By Elissa Marcus
To talk with Boryana Rusenova is to learn of a young woman’s life long love affair with the pen. This month’s OAL Member-Curated Exhibition artist doesn’t define herself as such. She’ll tell you she’s just someone with a preoccupation with lines– be they written or drawn (though she might argue they are one and the same).
Born in Bulgaria, Boryana first discovered her love of art as an exchange student stationed in Missouri during her senior year. At the encouragement of her host mother, she attended the Columbus College of Art and Design, and later earned her MFA in Edinburgh before returning to Columbus, OH. Today, we’re in the Ohio Art League Gallery, hours before the opening of her show Line Break.
EM: So let’s talk about your show.
BR: We don’t have to talk about this show in particular, I mean, these are cityscapes, but that’s not what they’re about to me. They’re more of a symptom of my love of shape, line, and embellishment. I brought some other things for you to look at as well.
Boryana opens her bag and pulls out several journals and bound books of her own making. One, titled “Peanut Butter”, features a bagel and said spread on the cover. Another features type and collage, layered on pages that alternate between opaque and translucent.
BR: A lot of these are about using drawing to learn languages. When I was learning English in school, they used to make us draw these patterns out of words. The purpose was to memorize the word, not just visually, but physically, so that your hand would memorize how it felt to write it. So I have this thing about drawing patterns. I do it a lot, and it’s very therapeutic, and at times compulsive!
She produces a journal that features drawings and drawings made from words, pleasingly arranged on the page along with cut strips of colored paper. The words themselves don’t tell a story, so much as their layout on the page tells you about their author.
BR: I think I am so attached to patterns because of this very early training in using patterns to learn words. Patterns are a way of making sense of things. When I draw a pattern, I feel as if I am actually writing. The patterns “make sense” to me. That is why I love to use pen in my work, to bolster that feeling as though I am writing. Charcoal is messy and difficult to control, and doesn’t feel like writing when you use it. That is why I don’t like to work with it as much. I also like using a knife, or a marker; anything that makes an immediate mark on the surface. I also like playing with creating layers of texture and meaning. You can really see that come through in my panel pieces.
EM: I don’t see any pencil on any of your illustrations; are you just very careful with your pen, or do you not use pencil at all?
BR: I never use pencil, because I like the idea of irrevocability. I commit to making a mark when I use a pen. It’s very bold.
EM: Do you make many mistakes?
BR: I make a lot of mistakes, but I incorporate these mistakes into patterns. The mistakes give me direction. I embrace the mistakes, and now that the drawings are done, I don’t consider them to be mistakes.
EM: Tell me about the photographs that are on display for this exhibition.
BR: My husband and I were on a road trip to Florida and I was taking pictures out of the passenger seat. I loved how the motion blur made the landscape seem more Impressionist. The way the light is dappled in this one, here –(she indicates a deep purple and orange sunset) it looks almost Pointilist. I decided to try and draw these photos. The drawings came out looking like landscapes but with something amiss, like something metaphysical was happening. It’s like the drawings are trying to be both 2-D and 3-D at the same time; there’s a push and pull that happens and it makes what would typically be just a flat scene of a street or park seem more alive.
EM: Do you also consider yourself to be a photographer?
BR: Oh, I am by no means a professional photographer. I just enjoy myself. Most recently, I’ve been working with a Nikon D80, which is a nice camera, but I am not a photographer. I just use the photographs to inspire my work. When I was going to CCAD, it was very important that you draw or paint from life. There is a strong focus on representational art. I always struggled with feeling like I didn’t fit into this ethos, but I am glad I never tried to. I enjoy drawing from photographs much more. I love the strange images you can get from taking photos, and I’m sure an actual photographer would say, “What are these mistakes?” when they would see my photos. But I feel so inspired by images that are “off” somehow. I’ll go out with my camera sometimes and try to take photos from a moving car, or just while running down the street in order to get a great picture for me to work from. I’m sure I look insane when I do it! My husband encouraged me to put these photos in the gallery, because they are the jump-off point for my drawings.
EM: The motion blur is clearly, very important in your work. What about it really strikes a chord for you?
BR: Motion blur for me represents a photograph transcending its purpose. I was always frustrated with paintings and photographs, because they trap one millisecond in time; and when in life can anything be broken down to one millisecond? How often do we remember an occasion as one solitary scene? For me, motion blur takes several moments and smashes them down into two dimensions. I try to encapsulate that in my drawings, because I feel that it gives more of a feeling of something occurring in my drawings, rather than something that just is, or something that just happened.
