A Path Through Paris
Artist Boré Ivanoff Embraces the City He Loves Through Painting & HIV Advocacy
by Chael Needle
Boré Ivanoff claims Paris not only as his long-term home but also as a locus of higher education—the city has taught him about art, about life. Now, others would surely see the émigré as one of the city’s professors.
His paintings of Paris scenes, with their reflective facets reassembled into mesmerizing visual bricolage, certainly show us new perspectives of the City of Light. And, through his advocacy, he has something to teach about dismantling HIV stigma and the empowerment of individuals living with HIV/AIDS.
In the fall of 2021, Bulgarian-born and Paris-based artist Boré Ivanoff curated an exhibit at Galerie Marie de Holmsky with an eye to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS [A&U, September 2021]. ArtPositive featured his work and the work of other artists living with HIV/AIDS: Adrienne Seed, Nacho Hernandez Alvarez, and Philipp Spiegel. He had been in part inspired by his participation in a 2019 art exhibit organized by The European AIDS Clinical Society at the 17th European AIDS Conference in Basel, Switzerland.
As an artist, Ivanoff has exhibited in France, Bulgaria, Spain, Germany, and the United Kingdom in both solo and group shows. He is represented by Galerie Marie de Holmsky.
A&U recently had the opportunity to correspond with the self-taught artist.
Chael Needle: Last August, we first connected when you were preparing to open ArtPositive. What has been the response, at the gallery and online?
Boré Ivanoff: I am really thrilled to talk about this experience. ArtPositive was a kind of historical event for Paris. For the first time we, HIV-positive artists from different European countries, met and exhibited our art in a classy art gallery in the most chic and artistic part of Paris, Saint-Germain-des-Prés Quarter. So, an event like this definitely cannot happen without being noticed. I can say that we the HIV-positive buddies were really happy to meet each other as artists and to show our art there. We had real fun at the vernissage.
A good number of people from all different walks of life came. But, unfortunately the event has not been well covered by the French mainstream media. Despite the fact that we had sent them the press release, and we had some important personalities and AIDS activist organizations as partners, the public interest was not significant. The impression here in Paris is that the topic HIV/AIDS is no longer on the same level of importance and interest as it has been and as it should be. Unfortunately this is the reality, which will logically lead to negative consequences regarding societal AIDS awareness, HIV testing, and reaching the objective of ending AIDS by 2030. Many people here in Paris are just not interested in testing, treatment, and fighting HIV-related stigma and discrimination. And this is due to the whole new reality related to another virus and another health priority that started in the beginning of 2020 and the exclusivist media and social attention focused on it. But, of course, we will not give up and we’ll continue our fight and mission.
ArtPositive is not over just after the first exhibition. We had really considerable international online reactions. We have been covered by some very important AIDS activist magazines from the U.S., such as The Advocate, Positively Aware, A&U, and some other AIDS activists’ websites and personalities from France, U.K., Italy, Canada, Spain, Austria, Bulgaria. Even UNAIDS has been interested in our exhibition and we received some good press on their website. I have been contacted by several HIV-positive artists from other countries and they have asked me how to join the next edition of ArtPositive [link at the end of the article]. All these facts are very inspiring and make me even more determined to continue the fight against HIV-related stigma, discrimination, and this new societal ignorance. We are working on organizing the next edition of the ArtPositive exhibition once again here in Paris. But this time we will try to find a bigger venue and to invite more artists willing to exhibit their art and to add their voices to our mission. So if among your readers are visual artists living with HIV and willing to participate in the ArtPositive exposition in Paris, please feel welcome to contact me and I will be glad to give you the details and eventually have you on the team for the next exhibit.
The environment of Paris figures prominently in your work. I especially like how the architecture serves as a mirror that shows different perspectives. When did you first discover buildings and streets as a subject for painting? What attracts you to architecture?
Yes, indeed the mirrors of Paris through the vitrines, waters, and reflective metal are my very speciality when it comes to my best paintings. I often call this style “Hallucinatory Figuration.” It also allows me to break the limits between abstraction and realism. And it is so sophisticated and such a puzzle-like subject matter that I become addicted to working on such motifs. In fact I can say that in some way, I am painting portraits of Paris in the same way as Francis Bacon painted his deformed but magical human portraits and compositions. The reflections are like a designer drug for me, and, as much as the chosen motif is complicated and “impossible,” my pleasure, my inspiration, my trip to wonderland are stronger. I can’t say why that is. Just artistic intuition, something cerebral, I guess. I like to enjoy and win impossible battles.
