Kaloyan Yanakiev. Watercolour letters to a city

Катя Христова
Георги Шаров
Лора Султанова
Джоана Брадшоу

Uncovering the architectural identity of a city and recreating it in paintings has fascinated Bulgarian artists since the first wave of them started working in our country after its liberation, with the urgent drive to Europeanise our art. A trend that we can also see in a number of canvases stored in the collection of Art Gallery Kazanlak. Paintings testifying to the time in which they were created, and in which we often come across sites that have been lost to the town we live in.

Four years ago, while still at high school, Kaloyan Yanakiev began work on a cycle of watercolour paintings representing emblematic buildings from Kazanlak – architectural examples from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Observing how, over the years, many of the town’s houses have crumbled and been lost, physically or in function, washed out of the social landscape, he attempts, using the ethereality and elegance of his preferred watercolour technique, to transfer onto paper an uncharacteristic feature of architecture that urbanisation is increasingly reinforcing – how it pales, blending into new spatial solutions.

The exhibition addresses the significant theme of how we preserve our immovable cultural heritage, living as we do in times in which humanity, with a misplaced logic and in an attempt at modernisation, first destroys before it has explored and studied. We live in towns populated with those who are continually impacting the past, thus altering our own identity.

This is an exhibition in which we will be prompted to explore the town through another’s eyes. We will wander the streets and pavements, seeking out the old buildings which hide within them the history of emblematic Kazanlak places and families. Personalities whose presence and contribution to the development of our town would seem impossible to forget, yet we somehow succeed in erasing from the memory of time, in our ignorance and accumulation of cultural layers.

This is the story about a town in which some people are recent arrivals, some lifelong inhabitants, and some just passing through. People who perhaps don’t know each other, will maybe never meet, but for whom this exhibition will be a way of looking together at something we may yet still preserve and protect for those who tell the story after us.

We’ll climb the hills too, seeing buildings blurring into washed-out watercolour hues and pavements into paths, but only to remind ourselves that we are surrounded on all sides by a history we need to keep talking about, lest we allow the incessant drone of chatter from the town mask unreasonable human decisions.

It’s time for those letters that everyone should write for themselves, so that one day we don’t find ourselves standing before the closed door of irretrievably altered or lost immovable cultural heritage. Letters we should each sign for ourselves, with lots of love, so we don’t have to witness, swallow down and stomach the fading identity of our towns.

__ Kaloyan Yanakiev was born in Kazanlak in 2004. Drawing from the age of eight, for over ten years he has studied drawing at the Renina art school in Kazanlak. In 2023 he graduated from the ‘Academician Dechko Uzunov’ National High School of Plastic Arts and Design, specialising in spatial design. Currently a law student at the New Bulgarian University, he continues his art practice. He has been awarded prizes in various children’s and youth art competitions, including  Little Zograff and The Artistic Heirs of Dechko Uzunov.