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Mihail the early years

1954, bronze
National Gallery Sofia

Mihail 1954
History Museum Veliko-Tirnovo, Bulgaria
1964. Sofia.
Mihail was born in 1929 in Bulgaria. His father was a Protestant minister.
Mihail’s artist uncle had his studio in the attic of their house. Young Mihail admired his uncle’s life stile, his
beautiful models, the smell of paint, He attended the American Grade School, ate ice cream, played with his
friends and believed that the world was a very fine place. But when in 1940 his young Jewish school mates
were forced to wear the yellow star and the German army flooded the streets and the Allies started bombing
heavily Sofia, and one Sunday morning the Gestapo arrested his father for helping Jews flee the country, his
happy and carefree childhood ended abruptly.

A few years later the Russians rolled into the country in their huge military vehicles. They didn’t arrive from
the direction they were expected to come from and could not see the welcoming banners, yellow paint on
red cloth, stretched over the road. One of Mihail’s uncles, hoping that those banners could somehow protect
his factory “commissioned” him to paint them and these were his first public works.
In 1946 in communist Bulgaria it was not easy for the son of an “enemy of the people” which his father had
been labeled with to attend University. However, Mihail enrolled to study philosophy at the University of
Saints Clement and Methodius in Sofia. Two years later he was accepted at Sofia’s Academy of Fine Arts
from where he graduated in monumental sculpture in 1954.

The artist in 1947, student at

Sofia Academy of Fine Arts

And for Mihail there was a way to circumvent the imposed official and political censorship of art - the national
historical perspective and images. During the eleven years (1954-1965) leading to his departure from
Bulgaria, he created public works of art that survived the tempest of the times, the viciousness of the
communism system and the anarchy that followed.

Mihail’s monument of Paisii of Hilendar installed in Sofia’s Cathedral Square became a focal point for the
peoples’ rejection of the Communist system. Flowers laid at the monument were promptly removed by the
police and a week after its erection, the monument was covered and roped off from the public. It turned out
that at that time a Communist Government delegation had gone to Moscow to plead Bulgaria’s inclusion in
the Soviet Union. The monument remained covered for eight months. Many literary, artistic and public figures
did their best to save the monument from condemnation and destruction. At a meeting called by the
Communist Party Politburo a furious confrontation erupted between the President and Mihail, who at that
point was not entirely sure if he would walk out of there free. He did – but only to find himself an outcast. At
the green clothed table, adorned with goblets holding thick red and blue pencils, all his commissions were
irrevocably canceled and his Paisii of Hilendar monument was ordered to be destroyed (the monument

With all means of survival gone, the artist took the first opportunity to leave the country. He was granted a 45
day valid passport to travel to “Tunisia only”. So Mihail left on his self- imposed exile that would bring him, via
Tunisia, to New York six years later.
One notable exception was the plundering of his Sofia studio after the collapse of Communism and the
destruction of his vintage plaster originals, drawings and memorabilia. The destruction provoked powerful
nationwide media condemnation with articles and photographs of Mihail’s broken sculptures, which had been
dumped on the street.

Mihailʼs studio in Sofia, Bulgaria with the destroyed works

The artist arrived in Tunis in 1965 and embarked on his new life of freedom, enchanted by the exuberance of
Tunisia’s Mediterranean colors, so different from the ones he was accustomed to. Paul Klee on a trip to Tunis in
1914 was also overwhelmed by the intense light there, which inspired his awakening to color.
In Tunis, Mihail exhibited with the artist group Ecole de Tunis. One of his sculptures, a portrait statue of Ibn
Khaldun, the 14th century Arab poet and philosopher, attracted President Bourguiba’s attention. Bourguiba asked
Mihail to sculpt his portraits and commissioned the sculpture for the 150 meter long Carrara marble wall for the
National Monument, The Martyrs of Bizerte. Mihail carved the marble in Quercheta, Italy, where he met Henry
Moore, Marino Marrini and Isamu Noguchi who were working in the same quarry courtyard, and Jacques Lipshitz
at the nearby village of Pietra Santa.

Influenced by the culture of ancient Carthage, in 1967, the artist developed a group of abstract symbols he called
Sunday Morning*. They became the basis of an extended series that included prints, wood and bronze sculptures
and other mixed media works. In 1971 the artist emigrated to the USA and settled in New York, NY.


Marble reliefs for theTHE MARTYRS OF BIZERTA, National monument, Tunis

Details from the 150 ft. long marble reliefs on the monument
Mihail 1968
Metal sculpture at the Olympic Stadium, Tunis
Mihail in 1969 in Tunis