Detailed Biography

Detailed Biography

Pavel Mitkov was born on 17.08.1977 to a family of young engineers. Back then, life in socialist Bulgaria was set and uniform – everybody had work; education and healthcare were free of charge; people went on vacation once a year to whatever destination they were sent to from work. Those are the artist’s earliest childhood recollections of a seemingly smooth and secure life, which, however, was lacking many other opportunities for creative outlet and recognition. So, it wasn’t until the fall of the Berlin Wall and the following political changes in Bulgaria that Mitkov, then an adolescent, came to an awareness of himself as an artist. Little by little, Europe and EU integration loomed, giving rise to hopes for a new and different life.

“I cannot say that the world has become better but it is surely more interesting,” Mitkov said in a recent comment about the period since 1989.

From 1991 to 1996, Pavel Mitkov studied in a secondary school of mechanical engineering formerly named after Stalin (but at the time the name had already been changed), where he studied German. The school had an ambitious programme with practical training in Germany and a team including two German native-speaker teachers. “We were a boys-only class,” with 28 boys and not a single girl. But with his art, Mitkov managed to attract attention from girls in nearby schools. Back then (after the regime change), Bulgaria was struggling with hyperinflation, shelves in shops were empty, and people were getting several times as poor every day. The artist started working hard at the age of 15, painting and supporting his family through tough economic times with proceeds from sold paintings. “I was the only one to go to school in my father’s car and to afford to fill in fuel. At that time, it was a great luxury, but I was happy I had learnt to make a living and succeed through my work. I had no idea I was going to be a painter. I just painted and sold my paintings in a couple of small shops in Sofia. Whenever a painting sold, I was proud to show off a higher standard of living, inviting a girl out for a pizza.”

His parents’ ambition, mostly his mother’s as she saw the young artist’s growing interest, prompted them to get in touch with Prof.Tomov, who was at the time one of the boffins at the Academy of Art in Sofia. He agreed to meet them and have a look at Pavel’s works. “I will never forget that moment, as it was a cornerstone in my life. The professor received us in his office in the attic, where I showed him photos of some of my paintings. Little interest did I see in his eyes – every day students showed him paintings – but that was when I seem to have realised that art is not just an imprint, a painting, but a statement, a story of an artist’s course of life on canvas. And it is interesting and meaningful when this life is interesting and has a meaning to it. What in an 18-year-old boy’s course of life could strike the seasoned professor?”

“What I see makes it very clear that you have a sense for colours and all you have to do is go on. But a more important question is: Which way will you choose? For there are two ways: the first, the conventional one is becoming somebody’s protege, having one of the famous painters as your tutor, studying in his class at the Academy and he will slowly but surely promote you; the second, the tough one, is to walk on your own, do what you like, but you should know that few have succeeded in this way because it is difficult and full of hurdles and struggles and it takes a lot of strong will and boldness to gain your end.”

Mitkov did not need to think to make up his mind – he had already chosen the second way. “I am extremely grateful to the professor for that lesson. It was a life changing moment for me. I chose the tough way because the world of art looked like a sinking Titanic to me and I saw no point in becoming somebody’s protege at that moment. I rather wanted to turn my own salvation into art, and that proved the right thing to do because many boffins went down and dragged their proteges down with them.” The second way, however, brought upon him the anger of the guild, which Pavel Mitkov had disregarded from the very beginning and refused to count with from that moment on. That prompted a renowned gallerist in the eastern Bulgarian city of Varna, Vanya Markova, later on to call him “the bad boy of Bulgarian painting”.

Student years and early shows

The artist’s first solo exhibition was his baptism of fire. Picking “the second way”, he saw the professor’s words come true. Many challenges lied ahead of the young artist. In most “major” galleries in Sofia, nobody even cared to have a look at the painting, but he was sent straight away. “I will not forget how I was laughed at in galleries when I dared to hint at a one-man show. A gallerist even quipped he would gladly hold one as soon as I turned 70. Never underestimate a man’s enthusiasm or ridicule it! This same gallery went under during Bulgaria’s transition period and is now mine.” The young artist went high and low but everywhere he got a cold shoulder and slammed doors. A number of unrelated events in his life as well as the situation in Bulgaria further increased pressure on Mitkov. He was facing military conscription, not having chosen nor enrolled at a university, and in addition, he was deeply in love with a girl. “There was no money; every day there were protests and demonstrations filling the streets; crime was soaring and I was trying to preserve my own self, my love and most of all my principles. Paints were very expensive, and so was canvas. The only consolation to me was the biography of Picasso, who had also lived through a similar period.” At that time, the soul of the unfledged artist found relief in reading American literature, which was at that time just coming into its own in the country – Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill among other writers. He assembled his own canvas panels out of old bed sheets pulled over stretchers he nailed together from old wooden pallets. That was in the 1993-1996 period when Mitkov enrolled in Landscape Design at the University of Forestry in Sofia, passing the drawing admission exams with two straight As. “With the Academy ruled out of my plans and the military drawing a bead on me, I had to either be conscripted or enrol at a university. I immediately chose the university rumoured to have the largest number of female students and the smallest study load – the University of Forestry. Moreover, the admission exams were in drawing – easy as a piece of cake.”

