English Watercolor Artist Martin Stephenson: Bulgaria Is Like Venice without the Canals
Author: Henry Rowlands
Interview | October 5, 2009, Monday
Interview with Martin Stephenson, English watercolor artist , www.artstevo.com. Martin is currently gearing up for an October 14 exhibition - “Two Englishmen Abroad” - in Karnobat alongside UK Photographer Geoff Taylor.
After having no formal training as an artist, what started your interest in art and specifically watercolor painting?
I used to draw constantly as a child and was influenced by the pictures in Music Papers in the 70’s of my music heroes like Marc Bolan, and David Bowie and by the paintings of odd things like Toothpaste Tubes by Andy Warhol that were appearing in print shops for the first time. I have always been attracted to watercolor because of it’s immediacy and the delicate fresh washes were in contrast to the drab days of post war smoggy Yorkshire. I am also very impatient and can have a painting up on the wall as soon as it’s finished!
You have commented that Bulgarian artist Ivan Russev is an influence on your work – in what way and when were you introduced to Russev’s art?
I belong to many online Galleries to try and get exposure for my work and first noticed Ivan’s work on one of those Galleries and we communicate regularly on the computer, though we have never met, but I hope to visit him in Sofia very soon. I was the first English artist to approach the Galleries in Bulgaria, one of which was The Biserra Gallery in Sozopol, where I spotted his work and took his details from the owner. I have also seen his work at my framers in Burgas and can spot his oils a mile off. The quality of his work is exemplorary and I am influenced to try oils this Winter because of our chance ‘virtual’ meeting.
Has living and working in Bulgaria had an influence on your paintings?
Yes, Bulgaria has influenced my work very much. I liken Bulgaria to Venice (without the canals)! A city I have visited twice and again on my way driving through Europe to get here to my new home. If the peeling facades were in Venice, artists and camera clicking hordes would be clambering to record them. I can also see that things here are changing quickly and feel duty bound to record these images, in my own way, and this rural way of life before it changes forever. My paintings of The Roof Garden Burgas, Tumbledown Cottage, and the ones of abandoned Cars and Lorries bear testament to this strange beauty. I know and realize that the average villager thinks that I am mad painting such things, and they seem almost embarrassed by the enforced neglect, where all I see is beauty.
You speak with great pride about your home county of Yorkshire, UK. What made you move away?
I do love Yorkshire and Yorkshire people but hate the weather and all the silly things that happen in the UK. It’s also a very expensive place to live and values have changed in my lifetime which makes me sad. One also has to be very wealthy to afford the lifestyle I have in Bulgaria. Though being a struggling artist wasn’t on my original plan for my semi retirement. But my family had grown and I found myself single. I also sold my business to fund this mad adventure. But the biggest thing was my dear younger sister Julie was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and I realized that given the chance that I should live my dream while I was still young enough to enjoy it. I painted ‘The Rock Pool – For Julie’ to cheer her up as she bravely battled and ultimately lost her fight in July. Unfortunately she lost her sight and never got to see it. The painting will be exhibited but is not for sale, we have also dedicated the exhibition to her memory.
How can you sum up your painting style? What specific subjects do you concentrate on?
I am far too modest to assume my style is set just yet, so will leave that to others to judge but words like ‘Atmosphere,’ Serenity’, Freshness’ seem to be how it’s described. I would say it’s fast and loose, and clean, something , difficult to achieve with watercolors. It also seems to be a medium not used much in Bulgaria. The subjects I like to concentrate on are faded buildings, and landscapes with big (Yorkshire) Bulgarian skies and the coast. The female human form also holds some interest too!
What area of Bulgaria has touched your artistic soul the most?
Two areas really - my own village Cherkovo with it’s dilapidated buildings and church and the slow pace of life and it’s animals and farming traditions. The second is the faded grandeur of Burgas. It’s quite clear to me, that this city was once a very prosperous place indeed. I am yet to visit the mountains which I hope to do this Winter and am sure they will influence me, as Sozopol did this year.
After a summer showing your work at galleries on the Black Sea coast what are your future plans? Why have you decided to work with UK photographer Geoff Taylor?
It was my first holiday season at the coast and I have been overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of the art fraternity over there. I have been doing live painting demonstrations too which was at times scary, but nonetheless great for my confidence. I am looking forward to doing the same at the galleries in Burgas, Nessebar and Sozopol, next Summer, assuming I am invited back! I have also been invited to show at a gallery in Borovets for the ski season so will be able to visit Rila and record the mountains in Winter and am very excited by that. I also want to visit the galleries and to see friends in Sofia, but that will depend on the success of the Karnobat exhibition largely.
I also want to teach and was invited to judge a children’s art competition and demonstrate at the Lukoil 10th Anniversary celebrations in the Sea Gardens in Burgas and loved it.
So as well as all my other commitments, I am writing an E-Book which will be for sale in the Spring, and online video lessons for YouTube and plan to teach kids and adults how to paint with watercolors or aquarelle as they call it here. I am also hoping to run art breaks and holidays long term, but will see.
We both ended up living in the same village and were both from Yorkshire and we used to go out with the cameras last year. Geoff has his own dark room and likes traditional photography but personally I think he just likes playing with chemicals like a child with a chemistry set !
In his own words ‘I can’t be doing with all this digital stuff, it’s not photography it’s imaging’!
I love Geoff’s photos and we often just people watch in Karnobat or Bourgas, and I love Geoff’s quirky angle on things and he is a very talented, but self engratiating artist.
Geoff and his wife Cath, and two other friends Mike and Jane Lynham have been patrons, and have been very supportive of my work. Geoff is funding the whole exhibition and even my frames out of his own pocket. Such is his faith in me!
Am not sure if Geoff is of the same opinion but if successful I am hoping to maybe have one man exhibitions regularly in Spring and Autumn as it looks like I may have a week or two free!