Friends ask me sometimes, “If you understand art so well, why don’t you begin painting yourself?” That’s because I would make a bad artist. My brain is wired differently. Shakespeare could produce three metaphors in a single line, and I need half an hour to think up one. And chances are it won’t be nearly as good. A talented painter can produce a dozen visual metaphors in a sketch, while I would be half-way through the preliminary measurement of my future painting to locate the golden ratio line. A good painter will find and draw it with the speed of a trained cop drawing his service gun: his hand knows where it is.
Good artists are spontaneously good. It is what sets them apart from art critics who are spontaneously critics. Even though I don’t style myself as an art critic, but as an art appreciation coach, there you are, anyway.
To give you a bad metaphor: good artists come up with orgasmic paintings each time they have sex with their paints, and I would be a nightmare painter struggling with ejaculation problems. It is like a writer’s block experienced by someone who is not a writer. We don’t want it, do we? Of course not.
This morning, I pulled my couch outside to an empty beach in the Bahamas to do some coaching, and – what a surprise – I met an artist who had just finished her sketch. That’s her photograph on top.
So we sat together, and chatted about her artwork.
This is a seemingly simple and very spontaneous painting of a beach hut that Boryana Korcheva put out to dry moments ago.
There’s nothing unusual about the yellow sand, the blue skies and the ultramarine ocean, which seems a bit wavy, with some whitecaps at a distance. No wonder then that there are no people on the beach, except the two of us.
Artmoscow: Boryana, you are a resident here. Tell me, is it going to be a windy day? No swimmers or sun-bathers to disturb the view?
Boryana: No, since the island is surrounded by a reef, the sea tends to be calmer on this side of the reef and almost always choppy beyond it, so yes, most of the time there are white caps in the horizon.
Artmoscow: Oh, all right then, so we don’t have much time before people swarm the landscape. Do you come here often, at this early hour? What do you like about being here?
Boryana: I am fortunate to start every day with a walk on the beach – this is my very own hour of quiet dialogue with the ocean and the elements. Before heading home, I love to stand for a few minutes with my eyes closed and listen to the sound of the waves – the ones that crash at my feet and the ones further and further until I lose them. I imagine that the waves go through me – it feels fantastic.
Artmoscow: I am lucky to meet you here just before you were going to leave, I guess. As I look at the hut, I can’t fail to notice it is painted differently from the sea and the sand. The latter look like a serene stage set for the rather chaotic shed.
Why is it chaotic? What did you think about when you were painting it?
Boryana: A lonely beach hut against the vastness of the ocean – an unsteady shelter, forbidden lovers’ hideaway, a place of shadowy exchanges?
Artmoscow: I see it may mean a lot to you. To me, it doesn’t seem to be a firm structure bolted to the ground. It is crawling forward, as if the wind from the ocean shoves it to move on.
There’s movement in the painting, as if some energy is passed over from the ocean to the hut. Something is handed over, like the baton in a relay race.
The heaving ocean is breathing at the hut’s back as a live beast, which is, quite fortunately, separated by the wide stripe of sand from the observer (which, in its turn makes me, the observer, feel safe).
This dynamism is provided by a perfectly proportioned positioning of the hut just at the border of the centre of the painting, to which the eye wants to draw the house, and the slanted lines of the roof indicate this direction: they prompt the eye to drag the shed up and to the right .
It is also possible to see this house as a live animal, resisting the wind, with its head stubbornly lowered and its tail stuck out in the effort to remain rooted to the spot.
Boryana: oh, no, I don’t think I wanted it to be an animal… Though you never know what chaos can unleash…
Artmoscow: OK, but this hut, moving to the right, does seem to be alive with specks of bright colours like a twinkle in the eye and the orange flag on top blown about by the wind…
Boryana: Yes, those flickers of light, cries of seagulls, clatter of loose planks against the rustle of the waves, it is all there. And then – the eternal peace of the horizon.
Artmoscow: If I talk like a complete bore, you seem to be reciting some nice poetry, as a true artist probably should. Yes, I can see the wind gushing through this semi-transparent hut, and I guess, I can hear the planks clatter… So, there’s not just movement in this sketch, there’s also plenty of sounds.
Boryana: Yes, the audio world is just as exciting as the visual one, but we tend to neglect it. Try to stand still, close your eyes and tune to the noises around you – the immediate and then the distant ones. Another one is to pay attention deliberately to what you perceive through your skin.
Artmoscow: That sounds like a psychotherapy exercise that better be undertaken in solitude. While you are here, I would like to understand a bit more about the chaos of the hut.
