and passionately about what they do that make MAN a good place for art lovers. I just push the buttons!

  11. andrea steffens

    Thank you so much!

  12. Lillian Sizemore

    Appreciate the comments from Luis below, and I too love Mr. Iliev’s work so much I am kind of freaking out. His work embodies the essence of mosaic as artform: materiality, texture, relationship, reflectivity, experimentation, and transformation. In the hands of this master, ‘eye-deas’ are expressed as no other medium could communicate. Thanks for the insightful presentation Nancie. I really enjoyed seeing the early classical works as lineage to his more recent abstracted investigations. His “Tree of Life” is a tour de force, part Pascal Beauchamp, part Ilana Shafir, 100% Bravo!

    • Nancie

      I take absolutely no credit whatsoever for the presentation of this essay and illustrations. It is ALL Prof. Iliev’s work. I just followed his (very good!) directions. It was a wonderful collaboration for which I am grateful!

  13. Luis Laso Casas

    I am glad you are featuring such an exciting and inspirational mosaic artist; in fact, one of my favourite. I admire the way Iliya’s art is firmly rooted on classic tessellated mosaic art while exploring and widening the boundaries of what constitutes contemporary mosaic art.
    His work is highly expressive and in spite of using a rather limited colour palette he is able to create such exciting pieces in which his tesellation variations, subtle colour progressions and andamento allows him to create and express such level of art and and beauty.
    Many thanks for a wonderful article.

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