Artist and mental health campaigner, Daniela Raytchev recently joined us to discuss her upcoming exhibition: 'Are We Human or Are We Spam', which will be featured at Saatchi's START Art Fair (21-25 October 2020). The exhibition will raise awareness about sexual assault and rape, focusing on aftermath and recovery. She is also a brand ambassador for Safeline, a UK-based charity who work to prevent sexual abuse and offer support for those affected. Thea Park-Reeve caught up with Raytchev to find out more.
Unknown: First of all, thank you so much for joining us. I wanted to start by asking you how your current exhibition at Saatchi’s START Art Fair came about?
Daniela Raytchev: Inspiration wise, it came about three years ago when I participated in an exhibition in which a featured artist used her personal experience to inspire her artwork. The artist was very open about this publicly, and I remember standing there and just thinking, “you know what, one day I’m going to do this.” I had an experience of being sexually assaulted myself, but never really spoke about it. I’ve dealt with it in terms of recovery and healing, but never really publicly. It’s something I feel very passionate about: [the themes of] gender equality and female empowerment have always been very close to my heart. I started creating new works that were empowering women, it was there, but not really as directly as I wanted. Then a year and a half ago, I just thought “okay, I’m ready to do it now, I’m really ready to open up about it and explore this subject, and share it with people.”
So, I did an artist residency in New York for a few months, which is where this project began, and I’ve been working on it ever since. I also exhibited with START [art fair] a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. They’re a great platform – especially when providing a space for such a socially conscientious project – so I thought I’d love to do it again. I think it’s a great combination because they provide access to a lot of people.
Daniela Raytchev, Mirror Mirror, 2019
Although this work will not to be featured in her upcoming exhibition at START Art Fair. It deals with the fact that one in six women in the US will experience sexual violence, with the black splash of paint representing the 13% of these women who will attempt suicide as a result.
U: A lot of artists talk about the therapeutic power of art. Some of your previous works have explored issues around mental health and eating disorders, and you have discussed your own eating disorder. Does art act as a form of catharsis or recovery for you in this sense?
DR: There are lots of aspects to it, I suppose art definitely helps with healing, and I have used art and painting in the past to help me process my emotions. Whenever I would sit down and paint or draw it would help me to relax; so I have used it like that, but I don’t use it as a therapy when I’m creating artwork to share with others. For these kinds of projects I have to be well, and to be honest, for me to create the best work I have to be healthy and have my head clear. That’s when I feel I’m the most receptive and understanding, and then I’m able to share my work, directing it clearly and creatively as well. I’m one of those artists that when I’m painting, I’m really actually healthy, contrary to the bohemian lifestyle that a lot of people fantasise about.
U: The exhibition sounds really interesting and it has raised a number of questions for me. Thinking about your current exhibition, I wondered about the extent to which your exploration of rape and sexual abuse in this exhibition relate to your commitment to opening up conversations about these difficult topics. Could you perhaps tell us about this aspect of your work?
DR: I’m definitely committed to raising awareness about mental health, sexual abuse and eating disorders, addictions – it’s all been part of my history. I suppose art helps me to open up the conversation, as it’s not a very aggressive way to approach the topic. So when people come and attend events, and ask where the inspiration came from, you can start sharing more. Ultimately, my artwork is meant to encourage honesty, and encourage people to be themselves and feel okay to share about what is going on in their lives. I feel it’s one of those honesty inspires honesty situations. It’s just who’s going to be the one to break the silence. I support charities, and I’ve done some talks at King’s College [London] and LSE, I’ve tried to speak about it where I can. I’ve also participated in some neuroscience conferences; I feel as though neuroscience informs a lot of my work, and it complements it really well. I carry out research through my own experience, and through interviews with other people: neuroscience, ecology, spirituality, and mix it all together.
U: You’ve mentioned Artemisia Gentileschi’s rape trial as an influence on this body of work. Are there other artists who have influenced your work?
DR: I get inspired by artists’ techniques, but no one in particular. I can love artists from Renaissance to Duchamp, to other modern artists. But the way I look at it, I find the inspiration from looking at their style and the meaning behind the work when you place it in the historical and social context. I don’t really look at the image and think “oh I see the way he paints, I like his colours” so I don’t really get inspired visually by other artists. My inspiration comes from within; it usually starts with a feeling or an emotion, then I translate that through colours or figurative paintings, symbolism or portraiture. I don’t necessarily know how the final artwork is going to look when I start making it, it’s very open-ended process.
U: You studied your undergraduate at London College of Fashion, to what extent has your background studying fashion design inspired you?
DR: It influenced me in terms of understanding the human body and it gave me a better understanding of colours. When I studied fashion I always loved contrasting different textures, and I think that’s something that’s carried through into my art. I’m not sure if I already brought that to the fashion design. Basically no matter which medium I work with there are certain elements of how I work that come across. I’m not sure which one comes first, but I can tell when I started painting, my pieces were more design-led, and that’s something I’ve been trying to let go of: to worry less how it looks at the end, and just go through the process.
U: Finally, what are you currently working on, and what’s next for you?
DR: So I am currently starting a sustainable fashion design range and I’ll incorporate some of my artworks into it, so that should be fun! I haven’t done fashion for a while, so it’s interesting to come back to it. Then I’ll keep working on some moving image pieces. It’s an ongoing process and I keep getting distracted with painting, but I would love to make a few more comprehensive and bigger pieces.
Daniela Raytchev, Turn Around, 2020
Daniela Raytchev, Entity, 2020
Daniela Raytchev, The Pursuit of Happiness, 2020
START Art Fair is taking place 21–25 October 2020 at Saatchi Art Gallery. To find out more out more visit https://startartfair.com/index.html.