THIS week’s picture is a stunning Chilterns landscape taken from a winter exhibition organised by Herts Visual Arts featuring the work of more than 40 artists from across Hertfordshire.
The hand-signed oil painting is by self-taught artist Sabbi Gavrailov, who lives with his wife and two sons in Hemel Hempstead and only fully rediscovered his love of art earlier this year.
A keen photographer and cyclist, Sabbi is originally from Bulgaria, where he studied architecture and civil engineering before settling in the UK in 2003 to pursue a career in luxury hotels and hospitality.
A fascination with digital photography over the past decade has helped to encourage his love of local landscapes, but despite always wanting to become an artist one day, the opportunity had never really presented itself.
“When I was young, art was everything to me,” he says. Then in April, when his father died from cancer back home in Bulgaria, it seemed to unleash a creative outpouring of emotion.
“I must have produced about 50 paintings in the past five months,” he admits with a smile, having startled friends with the ease with which he began producing everything from classic portraits to eye-catching landscapes, using single strokes of a palette knife with feeling and precision.
Often using his own high-definition photographs as a source, he was soon hard at work, putting down some of the roots of his inspiration to the fact he spent his childhood and teenage years in a small town which has extraordinary artistic connections.
Brezovo is the birthplace of two iconic Bulgarian artists: Zlatyu Boyadzhiev, who died in 1976 and is known for his portraits and landscapes depicting the Old Town of Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city, and village life in the region, and Mincho Katsarov, an artist celebrated in France but virtually unknown in his home country.
Whether or not there is anything in the Brezovo water to explain Sabbi’s artistic endeavours, there’s been no stopping him this year.
“The devastating event of my Dad’s death has triggered an overwhelming desire to paint again,” he confesses. “It’s like something I have never known or done before in my life.”
As well as using his digital photographs and cycling trips into the Chilterns countryside as a starting point for his art, he has produced still lifes, portraits and seascapes too.
“I see no sign of stopping, quite the opposite,” he says. Spurred on by his friends’ enthusiasm for his work, he has become an active member of Herts Visual Arts, where he now has a gallery in addition to his own art website and social media links on Facebook and Instagram.
With some of his paintings available as originals and others as high-res prints, he has also been undertaking commissions.
“My college years gave me a different perspective on art while I studied architecture. Then I got drawn to digital photography very quickly and I felt the need to educate myself further to get the most out of it.
“I got my diploma in digital photography and this opened a different world, through the lens. Now inevitably the painting and photography for me go hand in hand,” he says.
“I constantly experiment with different styles of painting and push myself to learn new techniques. I love to paint portraits, seascapes and landscapes. I feel the power of nature and human expression around me: it is the greatest inspiration one can find and I express it through my paintings.”