Later on, it turned out that studies were not that easy and the subject required a lot of technical drawing, practical training and various courses. Mitkov, however, took it easy, indulging instead in carefree student life. Late night parties and get-togethers to celebrate failing exams was what the artist was interested in at the time. He attended attentively lectures in botany, dendrology and garden art. It was then that Mitkov got his first atelier in what is known as Students’ city in Sofia – created as a student campus area for all universities in Sofia but also featuring rich night-life. “This atelier was huge fun – half of the night we had parties drinking with my fellow students, then I painted, and every night there was a different girl staying at my place. But nobody ever did the cleaning. I vowed that I would marry the first girl to clean up my “student den”. And it did happen that way. O”

Indulging in student life and discouraged by galleries in Sofia, Mitkov painted and stashed his paintings in the cramped waiting room of his father’s garage. Occasionally, a painting would sell but the money was not enough even only for paints. One day, a client of Pavel’s father was Bulgaria’s former Prime Minister Dimitar Popov. He was invited for a cup of tea in the waiting room of the garage. And while his car was being repaired, Popov had his first encounter with Pavel Mitkov’s art. “Whose paintings are these?” Popov asked. “Well, they are ours,” was the reply. “No, I mean who is the painter? It is clear they are yours.” “My son. He paints them and stores them here,” Pavel’s father answers. “And can I meet him?” Popov asked. Pavel was nearby at that moment. Pavel Mitkov’s art strongly appealed to the former prime minister. He took a lively interest in the technique, in the way of applying paints and what served as an inspiration for the young artist. That was when Pavel’s career took off. He mustered his courage to ask the prime minister for some help in setting up a solo exhibition. Popov was happy and willing to put the artist in touch with a former rector of the Academy of Art, Prof. Alexander Poplillov. “In my head, there was controversy – on the one hand, I had chosen to walk the path of a lonely warrior, on the other hand, I was being directed back to the Academy.” The meeting, however, was most interesting. Prof. Poplillov looked carefully at all of Mitkov’s paintings and then asked Pavel to wait outside while he had a word with the ex-prime minister. He said: “This boy starts where few ever reach. Do not enrol him in the Academy, here they will spoil him. And do not tell him what I am saying because he might get conceited and think he is a great artist. Which he is, actually. His paintings have that enthusiasm typical of youth and life, which will live through many trials of the spirit. Give him a hand and then let him swim on his own.” It wasn’t until much later that the ex-prime minister shared those words with the artist. Coming out of Prof. Poplillov’s office, he retorted: “Done! We have got the first exhibition at the Earth and Man National Museum.” “My joy was beyond words.”

The exhibition was a success and put the young artist in the spotlight. The show attracted many intellectuals, artist, politicians and representatives of the fledgling Bulgarian business. A big part of the paintings were sold and Mitkov received an offer from the National Gallery for Foreign Art for a second exhibition. In addition, East-West Euro Intellect showed Mitkov’s paintings in Dubai and Manila, where it sold Bulgarian intellectual property. Then, a period of creative standstill followed until Pavel Mitkov’s first participation in Impression annual fair of arts in the Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, where he attracted the attention of a number of Bulgarian galleries, which started actively selling his works in Sofia, Plovdiv, Tryavna, Burgas and Varna. For just a few months, Mitkov became the best selling contemporary Bulgarian artist and got an offer for an exhibition from the most prestigious gallery at the time, Vitosha, and its owner Maximilian Kirov. He hit the headlines and films were shot about Bulgaria’s 22-year-old gifted artist.

Since 1998, Mitkov has been living life to the fullest with constant appearances, different exhibitions opened every month from New York to Tokyo, travelling the world to the east and to the west. He has got married, divorced, then married again. He has changed his car 114 times, has bought and sold properties, won and lost a lot, always moving on. With a family and two kids, the artist has come to understand what Prof. Poplillov meant by “many trials” better than ever.

“Everything that happens does so for the better and comes to show you the right way to truth and light. A way that matters more than the final destination, as there is no final destination – it is only a new beginning.” This period of Pavel Mitkov’s life has been very busy. The key points are listed below:


- 1998, Tryavna (the old school), Bulgaria. An exhibition focusing on the ethnographic complex explored Bulgaria’s beauty in terms of cultural heritage. It attracted visitors including representatives of the local administration and MPs Tatyana Doncheva (one of Mitkov’s keenest fans), Svetlana Boncheva and the University of Forestry Rector D. Kolarov.

