ARTHUR AND EXCALIBUR: THE LEGEND OF KING ARTHUR AND THE GREAT MAGIC SWORD – GERMANY
13 October 1995
Esslinger has just released a cycle of illustrations by Iassen Ghiuselev about the legendary sword named Excalibur, the revenge of the wise lady of the lake, of knightly good fortune, of intrigue, sinistre arrogance and retribution. Twelve coloured tableaux, which are brought to life with virtuosity, which stop one’s breath, which portray the brilliance and the magic of mediaeval knightly romanticism.
The aesthetically stunning sujets of the Bulgarian artist are neither the Gebroeders van Limburg nor illustrations from 14th-century books à la Codex Manesse, but the achingly beautiful language of the English Pre-Raphaelites.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones in the mid-19th century painted the old Library at Oxford Union with scenes from the legend of King Arthur. Whether Ghiuselev is familiar with this masterpiece, I do not know. But it is sure that he has carefully studied the Pre-Raphaelites and their romantic world of fantasy. Whoever has seen, at least once, Morris’ oil painting of the melancholic, sentimental image of Queen Guenever (La Belle Iseult) will understand from where Ghiuselev has received his inspiration for the female form in his illustrations. Tender, exceptionally graceful, idealised beauties who recall fairytale princesses. The young Bulgarian artist handles excellently these models of the 19th century. Along with masterly compositions of horsemen, knights and horses. With the exactness and character of an expert, he stages page after page of tournaments, knightly duels with lances, outfitted in armour and fully accoutred. Every detail is executed with almost raw precision. The green in combination with a nacreous reflexion layered on every motif lends to these portraits a fairytale magic.
While the great attention to detail of the Russian artist Gennady Spirin sometimes attains an almost maniacal fervour as concerns the décor, Ghiuselev keeps a cool distance. His mise en scène, in all of its virtuosity, never possesses the pedantic exactness of photography and never looses itself in petty fetishism.
Anyone who remembers his illustrations for The Queen Bee (winner of the Luchs 93) will discover that, through Arthur, the publication has evidently given the artist less space for alienation. The masterly game with white elements that fascinatingly intersects any coloured composition find its place here.
How fine, fantastic, lucent, gradated in different shades, rich in contrasts, multifarious is the gift of this young artist from Sofia, how assuredly he masters the art of pictorial representation, as his illustrations for Pinocchio and Alice’s in Adventures in Wonderland show; an amazing discovery from among the tiring sameness of the middlebrow, paltry talent of which we see so much today.
13 September 1995
The story is brilliantly illustrated by Iassen Ghiuselev. In severe forms and cold colours, he graphically alludes to striking glowing and Pre-Raphaelite pictures. With a hint of the 19th century, Ghiuselev points himself to the richness of the symbols of the national revival, something that also exists in the legend of Arthur.