Boryana: Subconsciously I must have been painting my mind, with its ragged, uneven thoughts wheezing through it like the wind through the cracks.
Artmoscow: OK, let’s talk about your “ragged and uneven thoughts”, for they just might be the key both to the chaos and movement in this work.
I remember you mentioned a “lovers’ hideout”. We all have our own associations with this, but what’s yours?
Boryana: This is difficult to pinpoint. The easiest thing is to say a “flight of imagination”, but every such flight is rooted in an actual experience. It may go back to my teens, when we used to go camping on the Black Sea coast and when, if two of you wanted to sneak away from the crowd for some privacy, you would head to the beach hoping to find shelter in a shack or something like that. Teen beach sex, when you can’t afford a hotel room – to put it straight.
Artmoscow: People say there’s more disappointment than pleasure in sex on the beach. Sand gets where is shouldn’t. Yet, I can imagine the shed being quite chaotically shaken by these teenage lovers. I won’t ask you about the “place of shadowy exchanges”: let’s let the readers build their own crime and passion stories around that.
Anyway, I see a lot of life in your vision, and life means movement and dynamism. Yet, there are no people and – save for the shed – the lines are simple flats.
Boryana: You know, my overall feeling of the sea and the beach is of something dynamic, always in motion, even when it appears perfectly still.
Artmoscow: So this is where the movement is coming from, finally. For the record, this is what I think is great about your sketch:
This alive, semi-transparent house with winds blowing through it, is moving across the frame, which makes it a small wonder to watch: there’s a conflict being played out before the eyes of the observer. The beach spreads beyond the frame, unlimited and endless, and so the drama is not going to end anytime soon. There’s plenty of time to watch it, thinking of time, other lives, the elements that will outlive us all, the joys that await us in future, and the destiny of the hut, which crawls along the beach at a snail’s pace.
When I applied the “golden ratio snail” to the painting, the hut fit perfectly inside it: it’s seemingly chaotic lines rhyme with the shape of the snail, its chaotic details turn out to be proportioned accordingly. Moreover, the snail of the hut fits into a bigger snail that seems to bring together the skies, the ocean, the sand, and the house into some single entity, creating a union of the elements: air, water, and sand.
This painting is a very interesting representation of not sitting on a beach, but EXPERIENCING THE BEACH.
You didn’t plan to build this movement around golden ratio rules and geometrical representations, at least consciously, I believe. I know artists who just feel golden ratio because their eye and hand are trained in this, and I guess you’re one of them.
Honestly, did you think of the golden ratio proportions when you worked on this painting, or you just “felt” and painted the harmony, because your eye and hand are trained in this?
Boryana: Placing the hut off-centre was one of the two conscious thoughts I had about the composition of the painting. The other was about the horizontal lines – the line of the horizon and the line between the sand and sea. But I didn’t think of proportions, rather of ‘what would look right’. The process of painting the hut itself was more gestural than deliberate. I must have thought of it as something that is temporary, impermanent, fleeting.”
Artmoscow: I tried to play with some of the proportions in this painting by cutting off a bit of sand and some of the skies, but the harmony gets lost.
Speaking of “experiencing the beach”, what is in it, for you, personally?
Boryana: Since it is not a specific hut on a specific day, they are all the thoughts that go through my head when I walk on the beach in the morning. I think about people, about things I’ve read, about art, about past experiences, make plans – big and small ones – ‘the windmills of our minds’ kind of thing. Sometimes I get specific ideas about paintings, sometimes the whole mental stew takes shape in a spontaneous piece like the Beach Hut.
Artmoscow: I am sure the reader has his or her very personal associations with a sandy beach, and your sketch is a great way to wake up those associations. You painting is not about a beach hut, but about the Total Beach Experience. I don’t think photography can ever do it.
You told me it is be shown at a NY gallery soon. I think it will sell fast. Were I the gallery owner, I would show more work from this “experiential” series. It would be good for the visitors, emotionally, and just right for me, financially. Good luck with the show!
This is, of course, a semi-imaginary dialogue, based on a brief Q&A session over e-mail. I did not have to edit Boryana’s answers, but I had to do cosmetic work on the questions. We are 5700 miles away from each other, but art is known to cross borders and cover great distances in the blink of an eye.
For my readers who have not been before to Boryana’s website: go there. Check out her other, very different, types of artworks or paintings. Pay attention to the self-portrait in a bottle. Don’t tell me you’ve never felt like this.