37 monuments in 30 days, and what I learned along the way.
Wednesday 24 June 2020
Last week a friend of mine died. Milen was an extraordinary artist – his still life work is some of the best I’ve seen – but it was his surrealist paintings which really caught my eye, when I first met him, now more than a decade ago.
I suppose his work is what one might call ‘marginal’ art. Milen was a rebel from an early age. He grew up in communist Bulgaria, but he grew his hair long and he listened to music from the West: Led Zeppelin, Metallica, and so on. Western cultural influences (he also had a passion for Star Wars) and a strong anti-authoritarian leaning, I think are clear in his work – which very often features fantastical metal machines pitted against landscapes of conformity.
But as well as being an artist, Milen was also an alcoholic. Back in 2014 I tried to work with him on getting his art seen by more people. I felt it deserved it, so I made a website with his input, and I visited galleries in numerous countries to show them photos of his work. But over the years, as Milen descended more into the drink, it became harder to work on projects like this with him. One gallery, in Serbia, would have been a perfect fit, and they said as much themselves: expressing a strong interest in exhibiting Milen’s work… But they added that they could not work with an alcoholic. To exhibit work an artist must be committed, available, in sound mind and reliable – and towards the end my friend had none of these qualities.
Milen passed away on Sunday 14th June, of liver failure. He left his paintings behind, but in the absence of a will, Bulgarian law states that his family should inherit them. This is not what Milen would have wanted. To call his relationship with his father poor, would be a gross understatement. His brother meanwhile, had not been speaking to him for some four or five years, following a dispute over money.
It has been indicated now that his family are looking to sell the paintings, and make some short-term profit on them. And so all last week I was in the village where Milen lived and died, campaigning to keep the collection together… But also, photographing these paintings one last time, in case it’s my last chance to do so.
I cannot say what will happen next. It may be that the paintings are sold off one by one, to end up in local antique and art shops, or hanging on walls in various little restaurants around the region. On the other hand, the family might like the proposal I made them – to keep the work together, and to promote it as a collection to galleries and potentially even publishers. Either way, in time I will look at giving these pictures some kind of online presence that might serve as Milen’s legacy.
For now, I’ll share some of my favourites below.
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