Also I love to represent in my paintings the multifaceted wonders of Paris. This city is like a never-ceasing source of inspiration and transcendence for me. Paris is for me also the best university to study life and art. Here I find everything I need in order to create what I feel I have to do, to express myself via my art. The architecture of Paris is so eclectic and eye-addicting for any artist. It is like a living organism.
And the reflections make truly great visual and perceptional miracles. There is a saying that through a mirror we can see into another world, we can see into our inner world. The mirror is a very powerful and omnipresent symbol found in all traditions and magical realms. Even in psychoanalysis….Especially Jung, whom I read and admire a lot, and even Freud were particularly interested in investigating this topic. Painting cityscapes and landscapes is my original passion, way before I came to live in Paris. But once I began my journey here, it was simply impossible to not fall under the magical spell of the City of Light. And since 2012 I have been almost exclusively painting Paris. Paris as Narcissus, who never stops looking at his reflection in the mirror. Because it is beautiful and he cannot help but admire his own beauty. So, as summary I can say that my Baconesque portraits of Paris are my highest tribute to the irresistible magic of the most beautiful and cosmopolitan city of the world. This is my own opinion of course, but I am sure that anyone who visits Paris will agree. It is a dream come true for me. And I feel most at home right here in Paris. Perhaps this is why, most of my artworks representing Paris are so touching and appreciated by many gallerists, collectors, and casual viewers, wherever I show them. Paris is my dearest and ever-changing muse. I could write a lot more about it, but I prefer to represent it with my paintings.
Your paintings are indeed technical wonders and they draw me in for a long time. Take Les Deux Magots, a painting of the famous café that has been a hangout for famous writers and artists, for example. Or, La Cinémathèque française. Perhaps I am able to visit Paris for an afternoon in your paintings!
Dare I say that you must build the painting? What is your process like? How do you go from beginning to end with a painting?
You are right. There is some kind of building [going on]. It’s like finding a raw stone and shaping it until it becomes what I feel is good enough to stay like that. But on rare occasions I’ll discover after several months that a given artwork needs some retouching. It just happened today with a painting that I have finished earlier this year, and now I have to modify it a bit.
Here’s the essential thing—it’s all about the feeling, intuition, some unknown inner force/drive that guides my hand, my eyes, and mind from the beginning to the end of the creation of my works. From first finding the right motif up to the final touches with the brushes. It’s like a sacred rite, for me. Paris is so rich and such an irresistible source of motifs. They are everywhere. One just has to open one’s eyes and artistic radar to spot, capture and sublimate them by translation on the canvas, through the artist’s filters, charging it with one’s personal vibes, before sharing it with the world.
For me, even finding the “right” motif, which talks to me and enchants me to go for it and paint it, this is a kind of creative process, an art. Once I spot a treasure like that, I just know that it’s The One, the right subject matter to paint. So, I shoot at least fifty photos, and then I get so impatient and excited to go back home and start selecting. Even the very selection and the digital modifications of the final source image before I feel that it’s okay and ready to get translated onto the white canvas, that is another creative process itself. Sometimes I already like the photo, which is my first sketch work for the future painting, and I often think that it is worth keeping it as [a finished piece], ready to share with the world, artwork. But, of course I go further, with the pencil on the canvas. Making the skeleton, the armature of the future building, the painting, by drawing the real preparatory sketch. It takes me sometimes a week or more, just for that. But it’s a part of the ritual and I just don’t care about how long or complicated it is. I become a different person during my creative sessions—a kind of obsessed or schizophrenic being, I guess. All that matters is the process. Yes, the process is much more important and essential than the finished painting. Perhaps this is why I look intuitively for “impossible,” extremely sophisticated motifs. Because they are the ones which make me feel good and high….After each session of painting, I feel just like I feel after a good trip or intense sexual encounter.
One more little technical secret is that I fragment my canvas, dividing it into smaller separate paintings to create the big picture. And I work on each one, trying to abstract it completely from the rest of the untouched part. Otherwise it would drive me crazy if I try to analyze it as a whole during my work sessions. It’s absolutely necessary to try to switch off from the rest of the world and the rest of the painting and to focus on the the specific fragment. And just like that, fragment by fragment, brick by brick, the house is built. And the armature, the sketch, is the most important [guide] to help me not get lost. Of course, very often I am creative in adjusting, modifying, adding or skipping details, colors, compositions. But I am always maniacally faithful to my artist’s intuition, which, in combination with my obsessive tenacity and ritualistic delight from the process of painting, is kind of my technical/spiritual formula behind my recent artworks. As they say, “it is not so important to find the Holy Grail, but the Quest, the Path toward it, is all that matters.”
