Lyuben Malchev. The wall

Main building

18.3.2023 — 4.6.2023

Plamen V. Petrov
Graphic designer
Georgi Sharov
Lora Sultanova
Traci Speed

Lyuben Malchev is part of the young generation of visual artists who have already found their place in the country’s contemporary art scene. It is not by chance that we also find his name in the Art Start[1] project as an artist whose development we should follow. And this is not only because he has won several national prizes for young artists and for painting. Nor because of the appearances of his paintings in exhibition spaces such as the galleries Rafael Mihaylov (Veliko Tarnovo), Rayko Aleksiev (Sofia), Stubel (Sofia), and Shipka 6 (Sofia). What arouses our curiosity about the presence of Lyuben Malchev on the art scene is provoked above all by the paintings he shows us – a contemporary style of painting that reflects not just his own personal, but on the contrary, our extremely shared enthusiasms, excitements, prejudices, and concerns that we are perhaps often unaware of, but that seem to unite us all despite the troubling disunity of our global living. And Lyuben Malchev’s first solo exhibition, which opens on March 18 at the Art Gallery – Kazanlak, is a kind of testimony both to our justified expectations of him as an artist and to his continued belief that contemporary art is always on target, as long as it is drawing up plans and generating horizons.

[1] A joint project of the Goethe-Institut Bulgaria and the Credo Bonum Gallery, created in 2017 at the initiative of Vessela Nozharova, Daniela Radeva, and Stefka Tsaneva.

The exhibition The Wall, by Lyuben Malchev, is proof of the artist’s consistency in that it can be conceived of as a sort of continuation of the theme that preoccupied him in his previous artistic endeavours – monuments. The artist himself says that what excites him in his capacity as an artist is provoked by his need to reflect what is happening: “It provokes me to react to reality in a purely journalistic way. My works are literally inspired by the news, reports and photographs that are saturated with intimidation, fear, injustice, and power. By monuments to absurd and utopian aspirations. By the person who is increasingly small and powerless, and on the other hand, the person who destroys, murders, and rules, overcome by pseudo-beliefs. I’m interested in what is happening now. I don’t want to remain indifferent to all this madness that is in some ways funny, but in others – frightening and merciless.”

The exhibition The Wall is a series of 10 painted canvases and objects connected with them, with which Lyuben Malchev addresses our archetypical concept of the wall, which in the 21st century unexpectedly underwent a new incarnation. From February 4, 2004, it has towered before us in its virtual incarnation – the Facebook wall, as part of the Facebook social network, which today, almost 20 years later, with its 110 languages and more than 1.98 billion active daily users, has established itself as one of the most important territories of togetherness. A new Tower of Babel in which “all earthly tongues” are spoken. The digital wall – public and private – is today a means of information, of sharing, of confession, of communication. For bare life, for encouraging our consumerist urges, for public squabbles and shootings. Every 30 days, the average Facebook user clicks on twelve ads, likes 11 posts, leaves five comments, and re-shares one post, while the total stream of platform users shares 350 million photos on their walls every day. Billions of virtual walls have been voluntarily “built” between us, walls which each of us fills with content that constructs our self-image – our own public/shared image. Virtual walls that we are seemingly unable even to climb over anymore – consumed by our powerlessness to be honest, by our fear of wrestling with the unknown.

Lyuben Malchev’s exhibiton The Wall, however, returns us to the prototypes of all of this. To the materializations of the wall inherited by our modernity. From the Great Wall of China, to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, to the Berlin Wall. The first, a UNESCO world heritage site since 1987, was built under the rule of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) as a means of defence, a barrier between Native and Foreign. The second, which has reached us as a material reminder of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the most sacred place in the world for Judaism, was raised by Herod the Great as a supporting wall around the Temple Mount, a wall as a vivid demonstration of man’s desire to rule over nature, to shape it according to his own notions and needs. The third – the Berlin Wall – is perhaps the most astonishing construction in our modern history, a border between the German Democratic Republic and West Berlin from 13 August 1961 until 9 November 1989, a testament to the inhuman within us and to the power of the man-made phenomena of war and repressive politics, incompatible with everything human. Yes, the wall rises throughout our millennia-long presence on the earth as a monument, as a barrier for a home, for a temple, for alienation, for escape. As a place for executions, pretence, and weeping. As a boundary that we can bore a hole in, or even destroy with sweat and blood, but one whose divisive power we cannot overcome before we ourselves are ready. But the exhibition The Wall, as Lyuben Malchev emphasizes, is also an attempt to reflect on the walls inside us. The walls created by us – day after day, brick by brick.

The exhibition The Wall is the artist’s first solo exhibition, and it logically takes place at the Art Gallery in the city of Kazanlak, the place where Lyuben Malchev not only had his first encounters with art, but also a place where he was formed as a visual artist. Born in Kazanlak in 1992, he received his secondary art education 18 years later at the Academician Dechko Uzunov High School of Arts and Design. In 2016, he defended his master’s thesis in Associate Professor Krasimir Karabadzhakov’s art studio at the University of Veliko Tarnovo. Today he is a doctoral student at the same university, working on the topic “The Social Theme in Bulgarian Painting from the Mid-20th Century to the 2020s.”

While still a student, he won a first prize for the best drawing, and in 2016, he was distinguished as a young artist in the Balkan Painting Quadrennial “Myths and Legends of My People” in Stara Zagora. In 2022, he was awarded the second prize for painting at the International Painting Biennale in Moldova (Chisinau). He took part in the curatorial projects “Scales in the Local” (2015) and “Scales in the Social” (2016) in the exhibition halls of the Rafael Mihaylov Gallery in Veliko Tarnovo, and in “Scale 1: New Social Realism” in the gallery at Shipka 6 in Sofia. In 2018, together with his colleague Radoil Serafimov, as students of Krasimir Karabadzhakov, he was included in Karabadzhakov’s Studios exhibition at Stubel Gallery in Sofia. He has been living in his hometown again since 2021. He works mainly in the field of painting, and his canvases are owned by the National Gallery of Moldova and private collections.

[1] Joint project of Goethe-Institut Bulgaria and Credo Bonum gallery, created in 2017 on the initiative of Vesela Nozharova, Daniela Radeva and Stefka Tsaneva.