Nikolay Panayotov

Nikolay Panayotov is a Bulgarian artist based in Paris, France. He and his wife Larissa have art studios in Paris, Sofia, and Stokite (a small village in Bulgaria). Nikolay has more than 55 solo exhibitions in France, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Monaco, Germany, Switzerland, the USA, and around the globe. His paintings are part of collections in many European cities — Paris, Leipzig, Sofia, London, and Luxembourg.

Inspiration for me is an automatic impulse – just like breathing or eating, something that has to happen during the day.



My works do deliver messages, but they are not meant to moralise anybody. They are like it was in the previous political regime – the work has to have the main idea. Very often, the main idea is to make the viewer notice it and start asking themselves questions that they cannot answer. Or to provoke a question you try to answer yourself.

“I started creating the moment I realised that my hand left some trace of my personality.”


My name is Nikolay Panayotov. When I went to France, I started signing my works with “Panayotov”. A French gallery owner then told me that it was too difficult to perceive. Lately, I’ve been using the signature “NICK” as suggested by my wife Larissa.

I was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1956. I also feel a connection to the birthplaces of my mom and dad. Currently, my fiscal residence is in Paris, France, but Larissa and I work as artists both in Bulgaria and France. We have a studio in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, another studio in Sofia, Bulgaria and a third one in the village of Stokite, near the town of Sevlievo, Bulgaria. I am an honorary citizen of the Sevlievo municipality. I managed to buy the building of the school since its sale happened at the same time as the successful sale of one of my works.

Art itself motivates me. In my family, there were no artists, but I grew up in some villages near Sevlievo, Bulgaria, and my grandfather was a patron of the village library, where he took me even before I could read or write. I saw a book of Van Gogh reproductions there and told myself, “that’s it” – without even knowing who Van Gogh was, what a painting was, and what art was. The rest is like an instinct to create artwork in solitude. My childhood was mostly lonely; I spent it under a canopy in the yard, where I made various things - aeroplanes, metal or wood tanks; I drew a lot, and I read a lot. That’s how it all started.

More than 50 years ago, at my school in France there was a big studio designated for painting only. They had spray paint bombs and 100x70 paper. There was no sparing of material like there was in Bulgaria. The references the English teachers gave me when I came back to Bulgaria started with, “Nikolay certainly will be an artist one day“.

Art — it’s a fact that people do it and people consume it — both artists and viewers need it, so it has a deep, universal meaning. I was chosen to do it without having to try too hard and without striving at it. It could even be because of my laziness - because that’s what is easiest to do. When I was creating the stage set and the costumes for Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Sofia Opera, I didn’t stop working. The director then said, “You are so happy, and everybody loves you so - I don’t understand how you do it”. What I can say about this is when I carry the pleasure of creating something, it just happens.

Inspiration, for me is an automatic impulse – just like breathing or eating, something that has to happen during the day. Recently, a friend asked me – “why do you work so much?” My answer was – “This is how I fight death.” Inspiration – this is, in fact, my need to create.


Art, for me, is a fantastic drive which combines pain, suffering, and pleasure. All-in-one. I don’t like the word higher, but it is both universal and above ordinary human activity because it is not necessarily all in itself.

Apart from their plasticity, my works deliver messages that usually remain a mystery. I often hear people from my audience say – “we liked it a lot, but we understood nothing”. To this, I answer, “yes, that’s life, we like it, but we don’t understand it.”

The Atelier

The Near East certainly has affected all of my art. Even though back then I hated visiting the museums in Babylon, later, the Akkad and Babylon halls in the Louvre were my favourite. My works were created using techniques that came from Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece and make my art universal. Of course, my artistic expression is also influenced by contemporary sensitivities and perceptions like comic books and street art, but I like combining lots of different things. For example, the stage set for Richard Wagner’s epic opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. One article in Italy described the style of my stage set for Wagner as “manga”.

Photo by Soul Awards
Photo by Soul Awards

My works are being compared to those of Bosch and mistaken for those of Salvador Dali. Yes, there is a surrealistic side to them, but it is more due to the pre-Renaissance and the fact that my works have both space and volume, just as those of the surrealists.

Very often, people who collect my works tell me – “I’ve been looking at your picture for 5 years, and today I saw something I hadn’t seen in the beginning”. 3-4 years ago, in my works started to appear tanks, machine guns, and rockets. They were the counterpoint of human bodies – antique bodies, I would say, which, however, were juxtaposed against a design of a little boy’s fantasies of armament. I never thought there would be another war in Europe, but I now see that it could have been a premonition of the absurd that is now our everyday life.

Photo by Dorothea Komitska

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