For myself, Paris is the right place to follow the Path in search of self-realization and artistic accomplishment.
So, Paris is in your heart. Have you found a community here, too? Something different than you were able to find in Bulgaria?
Sacha Guitry once said, “Being a Parisian is not about being born in Paris, it is about being reborn there.”
As I said already, Paris is my greatest life and art university. Paris is my home. The real one. And this is not only because it’s such a beautiful, cosmopolitan and cultural hub from a global aspect, but also because here I always feel these positive vibes, here I found almost immediately appreciation for and recognition of my art. Which was unthinkable in Bulgaria and even in South Africa, where I spent three years of life before I came to Paris. In Paris I found the refuge, the tolerance, and acceptance for my identity as an HIV-positive individual. The necessary anonymity and solidarity. In Bulgaria, this is simply impossible, especially for HIV-positive people. Of course I found in Paris a new constellation of contacts, fellow artists and friends from all over the world.
But I cannot say that I am not confronted—even in Paris in the twenty-first century—with some cases of stigma, prejudice, and discrimination associated with my health status and especially with HIV. Since I had my “coming out” in 2019 I can say that I lost some friends, online and in life. Some just maintained a comfortable distance and, especially now with the current health crisis and isolation, they have a perfect alibi to keep an even stricter distance from me. But being an artist is usually a lonely path, so I am used to living a lonely life, despite the fact that I have a lot of contacts with artists, collectors, fans and a few close friends. Almost always, after the buzz of the openings of my shows, at the end of the day, I find myself alone with myself. But I don’t blame anyone for that. In some ways I feel blessed to be HIV-positive. It’s a bittersweet twist of fate—I really began living and seeing and painting my best art right after I had been diagnosed with HIV. And Paris is the perfect place for an international artist, living with HIV.
What’s next for you as an artist? What’s next for ArtPositive?
Whats coming next? Well, as with every artist, the most important thing is to continue painting and at the same time look for any opportunitiy to show my art. To share it with the world. I am kind of fortunate to live in Paris—the dream place for any artist. It gives me a lot of inspiration, and possibilities to show my art, to see other art, to meet and exchange with other artists from all over the world. A real cosmopolitan art hub where I feel right at home.
Of course naturally one of my high-priority goals is to look forward to organizing a next edition of ArtPositive exposition. Things will be clearer about dates, venue and artist team come March 2022. And there is another curatorial project on the table, as for a long time I have had this idea to reunite artists from Eastern Europe and to show their art in Paris. So, the time has come for this project. Presently, I’ve selected a group of seven visual artists who originated from Eastern Europe, most of them living in Paris, and we have already set the dates and secured the venue of the exhibit, which is titled “East Wind.” The Marie de Holmsky gallery, which is my principal art dealer in Paris, will be the place where “East Wind” will be on show from mid-September to mid-October 2022. We are artists from Bulgaria, Romania, Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, and Russia and I am sure that we will not disappoint the exigent Parisian public. This is my fifth curatorial project here in Paris, reuniting a constellation of international artists, so I think I have the necessary experience and self-confidence to keep me cool and on the right path to make the show a success.
Looking any farther ahead is not so easy in these troubling and quite unpredictable times in human history. But, I am tempted to reveal another exciting project that we have discussed with my gallerist, which is to organize a major solo exhibition in my Parisian gallery, right before the Olympic Games in 2024, when Paris will be a really busy and popular place. And of course I will never stop painting and fighting for societal sensitization and awareness about HIV-related stigma, discrimination, ignorance. We the HIV-positive people, we don’t deserve all these injustices and pain that we are experiencing today.
Boré Ivanoff wishes to thank all the partners and media outlets that have helped promote and cover ArtPositive: Élus Locaux Contre le Sida (France); The Austrian Cultural Forum, Paris; the EACS (European AIDS Clinical Society); Brussels, UNAIDS, Geneva; and, in the U.S., Advocate Magazine, Positively Aware Magazine, and A&U; the Marie de Holmsky Gallery in Paris, the City Hall of Paris, and all other private and public personalities and organizations who helped realize the project.
For artists living with HIV/AIDS who would like to participate in ArtPostive, visit: https://artpositivehivexpo.wordpress.com. For more information about Boré Ivanoff, visit: https://boretzart.wordpress.com.
Chael Needle interviewed Up Against the Wall coeditor Jessica Lacher-Feldman for the December 2021 Gallery. Follow him on Twitter @ChaelNeedle.