Jivko Sedlarski: I seek and showcase beauty

You can make art even from such unexpected materials as reinforcement bars

Photo: Krum Stoev

If I see a woman with a graceful walk, pretty dress and high heels, I am quick to put down that image to paper. I try to capture her femininity and sensuality with my lines, the air that envelops her, says sculptor Jivko Sedlarski in an interview to Europost.

Mr Sedlarski, when did you first discover the magic of sculpture for yourself?

My father was an artist. I used to be glued to his side, could sense what he was thinking. I had a small easel placed next to his, a canvas, brushes and oils. Later, while attending the Vocational School of Ceramics and Glass, I directed my energy towards sculpture. I had a really good teacher. Ever since, I have been focused on that genre. I have always compared myself to athletes - you stay in peak condition by training every day.

Why did you leave Bulgaria and what drew you to France?

I left after my third consecutive commission for a monumental sculpture in Bulgaria fell through. Following the seismic political shifts of 1989, the country plunged into a deep crisis in the beginning of 1991. At the time, political experts estimated that it had 40 years of existence left. I decided that I would not be able to work and reap the benefits of my efforts. I saw France as the mecca of arts and a melting pot for artists. But when I got there, I realised that I was a hundred years late - it was no longer the centre of the art world. On my way out of Bulgaria, before I closed the door so to speak, I saw a news item in which Cesar said, “Art in France is finished. It thrives where there is money and nowadays the money is in New York.” Seeing that it was 1 April, I thought that the great French sculptor was joking. But it turned out to be true. Nevertheless, France gave me many more opportunities than what I would have had otherwise.

It must have been hard for you in the beginning. How did you manage?

First, I had to learn the language so that I could communicate with people. That never hindered my work, though. I started out with drawings before I moved on to sculptures of wood and then stone. Once I started selling, I could afford to pay for my iron sculptures to be cast. My first commission came from the town-hall of Lyon, which wanted me to make a sculpture for a roundabout that would blend in with the natural environment. I recreated a tree that had caught my eye in the nearby park and it looked as if it had hopped from there right into the centre of the roundabout. The project was so well-received that it opened a commissions floodgates for me. I have made over 80 trees of that type in France, Italy, Germany and China.

Is it not a bit sad - a tree made of steel?

Oddly enough, I have never thought about it that way - that steel trees might elicit sadness. Is it because they have no leafs and are not alive? But they are colourful - only one of them is in a shade of rust, the rest are blue or red, with a couple of silver ones sprinkled in there. Silver was not my colour of choice but the end result was striking. When they were floodlit with colour, the effect was amazing - as if they came to life.

How did you come up with the idea of dresses made from reinforcement bars?

I was invited to create a sculpture for a private park. I wanted to use wood but then, as I was strolling down a hill, I vividly saw my artwork - a dress in the full swing of the dance. The moment I came back to my workshop I drew the image from my vision. I named the sculpture Rainbow in the Dark. At 3.2 metres high, it is made of reinforcement bars of stainless steel. This material can be polished and rendered to have this beautiful shine. Everyone loved it, including me, and this is rare for an artist. I wondered if I would ever be able to make something even more beautiful. I have been working on that theme ever since. In my first solo exhibition in China, there was this small, 14-centimetre-tall replica of Rainbow in the Dark. In 2016, I got a call to go there and make some alterations to two other sculptures. My hosts told me that a client of theirs really liked the statuette and wanted me to make a three-metre version of it for him.

Because of these dresses, you are called the Knight of Steel Ladies. Are women your inspiration?

I seek beauty in everything around me and strive to showcase it. If I see a woman with a graceful walk, pretty dress and high heels, I am quick to put down that image to paper. I try to capture her femininity and sensuality with my lines, the air that envelops her.

Are the materials you use not too rough for that?

Yes, but these are not dresses to wear, they are to look at. I use reinforcement bars - a material that is so rough that shaping it into an artwork seems almost inconceivable. But I am very happy that I discovered it for myself. It gives me the freedom to create any shape I want. This is an easy and enjoyable process for me.

Do you have a favourite sculpture?

The aforementioned Rainbow in the Dark. The Mermaid dress is also in that category, and I am now smitten with Deva (Virgo). Let us hope that it will not be the last. Perhaps something else will inspire me one day. My heart is in the old tradition - I want to please the eye, not to play games with my audience. Some artists create these ugly and confusing works, without putting much thought into them, and then sit back with a smirk, enjoying the sight of gullible viewers fawning over them. It is unacceptable to me. I would rather make a sculpture for an urban space that would cause passersby to admire it.

Close-up

Jivko Sedlarski was born on 16 September 1958 in the town of Elhovo, southeast Bulgaria. He graduated from the Vocational School of Ceramics and Glass in Sofia in 1977 and from the National Academy of Art in 1989. For two years he attended educational courses in anatomy. He also specialised in sculpture at the Fine Arts Academy of Berlin, Germany. The artist and his family have been living in France since 1991. Jivko Sedlarski works in the field of monumental and small statuary. His creations are kept in museums, art galleries and private collections in Bulgaria, France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, the US, Lebanon, China and other countries across the globe.

He recently opened a solo exhibition at the Aspect art gallery in Plovdiv.

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