The aptly named Cerulean Arts (the outside is a lovely shade of blue) is showing work by Nikolay Milushev now until May 5. The Bulgarian artist moved to the United States back in 2001 to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and continues to live and make his colorful and socially-charged art in in Philly.
Among the works displayed in the gallery, Milushev has some older pieces as well as new work and a number of pages from sketchbooks, which led to the final versions. One piece entitled “Atomic Playground” demonstrates Milushev’s illustrative style rather well. The work is divided into two main parts, two-thirds to the left, one-third to the right. The left side pictures a cityscape before a muddy orange sky and plumes of graphite smoke. Some type of mutant lingers near the bottom, doused in blood, and the whole scene registers as agonizing; the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. The right side shows the white silhouettes of cartoony children floating amidst multicolored balls, which fit together like puzzles. Obviously this section is the “playground” part of the title and hints at the innocence and whimsy that divides our everyday lives from the fear of atomic war. With Iran and North Korea rattling their swords of late, the fear of annihilation is no longer a distant relic of the Cold War.
The artist’s sketchbooks provide a look at some of his process. One page holds what appears to be the origin of his title “Atomic Playground” and pictures a tank and gasmask as well as a foreboding military figure with a helmet that mirrors German World War II garb. A lot of the sketches on the page were scrapped in the final version in favor of a general anti-war sentiment. He focuses on the cityscape and the air of destruction instead of infantry and tanks – both of which would be essentially useless in the face of a massive bomb.
Another piece of particular note is “In the Search of Water.” Here Milushev takes hold of another contemporary issue, but one that American and Western society is generally far removed from: clean water. A cool blue background of circular patterns mimics the ripples of a pond, but it appears distant. Nearer and much bolder is a dark, hard-edged form bearing an emaciated, skull-like face. The tenuous organic forms and the skeletal head imply that life is barely clinging on. With famine and drought across huge parts of Central Africa, much of the world knows full well the misery of thirst. When the nearest faucet or bottle can provide us with fresh, clean water, the idea of searching for a drink seems very much a world away.
Each piece in this show is a conceptual message that often comes across as a warning. If we do not pay heed to the important issues going on around us, we risk a lot. Our safety and the health of the planet are in our hands to a large extent. Nikolay Milushev illustrates scenes that are visually stimulating but also beg for vigilance and justice on topics that should be important to all of us.
Cerulean, both a gallery and shop, is located at 1355 Ridge Avenue. They deal in decorative and fine arts from artisans and artists from around the world. They also offer classes in their space, which includes a small backyard work area.