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Liliana Dvoryanova and her stolen gazes of Renaissance portraits

Photo: Diana Tsankova

To put on the eyes of a Renaissance man, take a peek into modernity and lose oneself into the swirling depths of one's imaginary world - this amalgam of past, present and imaginary is conjured up by the magical touch of artist Liliana Dvoryanova in her tenth solo exhibition "Stolen Gazes" at the Etud Gallery in Sofia.

The idea of "appropriating" the eyes from Renaissance and classical paintings came to Lilyana Dvorianova as a joke. One day, for fun, she made collages of her family, painting them like royalty from old portraits. She then posted their images on the internet, but to her amazement, commissions poured in from strangers who wanted to see themselves in the likenesses of Shakespeare, the god Mars and other characters.

In the course of doing so the artist amassed an archive of numerous portraits and one day she had the idea to experiment. So she decided to take the eyes out of the paintings, and using digital transformation to create completely new images and stories.

"While I was working, I didn't look at the old paintings," she says, "I tried not to take much from them, except the eyes, which just came with their own stories. I took the eyes and created other portraits with a new narrative, one that was different according to the imagination of whoever faced the painting. It turned out that one pair of eyes could tell so many stories, so I made several radically diverse portraits from the same eyes."

While creating her paintings, Lilyana Dvorianova noticed that the characters in the portraits seemed to look at the viewer - "demandingly, with a piercing gaze".

"In a way, the portraits carry the air of their time," she continues, "and that's why the paintings came out with a peculiar atmosphere that I couldn't have achieved had I just painted them or taken the eyes out of a photograph and collaged them. They seem to illuminate with a special light this new visual space in which they are laid. And that light has somehow come from the past."

When she made the joke collages of her family, the artist made sure that the contemporary faces overlaid on Renaissance and classical images looked funny and caricature-like. While the stolen gazes of the past look natural enough even today. "They are convincing, they still have life in them that can generate an image, a story," says the artist. But would it be so with our eyes if one day people from the future were to look through them?

"With the new technologies, the individual may disappear in a moment, and that terrifies me," replies Liliana Dvorianova.

"With the new technologies, there may come a time when the individual will disappear, and that terrifies me," replies Liliana Dvorianova.

I use digital tools myself, but the process takes time. I think and live with the project. And if everything is done through artificial intelligence, the boundary with the human, the art, the authorship will be completely lost. Then where does creativity as a process of inner experience go?"

Seeing through the eyes of the other can evoke empathy, we can anticipate his/her plans, we can even feel the beating of the other person's heart. The gaze is believed to entrap, as if in a net, the other person.

"Maybe we are not looking through their eyes, but actually they are looking at us from the portraits," the artist concludes. - How they see us is another matter. But when one feels watched, one always plays a role and wants to look good in someone else's eyes, so it is good to think about this more often.

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