Following an art foundation course at Sofia’s National Academy of Arts, Anton Stoianov moved first to Vienna in 2000 and then Berlin in 2003 to continue his studies the capital’s Universität der Künste. The paintings of icons he began to produce shortly after completing his studies there stood out to peers by standing in with the codified, religious vocabulary of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Frontal portraiture with little perspective, gilded backgrounds and anonymous, craggy landscapes characterized his paintings, which were often completed on wood panel. Because icons in Eastern Orthodoxy have always followed traditional standards, even as Stoianov’s work began to reveal personal changes – beer steins in hands of saints and references to bars he frequented (Möbel-Olfe, 2007) – the paintings maintained an interest in depictions of the sacred. Yet the line between sanctity and sexuality is slight. A continued fascination for orthodoxy’s holy body came alive in new methods of painting and a growing influence from Berlin’s infamous underground.
Between nights out in gay clubs and days spent in the predominantly Turkish Kreuzberg neighborhood, Stoianov’s works increasingly focused on the male body and sexual encounters. Car wrapping allows a car owner to select from various self-adhesive, carbon fiber “skins” or films with which to cover and customize his car. Many taxi drivers in Berlin rely on this longer-lasting means of coloring their requisite Mercedes beige. Intrigued by the reference to dressing and preserving a body as well as by the physicality required when pressing down the material onto a car, Stoianov began “wrapping” objects on specially treated metal plates in early 2013. Though painterly gestures had hardly characterized Stoianov’s detailed painting style for icons, the artist removed his hand further in selecting a monochrome palate for the wrapped works. By using only white (Untitled, socks hand stiched to canvas, 2010-2012) or all black, Stoianov focuses on an emotional rather than intellectual approach to painting. He prizes the surface of objects and the gesture of pressing (hand on film) rather than painting (brush on canvas). In Untitled (Leather Jacket) (2015) and Untitled (20kg) (2013) – titles that plainly describe the objects wrapped – Stoianov again reduces his personal effects in form and color, pushing the historical understanding of the medium and relying on painting’s spiritual appeal much like abstract expressionists did. Rather than painting autobiographical hints within his icons, Stoianov wraps them like relics. It’s easy to grow accustomed to finding the meaning of an art object in the history of its maker – in where they studied and how they live – and yet Stoianov’s work thrives as much on his story as within its anonymity. His wrapped objects exist between painting and relief. Their surfaces shift from matte to glossy, from one- to three-dimensional as a viewer moves in front of them. Their textures seem determined by biography as frequently as by happenstance. The orange metal film in Untitled (Candy) (2014) marks yet another departure from his previously all-black wrapped works. The work’s orange film freezes Stoianov’s own biography with that of Felix Gonzales-Torres, in whose series of piled wrapped candies, the Cuban-born artist indirectly alludes to his lover, personal experience treating HIV and a number of other intimate, often parenthetically-referenced anecdotes. Stoianov’s version of Candy is inextricable from Gonzales-Torres’, not least of all because it contains a candy from a Gonzales-Torres work. With both artists, the pseudo-ambiguous nature of the works politicizes the question of being openly gay.
How can one label that which is not named? The works are intrinsically biographical in their context and yet deny any direct connection, either to homosexuality or, in Stoianov’s case, to Gonzales-Torres. Neither the works title nor the objects themselves give any direct clues; they simply trace an idea or object. In a moment where everything about us – ranging from cultural tastes to daily habits and nighttime pleasures – is sought out, Stoianov reaches for a more ambiguous means of self-presentation. His series of wrapped black plates proceed as relics: traces of a person to be absorbed by sight, kept sacred when almost nothing else is. He shows through form how sexuality can produce spirituality, and perhaps most importantly, that the medium of painting remains as relevant as ever.
Academy of Fine Arts, Sofia
Universität für Angewandte Kunst, Wien
California College of the Arts, San Francisco
Diplom in Bildende Kunst, Universität der Künste (UdK), Berlin