BY SUE SCHLABACH
Artist Silvia Vassileva grew up in Bulgaria and has spent her adulthood in Japan and California. She is a prolific painter, loves her morning coffee, and enjoys a daily swim or yoga class.
I met her in her studio near San Diego a few months ago. We’ve worked together for 17 years, so we know each other rather well. Here are some of our conversations plus there is a great video featuring Silvia at the end of this post
My interview with Silvia Vassileva: (While we talk Silvia is painting three different canvases)
SILVIA: My painting teacher used to say that “first we have to make sure that we feed the canvas.” Which means that you don’t see any of these white dots. So after that you can paint with a dry brush, but underneath you have that something to unify the whole thing. Otherwise it looks not finished.
So you use a juicy brush right away.
SILVIA: Yes. Do you know why I didn’t take English right away?
No, tell me.
SILVIA: One of the reasons was that my favorite painting teacher, Ivan Popovski, was not going to teach the English class, he was going to teach the German class, so I went to the German class. That’s how the system worked (in Bulgaria). I worked with him from sixth grade to eighth grade and I wanted to continue with him. Little did I know that a few years later he would get on my nerves as I became that rebellious teenager who doesn’t want to be taught how to paint and what to paint! Ivan’s in his 90s now and he just had a show. He is still in Bulgaria. Great teacher. Great, great teacher.
What was the view out the window of your childhood bedroom?
SILVIA: A friendly cityscape! A large area between the 6 story buildings with some asphalt, but no cars and tall grass and trees. It was our playground. So was the soccer stadium across the street which was not locked at the time.
At lunch you mentioned Istanbul. Tell me a little more about it.
SILVIA: When I visited Istanbul I found it so inspiring. I have never seen so many beautiful crafts in one place. … The carpets, fabrics, china, everything. I was inspired for this whole new world. Nomad patterns, incredible color combinations. Incredible beauty.
You just used the word nomad. I think of you as a bit of a nomad. Do you agree?
SILVIA: I just did my 23andme DNA test. I was telling a friend of mine that only 42% of me was Bulgarian and her reaction was, “So, what—the rest is nomad?!” Actually the rest is western Asia, Armenia, and—for the record—10% Italian, so no wonder I love Italy so much.
Do you paint every day?
SILVIA: Almost. What else would I do? I travel or I paint. If I am here I would get bored if I don’t paint. And I definitely prefer to paint than to cook or do housework!
I know you love New York City and visit there often to stay with your daughter. Why do you love it so much?
SILVIA: If you see New York right after the fall of the Berlin wall and you come from a place of darkness, there is no way you don’t fall in love! I feel at home. I love the diversity, dynamic, architecture….there is no place like NY! Just walking around and exploring is my favorite thing to do. I wouldn’t live there, though. After 3 years in Tokyo I lost my desire to live in any city bigger than half a million. Yah, I am stuck in San Diego!
Do you have a favorite possession?
SILVIA: Nothing that I can think of, I am very detached from material stuff and easily separate with posessions. But if you ask me what I would grab and save in case of fire – maybe pictures of my kids, my brushes and tools, some jewelry.
You and I often talk about movies and books. Any good movies or books to recommend right now?
SILVIA: The last ones that impressed me – the series Chernobyl; and the book Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.
What have you learned after all these years of painting?
SILVIA: Painting is my reflection, my reaction to everything. I am not a photographer. I don’t show stuff. I express stuff.
That’s true. You do. What would you share with other painters about your technique?
SILVIA: I replace black with Payne’s Gray.
Me too! Or Prussian Blue.
SILVIA: I love Prussian Blue also. I almost don’t have a painting without Payne’s Gray, even the lightest ones.
What do you like best about your studio?
SILVIA: I like the natural light. I am blessed with this beautiful studio with skylights. I am very very thankful. Every day when I can wake up and just paint is a happy day. I am happy.