Tag Archives: abstract painting

Self Portrait in REM

Self Portrait in REM Boryana

This is one of two pieces which were included in Nocturnes, a group art show which I curated here in Freeport.  Nocturnes opening was last night and generated a lot of interest. I am preparing a full case study of the experience, which will be published here in due course.

The piece is titled Self Portrait in REM and is executed in acrylic on paper. My amateurish photograph doesn’t do it full justice, but you can get the idea.

Rapid eye movement sleep, or REM, is one of the five stages of sleep that most people experience nightly. It is characterized by quick, random movements of the eyes and paralysis of the muscles. It’s during this stage of sleep that most people are able to have especially vivid dreams.

While most of us see dreams when sleeping, I have visions from my disturbed nights when I am awake. This image must have been one of them.  It came about spontaneously, in the midst of other things. The idea for Nocturnes was already brewing in my mind so it must have had something to do with it.

Rapid eye movement also alludes to the rapid movement of the hand while creating this entirely gestural piece. Gestural painting is possible only when one is deep ‘in the zone’ – a state of mind  as far from awareness as only sleep could be.  Maybe for this reason, even in retrospective, it is impossible for me to differentiate between intention and accident in the content and form of this piece, including its title.

Do You Remember?

Today I want to tell you about a piece, inspired by a poem by Debelyanov, one of Bulgaria’s finest symbolists. Debelyanov lived a humble and not very happy life at the beginning of the last century and was killed in the First World War at the age of 39. His work was published after his death in two volumes, which are considered a classic and are part of the high school curriculum in Bulgaria.

Here is the place to say, that symbolist poetry is not for teenagers. At the time, I was wondering what on earth is all this melancholic, repetitive stuff about. Now I appreciate the foresightedness of the educator – I had to know about Debelyanov in order to discover him at a considerably later age than the one he died at. And 100 years after he lived. Hmmm, here is some material for thought …

The painting as well as the poem is titled Do You Remember. The title might suggest that it is about memories, but if you dig deeper you will discover that it is about lost innocence, the irreversible passage of time and a lot more.

Debelyanov’s poetry does not narrate but suggests deep and complex emotions impossible to name in simple words. It is this journey in the twilight zone of memory dissolving into subconsciousness that Debelyanov drew me in and which resulted in my piece.

If you want to know the very words of the poem, a (somewhat literal, non-rhymed) translation follows. It takes a poet to translate another poet and although I have had a go at translating poetry (from Arabic at that), at present I am trying to be an artist. So the musicality and the poetic merit of Debelyanov’s verse will be lost for my non Bulgarian readers. To read it in Bulgarian, click here.

Since my painting is not meant as illustration of the poem but a contemplation inspired by it, I am showing it first. You can click on the image to enlarge.

Do You Remember

Do You Remember

And now the poem:

Do you remember? Do you remember  the quiet garden,

the quiet home amidst the white cherry blossoms?

Oh, do not awaken in my prison those distant sorrows and forlorn memories.

For I am locked up in a dark prison cell,

distant sorrows and forlorn memories

My disgrace is my guard

and my punishment – the days of the past.

Do you remember? Do you remember in the quiet garden,

Whispers and laughter amidst the white cherry blossoms?

Oh, do not awaken the sprightly choir,

the  choir of angels from the days of the past.

For I am locked up in a dark prison cell,

distant sorrows and forlorn memories

My disgrace is my guard

and my punishment – the days of the past.

It must have been a dream … that quiet home,

They must have been a dream … the white cherry blossoms.

*  *  *

Painting a City

It was the end of a travel – a return to the desert where I lived at the time. I had been to London, among other places, and was still quite full of its colours, sounds, smells, its rain, its greenery, its crowds, its art. But it was after the return to the arid, scorching  heat of Arabia in August, when the future painting of London started forming in my mind. It must have been the tension created by the extreme contrast between the two worlds – and me caught in between – that sublimated in this piece.


London, oil on canvas, 110 x 90 cm


I wanted to tell my story of London. It is a city where I have never lived and which I know more from things that I have read and watched. So in many ways London is part of my imagination, rather than my existence and real life experience. So my story of London is not a narrative, it is impromptu, more like a verse, an emotional record of brief torrid encounters, unconscious of the passage of time, when I  immerse myself and absorb its London-ness as much as I can before returning to the desert where the narrative of my daily life was ticking. That exhilarating feeling, a mixture of urgency, joy laced with an underlying sense of doom.

The Process

I do not take snapshots – especially in places which I want to ‘live’ rather than observe. I had a vivid emotional cityscape in my mind ready to be poured out.  To trigger the externalization process, I collected images which carried something of that ‘je ne sais quois’ which I was feeling inside. Then I assembled them in a mood board, similar to this:



London – the mood board


I normally do a lot of sketches in the process of developing a composition and then I discard most of them, which probably I shouldn’t do. I remember doing a colour study too, but I don’t think that has survived either.  As with most of my work, this painting went through several com-positional revisions until it arrived at its final stage.  I normally work on a piece continuously until it is finished.  Leaving a piece in progress for a long period of time then coming back to it has not worked for me so far. I do scrape out and paint over, sometimes I move whole compositions around. Sometimes glimpses from other pieces suddenly appear and persist.  For me painting is the most exciting, all-consuming, exhausting and rewarding thing – the process and the ‘high’ of being in the zone are the only reason I do it.

 Looking back at this piece it makes me wonder what my story of London would have been  if I had lived  there. What does a piece of art capture and express? It also makes me think of the impermanence of existence – London is not the same from one day to the next;  the impermanence of  perception –  the London of my imagination is not the same from one encounter to another – memories and experiences, direct, or indirect – all the images which we receive from through media etc, add layer after layer on my idea of the city and it evolves in a life of its own. Likewise my painting will receive layer after layer of meaning, attributed to it by every viewer who, in the process of seeing it will bring to it his or her feelings, experiences and imagination.