In order to be able to fully comprehend and analyze Mr. Kourtev’s paintings we need to know about his past. Where he comes from and what traditions and values govern his life. He was born in Bulgaria, an ancient country with a very rich cultural-historical heritage – from the fascinating gold work of the Thracians through the unique Roman architecture to the Byzantine mosaics and paintings.
I have know Vesselin Kourtev since he was a student and as his teacher I know how thoroughly and responsibly he was accumulating knowledge, learning the subtleties of the profession, preparing for his independent art work. After his graduation he showed enviable activity which is reflected by his lengthy portfolio.
The exhibition presented in front of you is that of a mature author with his own individuality. The subject-matter which intrigues him most is human relationships and interaction in their global and personal dimensions. The events take place in a rather abstract, almost fictional environment. The message is conveyed by the state of the figures and their faces, reinforced with reserved gestures and movements. Vesselin’s strength as a painter is in his talent as an artist – every one of his ideas is supported by a wonderful choice of color, vital and alive, throughout the whole color spectrum. In most cases the faces are unobtrusive, showing through the background like sheer contours, weaving into the whole semi-aquarelle pulsation of the painting.
A lot more can be said about V. Kourtev’s creative work but it is more important that the appreciators themselves, live the moment for themselves and I hope they find the painting that is closest to their heart and environment.
I strongly believe that the prestigious Agoura Gallery has made an excellent choice by inviting an authentic and gifted author such as Mr. Kourtev. I wish the gallery and the author mutual success and successful collaboration.
Prof. Ivan Botchev, Dean, Art Department, St. St. Cyril and Methodeous University, Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
Green Wave – “The Fish Are Praying For Rain” Cycle
Born and raised in Bulgaria, Vesselin Kourtev received his high school degree in fine art from the Fine Art School, Kazanluk and MFA degree from the Faculty of Fine Art at the University of Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria.
In 2002 he moved to live in New Jersey and in 2007 he founded the Alfa Art Gallery.
From 2008, Vesselin Kourtev is the Art Director and Resident Artist of the Alfa Art Gallery.
Currently, he is working on oil and water color paintings and collages.
Vesselin Kourtev’s Painterly Evocations of Natural Unity
At first glance, the paintings of Vesselin Kourtev, a Bulgarian-born artist now living in New Jersey who has steadily gained a reputation for his exhibitions in Malta, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Belgium and the U.S., suggest a postmod ern offspring of the great British landscape painter Joseph Mallord William Turner. For like that great British landscape painter, Kourtev’s light-kissed oils on canvas appear as though painted with “tinted steam,” to use Turner’s own phrase.
One was also tempted to make compar isons to the Scottish “skyscapes” of the late James Schuyler, given that most of the can vases in Kourtev’s recent exhibition at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th street, evoked low-lying horizons and land masses topped by magnificent cloud masses. Then, on closer inspection of the paintings, mysterious fig ures began to emerge from those luminous cumulous fool-the-eye shapes in the sky.
And suddenly one realized that Vesselin Kourtev is a unique neo-symbolist in abstract disguise, a romantic in the tradition of artists such as Arnold Bocklin, who envi sioned the forces of war massing in the sky over Dusseldorf, or the Pre-Raphaelite painter Walter Crane, best known for his fanciful merger of myth and seascape “The Horses of Neptune.”
A significant difference between Kourtev and these earlier artists, however, is that Kourtev’s style is informed by the gestural freedom of Abstract Expressionism, mak ing his synthesis of figure and pure form appear more subtle and organic. Rather than being obvious imaginative anomalies, grafted onto nature for symbolic effect, they inhabit the scene as comfortably as the clouds themselves, growing out of a seamlessly unified aesthetic vision, in which no element appears less real or convincing than any other.
Thus the monumental female nude sur facing among the twilight clouds in the can vas Kourtev calls “Night Warmth” seems less like an unsettling apparition than a sen sual, poetic metaphor for the magical space between daylight and nightfall. Obvious comparisons can also be made to ghosts or gods, but Kourtev’s phantoms seem more symbolic of moods and moments in present time than of myths or legends culled from antiquity. They are shadows of our fleeting memories and the emotions we experience in the contemplation of nature, manifesting imaginatively as reflections of our dreams and aspirations.
