Little Paganini, Little Picasso

Dear Reader, 

I am generally not this type of mother, but in this post I intend to brag about the accomplishments of my son :). 

(Endless) Talk about other people’s children usually bores me, so most of the time I try to spare the others what I don’t like to be done to me.

But on May 24 the drawing school my son, Philip, goes to, had an end-of-the-year exhibition, which I thought was an interesting event to share. 

This was Philip's painting at the exhibition. It was drawn with pastels. I like the sky a lot.
This was Philip’s painting at the exhibition. Technique is pastels. I like the sky a lot.

This is the only painting my poor child has produced that has not music as its main theme. He plays the classical guitar too, we go to the same teacher, but knowing how hard it is to get him to practice, I am really surprised to see the many music-dominated works he has been painting.

You’d say maybe he uses art to vent his frustration with his overambitious mother :). Who knows.   

This is a boy playing a gadulka, a bowed string instument typical of the Bulgarian folk music. The drawing is in black ink.
This is a boy playing a gadulka (гъдулка), a bowed string instrument typical of the Bulgarian folk music. The drawing is in black ink.

The gadulka player reminded me of a similar painting by Ivan Milev (1897-1927), regarded as the founding father of the Bulgarian Secession and immortalised on the BGN 5 banknote currently in use. (BGN 5 is roughly EUR 2.5). “Father” is a pompous word really, given that the man died of influenza at 30…

Milev was a very original artist – he experimented with innovative techniques and all his work was centred on the daily life of the Bulgarian peasants, which he depicted with flamboyant shapes and colours, layering and melting into each other and adding a wild, fairy-tale dimension to the scenes depicted. Milev lived in abject poverty, barely making ends meet with decoration and scenography jobs.

He is also remembered for being totally unstuck by the Western European artistic and musical heritage. When in Italy once, he is documented to have commented on statues by Michelangelo et al. – “Impressive works, but they are not for us.” The fervent search of what is “for us” was the leitmotif of Milev’s short life.

Gadulka player by Ivan Milev. Source: Иван Милев. Евдокия Петева-Филова, Национална библиотека Св. св. Кирил и Методий, София 2012.
Gadulka player by Ivan Milev, 1926. Technique is gouache, which is something similar to watercolour. The look of the man somehow reminds me of Edvard Munch’s works. Other Milev  works are vaguely reminiscent of Gustav Klimt. The interesting thing is that Milev had hardly known of these artists – he was a peasant boy whom his father wanted to make a shepherd. Source: Иван Милев. Евдокия Петева-Филова, Национална библиотека Св. св. Кирил и Методий, София 2012.

Ivan Milev is one of Bulgaria’s four prominent painters, belonging to the same generation and born in the guns-and-roses-dominated town of Kazanlak . The other three are Dechko Uzunov (1899-1986), Nenko Balkanski (1907-1977) and Chudomir (1890-1967), who was also a most compelling writer (Renaissance people, remember?:)).

Chudomir’s wife Mara Nonova, born in the central Bulgarian town of Tryavna, was also a talented artist. I had a great time visiting the homes of these painters in Kazanlak, but, as book The Secret Dairy of Laura Palmer used to say – More (on that) – later. 🙂

Ta-da! This is supposed to be me! The stencilled notes were done by the teacher.
Ta-da! This is supposed to be me! The stenciled notes were done by the teacher.

Having a guitar in the composition of Bulgarian artwork is not that uncommon, at least not for artist Nenko Balkanski: 

This painting was exhibited in the Kazanlak Art Gallery and is called Lilyana. The man in the background is the artist himself. Lilyana is not his wife though, I believe his wife's name was Sophia and she posed for him for many nudes. Source:
This painting was exhibited in the Kazanlak Art Gallery and is called Lilyana. The man in the background is the artist himself. Lilyana was his wife and she had posed for him for many nudes. I like her red-hot lips and air of ennui. I bet she wore some heavy floriental perfume…:) When I saw this painting, I thought it somehow depicted two sides of me – listlessly musing over coffee and musing over music, trying to order the thoughts I have thought over the coffee! 🙂 Source: Click here.

