Bulgarian icon-painter inspires awe in London
Ivan Djidjev’s art excited both the Pontiff and members of the British Royal Family
Alexandra Zlatinova, London
15 October, 2011A Bulgarian artist managed to touch to the heart both the Pontiff and members of the British Royal Family. Ivan Djidjev is an icon-painter, humble and quiet, on the wrong side of thirty, who has given himself to his art. He is the talk of the entire clergy, whether they are Eastern Orthodox, Catholic or Anglican. His icons are canonical, yet each of them features a particle of the artist's rich inner life.Djidjev comes from the city of Sliven, where he took the brush for the first time and graduated from the Art College. Subsequently he enrolled in the National Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna under Professor Michelangelo Pistoletto. He studied two years at the studio of the incumbent minister of culture, Vezhdi Rashidov. He started painting images of saints by mere chance: a client commissioned him to make his first icon. "I was fond of it for I am a religious man and I happen to believe that an icon is not just a work of art," Ivan says. His talent was noted as early as his first works and he was showered with commissions. A couple of years ago he found himself in the UK. He chose London to be his residential place for the city, he believes, is an international hub of art. In the beginning he did not hesitate to do whatever it took to provide for his wife and daughter. Yet he prepared a portfolio of his works and sent it to several agencies. A month or so elapsed and nobody even called him. When the phone rang at long last, what he heard were praises of his gift and an offer to work in collaboration. Since then the artist has gone a long way. Now he works with Master Iconic Art and has tens of clients. Last year he marked a pinnacle of his career, being commissioned to paint an icon of St. Benedict, which was presented to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI during His Holiness' State Visit to Great Britain. The Pontiff kept the icon in his private rooms during his four-day visit and now it is displayed in a prominent place in the Vatican.Ivan's ties with Catholicism are even deeper. In 2002 his relative Fr. Pavel Djidjov, who suffered a death of a martyr, being killed by the communists, was beatified by His Holiness Pope John Paul II.Presently, works by the artist are on display in the Bulgarian embassy in London. In May this year, his works were exhibited at one of the oldest churches of London, St. Mary-le-Bow church, designed by Sir Christopher Wren. His icon of St. Nicholas was exhibited at the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, HM Tower of London, where the wives of Henry VIII were buried. Djidjev was invited to present a modern art installation at London's largest cathedral, St. Paul, a favoured place by millions of tourists and worshippers from across the world. In end-October he is scheduled to open an exhibition in Seattle, US on the sidelines of the Sixteenth Congress of all Orthodox Churches.Among his most significant future projects is a competition for the mosaics of one of the four domes of the Westminster Cathedral. The project is worth several hundred thousand pounds and the best past masters are supposed to vie for the commission. In end-October the members of the Royal Family and the high clergy are expected to announce if Ivan was selected to work at the St. George Chapel.