EM: To hear you talk about your work; you’re obviously someone who is not only talented, but someone who is quite educated. Do you feel like your education makes you approach your art in a more deliberate manner?
BR: I have had points in my career, where I’ve felt that I’ve become too educated to create effectively; that I’m being educated away from creativity instead of being educated intoit. But I think that it’s very important for each artist to hone their artistic voice early on, and to stand up for it. Once you’ve done that, it seems that it would be a shame to say, “Okay, I’m making this art, but I don’t want to talk about it and I don’t want to learn about it.” Otherwise, how can you put into words for people what you are doing, what you are saying, and why it matters?
EM: Do you plan your pieces before you begin?
BR: Not really. I am a very controlled and organized person, typically, but when I create my drawings, that’s really when I let myself go. There may be a point of inspiration that I want to jump off from, like the photographs, because they touch me for some reason, but no—I don’t typically have a plan when I create. The drawings are above everything else, an evolution. I think my education has helped my artistry become more intuitive, because it built up my confidence. Now, whenever I feel the urge to make something, I look around my studio and I’ll find markers, or bits of paper or other materials, and I feel quite comfortable to sit down in the moment and get to work. Not every piece is successful, but it’s more important to me that I feel comfortable in being consistent and following through.
EM: What do you do for your living?
BR: I sell my work. However, in Edinburgh, I did some teaching. I think that is what I’d really like to do. To me, teaching art is as close a profession to being an artist, and I love talking to people and teaching them about art. I haven’t yet decided if I would rather focus on teaching to children or adults, but teaching is absolutely something I would like to return to.
EM: How do you feel about the state of art education, especially in this country?
BR: I can’t say how I feel about it in this country, but I know in Scotland, one of their major issues was that art was not fully integrated into the curriculum, and I’d bet it’s the same here. I feel that the knowledge we get from being an artist of any kind, provides us with skills that positively impact any other discipline we may take up, whether it be literature, math, or science. As a teacher, I would hope my students would be able to pursue any art they wished, so that they could develop their creativity and translate it to their other disciplines. Students should also know that as an artist, you are not just limited to being “an artist”, showing work in a gallery. There are many practical applications of art—you could call a surgeon a sculptor and a lawyer an actor.
EM: How important is art education in Bulgaria?
BR: Actually, not at all. When I was in school, I thought for sure I would be a writer, a historian or a journalist. I never took any art classes, though I enjoyed drawing at home. When I was in my senior year, I studied abroad in Missouri, and my host mother was an art teacher. My education in Bulgaria was very rigorous, so when I came to the U.S. they had no academic classes to offer me that I didn’t already have credit for! Instead, my host mother suggested I take art classes, so that’s pretty much all I took for the whole year. I created a portfolio, and my host mother saw a talent in me and suggested I go to art school. I never even knew someone could do that!
EM: How does being bi-lingual affect your work, especially being someone who calls two very different countries home?
BR: There’s definitely a dichotomy within me. Some of my earlier work tried to make sense of the different cultures and languages that I switch between. I created collages that were made from outtakes of photos I had taken in both cities. I put them together to create a hybrid city; one where I would theoretically be really at home in. I also wrote about this in my thesis, about the duality of things and having to be “Bulgarian me” with my parents, and “American me” with my husband and friends.
EM: Why did you name your thesis book “Peanut Butter”?
BR: Well, when I came home from Missouri, I brought some American foods home for my parents to try. I am absolutely in love with peanut butter, but it isn’t sold in Bulgaria and I thought my parents would enjoy it. But when they tried it, they hated it! They said it was dry, and salty and too sweet. And it’s funny, because I took it as a personal offense! I was so angry they didn’t enjoy the peanut butter because I liked it. I think I came to regard liking the peanut butter as a symbol of how I had changed from my stay in America, and I was hurt that my parents didn’t accept it. But I came to realize that they were of a different generation and a different culture, now, from me, and that I had to respect that as well.
EM: Were there any American foods that they did like?
BR: They actually liked Mountain Dew, but they didn’t like Code Red. Strangely, they loved the American chocolate. You learn to like the things that are most similar to things youknow first, before you branch out into the different things. But they still don’t like peanut butter.
Boryana’s show, Line Break, will be on display at the Ohio Art League gallery from July 1-23. You can also see more of Boryana at the Art Access Gallery in August, featuring a whole new body of work consisting of panel pieces. You can also check out her website at www.boryanarusenova.com for updates on her latest showings and work.