Valentina Zlatarova is a classically-trained sculptor working extensively in clay (although her work spans other media). What strikes me about Valentina’s work is the raw power of material coupled with the discipline of form. I’ve tried to present some close-up photos of several pieces so you can see the former, backing off a bit so you can appreciate the latter. We spoke about her training in Florence and the qualities of her creative work.
JW: Can you tell me about your artistic training at the Florence Academy of Art?
AZ: I went to art school when I was 13 and left for Florence right after graduation. I was thirsty for more in-depth figurative training and with days divided between sculpting and drawing from life, the FAA provided exactly that. The training there is intense and focused, it’s a program which teaches how to be a professional sculptor but also allowed me to meet like-minded people from all over the world.
There is a very special camaraderie between sculptors, one is rarely working alone and we’ve helped each other a lot. It was competitive but in a friendly way where we pushed each other to grow.
We worked with clay and plaster, starting with copies of classical casts and gradually moving to working from life. Our final project was a life-size figure in clay.
JW: What attracted you to that particular art academy? What was it like to study there?
AZ: What attracted me to the school was actually the work of the Director of the program at the time- Robert Bodem. I came across his work and thought- THIS is what I want to learn. I couldn’t believe when I got accepted in the program, a single sculpture changed my life forever.
Studying in Florence was an incredible experience- being surrounded by art at every corner, pieces I have only read about in books and walking the streets that so many brilliant people have walked before, it was truly inspiring.
JW: When I look at the work on your website, I’m struck by the “directness” of your approach to clay as a material. I can see how you add and subtract clay onto your sculpture, and I get a strong sense of the way you create your sculpture. Is this what interested you in clay as a material – as opposed to other sculptural materials?
AZ: Yes, definitely. I actually started as a stone carver in high school but I have been drawn to clay since childhood. I think clay is very forgiving but also carries a lot of rawness, which are qualities I love combining in my work. It allows me to achieve a certain flow in my pieces like no other material I’ve worked with.
I also love using natural materials and am constantly trying to make my practice more sustainable.
JW: Can you tell me about your creative process? For example, do you typically sketch out your work on paper before starting, or do you start directly with clay? Do you create clay sketches before your final work?
AZ: I can describe my creative process as very organic, almost meditative. I rarely use sketches or draw on paper, I go into my pieces directly and do a lot of drawing on the clay. I have a pretty clear idea of what I would like to make as a concept, however once I start, I let each project guide me and the final piece is a result of exploring.
I really enjoy the process of creating so I can hardly lock it in into a preconceived sketch- it’s always a surprise.
To me sculpture is a process, a moving thing rather than a static object.
JW: Where do you look for inspiration?
AZ: My biggest inspiration is nature- I like being outside but it could be anything really- often a photograph, a landscape, a piece of music or literature, dance …I am interested in rhythm and how things relate to each other, I’m interested in patterns.
Sculpture is my chosen field of expression but I think a creative mind is constantly active, constantly searching, and constantly creating so inspiration is everywhere.