In Kourtev’s painting “Common Origins,” for example, human and animal figures appear to be materializing out of an explosion of sunlight and are one with the land and the vibrant blue river that flows through it, expressing the unity of all crea tures and things in nature, regardless of whether one conceives of our origins in spir itual/religious or secular/scientific terms. This unity is a constant theme in Kourtev’s works, expressed as much through the com positional balances and color harmonies he achieves in his compositions as through the suggestiveness of his subject matter. Which is to say, that the abstract elements in his canvases are as convincing as the visual metaphors he creates is what makes the paintings of Vesselin Kourtev succeed on several levels simultaneously. This is especial ly impressive, given that modern art theo rists tend all too often to place purely plastic values and symbolic ones in direct opposi tion to each other. Kourtev, however, proves that these different values can enhance rather than dilute each other, and this is a formidable achievement indeed.
GALLERY&STUDIO, June/July/August 2006, Vol. 8, No. 5, New York
ARTis Spectrum, The Chelsea Perspective, Vol. 16, October 2006
Through rich oils and textured watercolors, Vesselin Kourtev paints compositions ripe with associations of both allegory and mysticism. His works are suffused with light and pastels; his colors saturate the entirety of each work. Kourtev’s abstract, ethereal backgrounds allow the faces of his carefully drawn figures to stand out in sharp, detailed contrast. Kourtev, however, does not limit the emotional content of his paintings to a one-dimensional idea. Though his body of work has a distinct and repeating style, each painting tells the viewer a different story and shares a different idea. Kourtev’s ideas are not only about the mechanics of art (though he makes a lot of creative statements on the subject) but are also about the past, present and future of our hu man memory and psyche.
“A Tale of Sheherazad” gives a modern vantage point to the tale about the murderous king who intends to kill his bride on their wedding night. Sheherazad saves her life by telling him a tale that lasts a thousand and one nights, thereby winning his heart. Though Kourtev uses watercolor and pencil in this work, he creates the illusion of a collage loosely held together. Each character in the story occupies a different section of the collage, disconnected from the other. This truncation creates a mood of isolation and strange loneliness within the painting. The King and Sheherazad eye each other from their separate patches of color, illustrating the tenuous nature of their relationship before Sheherazade has won back her life.
“Thoughts About Origin” has a dreamy quality that perme ates the viewer’s imagination. Where the “Sheherazad” picture may illustrate unexpected and dangerous connection, “Origin” generates feelings of deep connection to history and ancestry. Kourtev uses pas tel colors that blend easily into one another. The two elderly figures in the center seem to emerge, ghost-like from the amorphous beauty of the landscape. Next to them is a pristine egg, symbolizing potential and new life. The interplay of color and light creates an atmosphere of fluidity that nicely compliments this vision of connection.
Vesselin Kourtev is originally from Bulgaria. He obtained his degree at the University of Veliko Turnovo in Fine Arts in 1985. His work has been widely exhibited throughout Eastern and Western Eu rope and in the U.S. He currently lives in New Jersey.
Fish Out of Water; or, The First Verse of the Poem
- After V. Kourtev
It only takes a word or two
To bring the sun fish nosing in,
So I take me to the river
To babble about some too.
At the farthest edge of autumn,
My mother stands a quiet watch—There,
Just before this stretch of fractured light
All finally recalls itself again
Into some silent and solitary
White, trimmed and burning from its immeasurable frame.
It is an odd wind that has worried
Her crown into the current: Borders
Spilling out into their borders.
So it is, it seems, with things:
Whatever has will want.
Whoever is without a house
Will break themselves to build one.
First verses ache with seconds,
Thirds and fourths, fifths;
The whole harmonic spectrum
Concealed within a fist.
Here, there is color.
Here, there is song.
Let whatever will open your palms.
Of all there is already
There is yet more beneath.
The smallmouths weave, and pray
Their whispered fishtongue prayers for rain.
Zachary Bushnell. 2009.
Video Feature by Cinematographer Petko Radilov