Although more subtly, the guitar is also present here, to the far left:

This is a self-portait too. The children look really sad, or bored, while the central figure looks restless. Source:
This is a self-portrait. The figures in the background look really sad, or bored, while the central one looks restless and defiant. Also, note how contorted and indefinite the space is – both paintings are confined to rooms, but offer a look into either another room or a painting, so to something beyond. Lilyana is thinking about something beyond too. And the up-front stare depicted above, with all the implied possibilities behind it, is disturbing and mesmerising.  Source: Click here.

Now let’s take a look at two still life paintings featuring a guitar:

IMG_1870

This is Philip’s. 🙂 It can be barely seen from the picture, but he has actually labelled the score according to what he was studying then – A Czech Song, a melody called Haenchen Klein which is a very popular children’s song in Bulgaria and A Dance. 🙂 The clock is probably what he’s looking at to check whether the 30 minutes I have told him he should practice have passed. 🙂 Again, I love the sky seen through the window and the songbird. The attention to detail is very endearing too. Philip may not become a great painter but attention to detail develops the brain.

This is the "original" clock. It is mechanical, from the beginning of the 20th century and chimes charmingly with its four-rod chiming system.
This is the “original” clock. It is mechanical, from the beginning of the 20th century and chimes charmingly with its four-rod chiming system.
Nenko Balkanski's still life with a guitar. Source:
Nenko Balkanski’s still life with a guitar. This looks like a steel-string though. It has tuning pegs on one side only, the head is a different shape compared to that of a classical guitar, and the saddle, where the strings are attached to the body, is a different shape too. As a side note – what a great diet – apples, pears, a bottle of wine and a guitar…what else does one need? This still life is certainly very evocative 🙂 Source: Click here.

So, as you see, much like the point in great book The Foucault Pendulum by Umberto Eco, one can see links between random things, provided one looks hard enough. 🙂 Still, two other things connected to teaching music and children come to my mind.

This self-explanatory cartoon is called Little Paganini. Poor kid. I hope mine is not feeling that desperate. I do allow him to play, you know.
This self-explanatory cartoon is called Little Paganini. Poor kid. I hope mine is not feeling that desperate. I do allow him to play, you know.

And one more, which kind of portrays me, or the mother figure, as well:

The caption says: I told you, Ma, I don't want to be a Paganini, I want to be a forester! The mother looks like a classical Bulgarian auntie from the 1970s. Hilarious. :)
The caption says: “I told you, Ma, I don’t want to be a Paganini, I want to be a forester!” The mother looks like a classical Bulgarian auntie from the 1970s. It is hilarious. 🙂

Both above cartoons were blueprints being prepared for publishing in humorist newspapers, hence all the notes, figures and arrows on them. My husband and I bought those from the son of the man who was the editor in charge of preparing the cartoons. He had a huge collection from which we selected eight and placed them around the flat. These two are the only ones on the topic of music. I like them a lot. 

And now, since we spoke about music and Kazanlak, I will treat you to a great piece by Kazanlak-born pianist and composer Petko Staynov (1896-1977), whose house I could not visit while in town, because it was temporarily closed. What is remarkable about Staynov, apart from his great symphonic and choral music, is that he had been completely blind since childhood. 

Young Petko Staynov. Another good-looking Bulgarian guy.
Young Petko Staynov. Another good-looking Bulgarian guy. Source: Click here.

The work that I bring to your attention is again called Ratchenitsa, part of Staynov’s Thracian Dances Suite of 1925, and is a 2012 open-air performance in front of Bulgaria’s National Theatre Ivan Vazov in Sofia.

The funny thing is that two of the orchestra members are a family and now I know them, because their daughter goes to the same ballet class as mine 🙂 We share tips on making stable ballerina up-dos and on the best places to buy fine ballerina tights (not the dance costume shops, they cost an arm and a leg there!) 

So – the world is small, and Bulgaria is even smaller. If one digs deeper, it may turn out that we are all some sort of cousins…:)