20 Minutes with
Rozalina Burkova

Finding harmony in chaos with the Bulgarian illustrator Rozalina Burkova

She's part of a new generation of illustrators – a generation that moves within the spheres of memes and gifs. While the traditional paper-and-pen-medium is a static art, her illustrations move. With dynamic animations of her drawings, Rozalina Burkova does not only win over digital natives but established industry giants like her clients Gucci or the Tate Modern. Her aesthetic language combines a fauvist with a modern reflection of our times and is free from any severity that might cloud our mood. We talked with the illustrator about her decision against the world of fashion, the combination of art and music and her eschewal of the beautiful.

Nele Tüch: You moved from the world of fashion to that of illustration, how come?
Rozalina Burkova: These days I mostly do illustration and drawing but I still keep trying out different ways to create on the side – currently it is wax sculptures, before that, I tried working with silver. For me, the 'making' part is more important than the field or the medium. Fashion was just the creative discipline I chose for my studies when I was 19, it seemed like the most familiar and promising field but the myriad of issues in the industry pushed me out of it and showed me that I was much better suited for drawing.

NT: Fashion and Illustration are both highly creative fields – whereby the one is often directed to the end-consumer and the other to media-outlets. How different is working in fashion compared to working in illustration?
Rozalina Burkova: I worked in fashion for a very short period of time after graduating so I don’t feel like I am in a position to compare them. Drawing is hugely versatile, it can be directed straight to the consumer in the case of producing originals or prints and the commercial clients range greatly, anything from a charity organisation through a music label to a huge fashion brand might commission illustrations or original drawings.

NT: A lot of your works are cooperations with musicians. How is your process when working on a music video?
Rozalina Burkova: I like to work quite closely with the artist if the job allows it. I feel like it is a great responsibility to take someone’s music and give it a visual appearance. Ideally, it should feel like a collaboration between the musician and the director, where we mash our two mediums together and the end result is one piece that feels complete as a whole rather than a video and a song playing side by side.

NT: You’ve been living in Sofia, London and Barcelona. Could you sum up each city’s creative spirit?
Rozalina Burkova: This is highly subjective but here you go, London - collaborative innovation and experiments; Barcelona - grounded in nature, earthy, organic, subtle; Sofia - thrifty, fun, young and excited.

NT: I might be mistaken, but not a lot of illustrations are being animated. When you started with it, was it a natural step for you in order to become an illustrator or a kind of self-experiment?
Rozalina Burkova: Early on I was making very short GIFs for myself, but then based on them, a musician friend, Guy Blakeslee, asked me if I would make a music video for him so I took it on and started learning it for real by doing a lot of experimenting. It allowed me to think in a new medium and is now a huge part of my practice.

"Nature is chaos in harmony, I like to think of drawings in the same way. In reality plants and people are not perfect or symmetrical or smooth..."

NT: In your work, you abstractly portray a big variety of people. How important is it for you to break with prevailing conventional beauty ideals and gender stereotypes in your work?
Rozalina Burkova: I am not doing it with any agenda, I just don’t find drawing “beautiful” people that beautiful or interesting. I prefer it when things look a bit rough and ready and imperfect. Nature is chaos in harmony, I like to think of drawings in the same way. In reality plants and people are not perfect or symmetrical or smooth so embracing that is interesting for me, I think a bit of rough&ready-ness gives an image more life and character.

And about gender, it is often not an important part of what I am trying to depict and I have been learning to cut off the unessential out of images so I’d draw personages with ambiguous features because adding gender-specific tropes makes the image unnecessarily defined. A character might wear a dress or long hair or whatever because it works better for the composition but I don’t usually go out of my way to emphasise gender, then whether a dress does that for the viewer or not, that’s on them, not on me.

NT: What would be your dream-project?
Rozalina Burkova: I have been thinking: An outdoor exhibition with huge paper drawings hanging from trees would be pretty great. Paper swaying in the wind, the various shadows of the plants falling on it and changing throughout the day, the fresh air.

NT: What has been your biggest revelation in the last couple of months or weeks?
Rozalina Burkova: My own temporary-ness, kind of. A month ago I got to spend a few days at my grandparents home. They both passed away recently and I was there surrounded by their collections of objects. It made me think how we spend so much time and effort collecting stuff we are going to leave behind. I feel like there is a lesson to learn from that but I have not been able to succinctly synthesise it just yet.

NT: Besides your work, what is one topic you can’t stop talking or thinking about?
Rozalina Burkova: Staying present. The paradox is that talking or thinking about it actually stops you from doing it.

NT: Personal leeway (=Freiraum) – what does it mean for you and where can you find it?
Rozalina Burkova: In making personal work – intuitively, without a brief. I guess that applies to life in general, it is one big personal project. Also in water – watching it, drinking it, drawing it, listening to it, floating in it.

Rozalina Burkova drew the illustrations for the packaging of our brand I/TEMS.