PLOVDIV, Bulgaria (Reuters) – Stamen Karamfilov bends low over a canvas, adding the finishing touches to a woodland landscape – no mean feat considering the Bulgarian artist is almost totally blind.
FILE PHOTO: Artist Stamen Karamfilov works on a painting at his studio in the city of Plovdiv, Bulgaria, January 23, 2020. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov – RC2GME9924MB/File Photo
He initially gave up all hope of painting again when he suddenly lost his sight in 2015, and at one point contemplated suicide.
Then, after the initial crisis passed, he discovered there was still a way he could put paint to canvas.
“Great experience and intuition – that’s the secret,” said the 76-year-old, grinning in the middle of his studio in the southern city of Plovdiv, surrounded by vibrant treescapes and abstracts.
He found he could still just about see the difference between blocks of color, between light and dark, through his left eye. For the rest he relied on the instinct, skill and memories built up over his long career as an artist and church icon restorer.
“I only paint on black canvases, because I can recognize the warm colors – orange, red, light green … I go out (painting) when it’s bright and sunny, because I can ‘see’ the shadows. When it’s dark and grey, I can’t.”
In the early stages, he stands a few centimeters away from the canvas and breaks down the image in his head into small squares.
“Then I connect it – small square to small square.” After that he coats the surface with melted, transparent wax – a classical technique that gives a smooth finish and lets him feel the lines and blocks of the image underneath.
“I can feel the relief with the touch of my fingers and I can recognize if it is a tree or the sun.” He uses a blowtorch to melt the wax and listens out for the change in the noise the flame makes when it reaches the edge of the canvas.
His work has been shown in Germany, Greece, Turkey and several Bulgarian cities. He is now preparing for the 33rd exhibition in his career and hoping to pass on the “enkaustikos” wax technique to an apprentice.
“Why not?,” he said. “I’ll turn 77 this year, so the 33rd exhibition doesn’t sound too bad.”
Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Andrew Heavens