The Unknown Zheni Mehandzhiyska (1927 - 1990)
Zheni Mehandzhiyska is among those artists whose image today emerges in a hazy aura of unjust oblivion. The current exhibition in Gallery Loran is a partial rehabilitation of the personality and work of Zheni Mehandzhiyska, as well as of the Bulgarian fine arts of the second half of the twentieth century, whose painting is still incomplete.
There is very little information about the life and work of the artist. The years of her birth and death are known - 1927 - 1990, several of her participations in general art exhibitions in the 60's and 70's and plein air trips in the Rhodope Mountains in the 60's with artists Lika Yanko, Kostadinka Tsvetkova, Mimi Veselinova, Vanya Decheva, Olga Valnarova, Raina Vuncheva and others. In 1966, Zheni Mehandzhiyska organized a solo exhibition in Sofia, where a work of hers got purchased by the “Dimitar Dobrovich” Art Gallery in Sliven and is located there till this day. At the beginning of the 90’s (1993, 1994) in the gallery "Otechestvo" (later renamed "Vitosha") several landscapes of Zheni Mehandzhiyska were exhibited in a joint exhibition. In 2010, her landscapes were featured in the exhibition "Art and Isolation" at the National Gallery of Fine Arts. She was married to Dimitar Mehandjiiski (1915 - 1999). In the second half of the 1970’s, Zheni Mehandzhiyska left for Paris. In this world center of art, fate was not favorable to her and she expressed a desire to return to Bulgaria, which she shared with the artist Milka Peykova, seeking help from her. Zheni Mehandzhiyska's passport was detained at the embassy and she was banned from traveling: “If you only knew the hell I went through here! I want to return to Bulgaria… the embassy does not want to give me my passport, “.” (Peykova, M. The previous days. Sofia, 2011, p. 42). Whether she managed to return to her homeland or remained in Paris until her death is unknown.
The current collection at Gallery Loran is the largest known collection of the artist's paintings to date. The State Cultural Institute at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has one of her works and two are located in the “Dimitar Dobrovich” Art Gallery, Sliven. The collection of Gallery Loran consists of 30 landscapes and compositions, mostly oil on paper and cardboard, and 2 watercolors depicting the Russian Church “St. Nicholas” in Sofia.
At first glance, the author's swing and free brush are impressive. Strong contrast, large and bold strokes reveal strong emotionality, pulsating unbridled energy.
In her earlier works there is still figurativeness - Still Life, Seascape with houses, Vase with flowers ... However, the strokes are large, the drawing - expressive, the tones - bright and intense. Color is the main means of expression, but the color is often conditional, reminiscent of Fauvism. The shapes are elongated, there is a noticeable deformation.
One of the landscapes differs from the others in its relatively realistic interpretation and color. This is probably the earliest work of the artist in the current collection, in which she demonstrates interest and knowledge of Impressionism. In it the sunny play with the surface of the plants is skillfully captured through a rich tonality, varying from yellow, through all shades of green, to dark blue ... In this work the technique is mastered, compositional and color harmony is achieved.
Although the paintings on display at Gallery Loran are undated, we assume that most of them were created in the 60’s and 70’s. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the works that Zheni Mehandzhiyska shows in Group Art exhibitions in the 60’s and 70’s of the twentieth century and that are on show in the Sliven Art Gallery, dating from 1966, are stylistically close to much of the works in this collection.
These more mature works of Mehandzhiyska are also mostly landscapes. Here, however, the classical notion of landscape is abandoned. The shapes are stylized, generalized and represent colored spots and lines, often placed in a contour. The details are extremely simple. The bright light color of earlier landscapes has given way to darker, more monochrome tones. Nature and the object are almost unrecognizable, close to abstraction. The expression is strong. The line - free, curved, often deliberately crooked. Through it, Zheni Mehandzhiyska creates her own forms, vaguely reminiscent ofstone, hill, tree or river… She transforms the visible through her specific pictorial language, which is characterized by dynamism, a sense of inner movement in the composition, tense rhythm caused by winding lines and nervously applied smears. In this series, conditionally defined as later works, the artist seems to discover herself, forms her artistic style.
The works of Zheni Mehandzhiyska are diverse in plastic searches - from Fauvist techniques, pronounced deformation, to Impressionist and Post-Impressionist experiments, all marked by strong expressiveness. Obviously, the artist is familiar with world trends in fine arts.
Fantasy palaces and monasteries are not missing from the compositions. Built through large color segments, they immerse us in an enigmatic mystique…
Zheni is among the authors who stand out during this period. At a time when professors from the Academy of Arts are being fired and students are being expelled for not following the official line, it is surprising how these almost abstract compositions have been accepted in Group Art Exhibitions. They are neither realistic nor thematic, in the sense of the theme imposed at the time.
Observing the works of the artists from her circle of friends, with whom she traveled in the Rhodopes, probably in other places (Sozopol, Karlanovo, Melnik) we will notice that they are among the most daring and modernist experiments allowed in the Group Art Exhibitions in the 60’s and the 70’s. These are works by Olga Valnarova, Kostadinka Tsvetkova, Lika Yanko, Raina Vuncheva, Dora Kancheva. They do not follow certain rules and norms, deny dogmatics, and prefer the landscape as a genre to figurative compositions, because it has greater freedom of interpretation and opportunity for experimentation. Moreover, we find mutual influences between the artists. Comparing landscapes from the Rhodopes of Lika Yanko ("Melnik", "Melnik I" 1964, "Karlanovo Landscape", 1965, "Rhodope Village" 1963, "From the Rhodopes", early 60's) and Zheni Mehandzhiyska we will see common features - synthesis of form, bright color, similar tones, decorativeness in places, tendency to abstraction. A close friendship between Lika and Zheni is also evidenced by a portrait of Zheni Mehandzhiyska by Lika Yanko from 1963 - the only image known today with the face of Zheni Mehandzhiyska. It is difficult to determine the direction of influence, but the joint work, emotional and spiritual connection between the members of this artistic circle, reflected in similar views and technical approaches, which are likely to be the basis for the formation of this modernist, "apocryphal" style of Zheni Mehandzhiyska. Research on her life and work is yet to come.