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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Monday, April 18, 2011

The painting passion


By what process did I become a passionate collector of painting – let alone of Bulgarian realist painting of the mid 20th century? And what drives me now to work to try to craft a small book on the subject – let alone seek out the specific genres which I now feel I lack? I find I have sufficient landscapes (seascapes also grow apace) – but lack people and scenes of normal human activity. I would like some of the amazing heads pencilled by Boiadjiev (Nikola) and Uzonov. As well as populated landscapes. Also some signs of industrial and commercial activity; and some unusual still lives (not flowers but Rembrandt meat!) And more aquarelles. But why what process do these signals come to me? It’s a totally mysterious process.
I had no paintings in my home in Scotland – although I do remember vividly the large print which adorned the dining room/study of my father’s manse. It was of a leafy, rocky shore at Roseneath where my father was born – with a glimpse of the River Clyde beyond. I lived in Berlin for a couple of months in 1964 and was stunned by what I saw in the galleries there. Georg Grosz and Kathe Kollwitz made a big impact – and later the less well-known people such as Wilhelm Lehmbruch whose sculptures I stumbled on by accident in what turned out to be his home town. On the various trips I made for European meetings in the 1980s, I started the habit of visiting the art galleries – the Belgian realists of the end of the 19th Century on display in the main Brussels Gallery charmed me. After my (limited) sense of British artists, the European paintings I encountered during that period showed me something very different – reflecting I now realise as much the selection process of british art custodians as the different British experience. Too many British custodians of art in my time were high-class people whose style was discouraging to the ordinary person. It was ironic but typical that I first encountered sketches of British miners of the 1930s not in Britain – but in a German town which was honouring the work of an 80 year old German artist Tina von Schullenberg who had managed to inveigle her way down Nottingham mines in the 1930s and produce great stuff. She was gracious enough to send me some of the sketches later. Of course, I was familiar with (and fond of) the Lowry stick men of Manchester mills of the 1940s; with Ralph Steadman’s contemporary satire and had a copy of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing – but nothing had prepared me for the originality of the European realist works of the early 20th century. So I suppose that’s when I first opened up to art.
But it was only when I started my nomadic life in the 1990s that I started to acquire some paintings – initially some very cheap oils in Romania. Surprisingly for me, two still lives were my first (and last such) acquisitions – bought I suppose for their colour and composition.
But still my passion lay dormant. For a few years (1999-2005) oriental carpets became my passion - as my assignments in Central Asia gave me access to the glory of the silk and other carpets of not only Afghanistan but Turkmenistan. So much labour going into this work.
It was a visit to the Phillipopolis Gallery in Plovdiv in May 2008 which really activated my painting passion. This is a private gallery housed in a magnificent old Bulgarian house in the old heart of the town which was rescued and brought back to its glory by the new owners. Now you can view their collection; contemplate possible purchases; eat in a wonderful restaurant in the basement; or have a quiet coffee on the terrace which overlooks the town. See for yourself here. The atmosphere and reception was so gtreat that, without knowing anything at that stage about Bulgarian painting, I bought a small Zhekov and a large Mechkuevska and two contemporaries. So, be warned!

Today’s painting is by Vladimir Dmitrov (The Master) 1882-1960. Born near Kyustendil which is half way between Sofia and the Serbian border, he started his career as a clerk. He is considered one of the most talented 20th century Bulgarian painters and probably the most remarkable stylist in Bulgarian painting in the post-Russo-Turkish War era. His portraits and compositions have expressive color, idealistic quality of the image and high symbolic strength. Many consider his artwork a fauvist type rather than an expressionalism set. Vladimir Dimitrov Art Gallery of Kyustendil has more than 700 of his oil paintings.
The OECD has just published a small book I need to read before the Varna Conference. It’s on the issue of „fragile states”. As the blurb says
Recent events in the Middle East and North Africa – where the legitimacy of the reigning power-holders has been seriously questioned by popular protest – bring home the threats to global stability posed by the world’s 30 to 40 fragile states. State fragility threatens the livelihoods of one in six people on the planet. It poses particular challenges for donors, who have witnessed the hopelessness of trying to graft Western institutional responses onto fragile contexts.
Viable solutions need to take into account the particular distribution and dynamics of local power; they need to recognize the trade-offs between development objectives, the fine grain of social expectations and the evolution of regional dynamics.
Finally a great new voice for me - Jasmin Levi

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