VARVARA (2014)

      Varvara is a small Bulgarian village clinging to the picturesque hills of Strandja one to two kilometres from the Black Sea. It has been able to avoid the tourist crowds and managed to maintain an unchanging unique charm. For many years, on the sign at the entrance to Varvara was written “this village is not for everybody”. The truth of this sentiment is something I have observed over the years. Invariably some people arrive here and leave Varvara after a few days because they do not find anything which resembles the typical tourist resort. But others fall in love with Varvara for that very reason, to the extent that the village becomes their regular summer destination and they do not seek any other alternative. For years Varvara has received pilgrims who are curious, creative and who think differently…

In the 1960-90’s Varvara was regarded in Bulgaria as a hippie resort. Every year students from the Academy of Arts in Sofia held their Summer Exhibitions on the beach, where they constructed display stands. The students also had a bar with an all-night disco virtually every evening, in the village there were two meeting sites “Kyrchma” and “Drinkbar” where all-night jam sessions took place with local and guest musicians. The music came in a variety of styles including Gypsy, Bulgarian, Turkish and Greek.

It is of interest that in the 1960-90’s Bulgarian dissidents were sent to the so called “Swine Farm”, a meat processing plant in the village. The dissidents had restricted freedom of movement but after their work in the evenings they could come to the village. In the inns one could therefore meet Bulgarian artists and intellectuals who had incurred the displeasure of the Communist Government in Sofia.

During the years 1976-1989 we stayed with Baba Dafina on our visits to Varvara. She was the only Catholic who lived in the village. I noticed there was no sense of antagonism towards people of different religious backgrounds and beliefs. She took us to see an old Catholic shrine hidden in the woods, in a ravine and near a small stream, where strange reeds grew that looked like thin bamboo canes. This was a wonderful discovery and was a source of inspiration for my paintings for several years. The secret sanctuary, now known as the Paraklis has been transformed into a sacred place for the Orthodox believers and others.

The unusual reeds that grow there create a very interesting counterpoint to the large boulders and rocks that are found on the beaches in the Varvara area. At first I started to build my own rather flimsy “stick installations” which I then drew and painted (see next pages). I constructed other “stick-installations” on the rocks (see photo 1 and 2). The marvellous rock structures of Varvara can compete with the works of the greatest artists, such as Gaudi, and such works of nature prompt the thought that maybe God has played a joke with the creativity and imagination of artists (there is a small example in photo 3). The appearance of the rocks changes in different lights and at different times and provides me with constant inspiration as well as teaching me a lesson in humility whenever I consider the genius of nature.

I have constructed stick installations on the rocks many times over the years (see photos 4-9). The first time I exhibited one was in 1988 at a large exhibition at The Institute of Modern Art in Nuremberg. The exhibition was called simply “New Images” but should have been called “I love Varvara”, because all the works shown were inspired by that area (see photos 10-16 for examples). Most of these works were sold and will not be seen at this exhibition but I have included them in the catalogue because they are records of paintings and drawings arising out of my Varvara installations.

To this day, almost every year my wife and I go to Varvara and continue to meet there wonderful, interesting people. I often work there and constantly create new paintings and pictures related to this magical place.

In 2013 I suggested to the Bulgarian Institute of Culture that an exhibition could be arranged documenting the artistic work inspired by my many trips to Varvara. I knew other artists who also visited and worked in Varvara and decided to invite them to participate in the project. More detailed information about them and reproductions of their work appear in the following pages of the catalogue, so here is just some preliminary information:

Jan Niksiński-2014 / translated by Jacek Ruciński