European visions of America

Friday, January 7, 2005

The Statue of Liberty stands tall on the edge of the Grand Canyon, looking over the great rift as a lush waterfall in the foreground tumbles into the depths.

In another scene, a space shuttle blasts off through the eye of a great desert arch.

These aren't snapshots from some surreal dimension -- they're part of the photographic works of Bulgarian artist Victor Kantchev (now of Cape Girardeau), whose works will be on display along with those of Armenian sculptor and painter Sergaey Martirosyan (now of Glendale, Calif.) at the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri galleries at 32 N. Main St. this month.

A First Friday Opening Reception will be held tonight from 5 to 8 for the artists at the galleries.

"It's going to be really interesting this month," said arts council director Rebecca Fulgham. "Both of our artists have strong European backgrounds. Victor has done some really interesting things with digital photography, and the California artist is an oil painter and has kind of a Picasso effect with his work, so we have two very, very different exhibits."

This is the first time the arts council has featured two European natives in the gallery at the same time since Fulgham has been director, she said.

Kantchev grew up in Bulgaria during the Cold War, graduating from the University of Sofia in his home country in 1988 with degrees in communication and TV journalism. He spent five years as a press photographer in Europe during the breakdown of the Soviet Bloc but says it was coming to America that provided him with a huge well of artistic inspiration for his photography.

"I'm originally from Bulgaria," said Kantchev. "It's a very beautiful place. It's a beautiful country that has a lot of the same natural resources as America compacted into about the size of Missouri.

"I love nature. I discovered a whole new continent of natural beauty when I came to America."

Much of Kantchev's photography is distinctly American, with the subject being the natural wonders of the country, particularly the American west. He's currently working on a book of his photos with the working title "National Parks of the American West" to be published later this year.

"The West is not very populated," Kantchev said. "It is still a paradise for nature photography. The open spaces are still pristine, and I hope they will be for hundreds of years."

He's also a filmmaker, having produced an award-winning documentary called "Dutch Summer." He owns his own production company.

While Kantchev's photos of natural scenes possess inspiring beauty, his work is set apart by his use of Adobe Photoshop to bring to life surrealistic image combinations, such as those described above.

To do this he downloads his negatives onto a computer, using Photoshop to meld sometimes greatly contrasting images into one seamless work.

Martirosyan also draws his inspiration from natural beauty, but he expresses it in a much different and much more low-tech way than Kantchev has chosen.

"The beauty of nature always leaves an impression on me," said Martirosyan. "Nature allows me to express myself through art ... nature is a powerful force. It gives me something to lean against and dictates what I do. The rest I build on my canvas."

The Armenian artist said he discovered his love of his craft as a child and never looked back. He studied art at Yerevan Academy of Art in his home town of Yerevan, Armenia, in 1963 before becoming an art instructor at Kojoyan Private Art School in that city in 1968. He worked there until 1980, when he moved to Los Angeles.

His works are a blend of Cubism and Realism that employ colors in their brightest form.

The influence of Pablo Picasso's Cubism is evident in his work. Portraits of female subjects are arranged in geometric shapes, highlighted by bright flesh-tones and blues.

"These are very beautiful, large-scale oil pieces," said Fulgham. "It's an interesting blend of art styles."

The contrast between the artists' works and their backgrounds will make January a great month for locals to visit the arts council galleries, said Fulgham.

"We have a tremendous amount of local talent here, but it's always nice to see some perspective from other parts of the country, especially with the European background here," she said. "I just think that adds another level of interest."

Plenty of work from local artists will be on display at the galleries as well.

Kantchev's work can be seen at Gallery 100, while Martirosyan's work will be on display at the Lorimier Gallery.

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