- 1999, Varna, Bulgaria. The first exhibition was held at Darzalas Gallery (named after the Thracian Great God of Hellenistic Odessos, modern Varna). 30 artworks were displayed and sold out for less than an hour. The second exhibition in Varna was held at Active Art Gallery upon the suggestion of MP Petar Dimitrov (also a keen fan of Mitkov, later on a minister of economy and energy). The gallery director and curator, Ms. Vanya Markova, now owner of Art Marconi Gallery, put up an exhibition by Pavel Mitkov titled Flowers. The event was actively covered in local and national papers and TV channels. It was followed by a number of shows at Active Art Gallery and later at Art Marconi.

- 1999, Sofia, Bulgaria. The first one-man show at the National Palace of Culture. The artist opened his own atelier where he exhibited his new paintings to the already growing crowd.

- 2000. The first one-man show at Bulgaria Hotel, 4 Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd.

- 2000-2001. Mitkov opened his own salon at one of the top central locations in Sofia. He constantly changed exhibits, becoming a sort of vogue for politicians and businessmen. That was where the government represented by then newly-elected Bulgarian prime minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg and Gotha started selecting prestigious gifts of state among Mitkov’s artworks.


- Bulgarian cultural centres: Then, he exhibited in Bulgarian cultural centres in Budapest, Vienna and Warsaw.

- A painting of flowers was presented to the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit in Bulgaria.

- March 2001. St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Board of Trustees offered a painting depicting the church by Pavel Mitkov as a gift to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The then mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov also attended the exchange of gifts ceremony.

- The Bulgarian Parliament, represented by its then speaker Prof. Gerdzhikov and Minister of Interior Georgi Petkanov, awarded Mitkov’s paintings to international guests and Bulgaria’s partners, including the presidents of Hungary, the Czech Republic and China, a number of ministers of Eurozone countries (a painting by Mitkov is decorating the office of the German minister of interior). His artwork has reached as far as the Japanese Imperial Court.

- 2002-2004. Mitkov set up a number of charity exhibitions in the USA upon an invitation of the International Eye Foundation in Washington. He was also given an atelier in downtown New York to use.

- 2004. King Albert II of Belgium was presented a painting by Mitkov during his visit in Bulgaria. Similarly to the painting given to Russian President Vladimir Putin, that one also depicted the largest church on the Balkan Peninsula, St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

- 24 May 2004. A painting especially for Pope John Paul II was commissioned to Mitkov. The Vatican order was a great challenge for the artist. The Parliament trusted him to choose the topic himself. Being an Orthodox Christian, Mitkov decided to paint one of Bulgaria’s sacred places, Bachkovo Monastery, where Exarch Stephan, a titan who played a significant role in saving 50,000 Bulgarian Jews during the Holocaust, was buried. Taking into account the fragile relations between Bulgaria and the Vatican and the preposterous involvement of Bulgaria into the scandal over the assault against Pope John Paul II, there was more to the gift and there was more to the painting, which marked a cornerstone in the diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and the Catholic world. “That was the moment I came to realise the importance of my work,” the artist says. Immediately after that, in a grand gesture to Bulgaria, the Pope presented Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi church near the famous Trevi Fountain in downtown Rome as a gift to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

- 2005. Pavel Mitkov exhibited for the first time in Japan. An exhibition comprised of 30 works was put up at Session House in Tokyo through the courtesy of the Bulgarian embassy in the country. The event was opened by Academician Sendov, who was at the time Bulgarian Ambassador there.

- 2006. Mitkov opened a new gallery opposite St. Nicholas Russian Church at 8 Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd in Sofia. The opening ceremony was attended by the elite of the political and business life in Bulgaria. Deutsche Welle sent a TV team to shoot a documentary about the artist.

- 2007. Mitkov started visiting Berlin regularly. The German capital was one of his favourite destinations. He enjoyed excellent relations with Bulgaria’s then ambassador Meglena Plugchieva and her husband Plamen Alexandrov, who had been Pavel’s professor at the University of Forestry. Mitkov attended cultural events in Berlin and took an active part in holding Bulgarian cultural soirees at the Bulgarian embassy. At the time, head of the Bulgarian Cultural Centre in Berlin was Ms. Oli Grueva, a long-standing friend of Mitkov’s.

- 2007. A painting by Pavel Mitkov was presented by the rector of the University of Library Studies and Information Technology, Prof. Stoyan Denchev to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during his visit in Bulgaria, on the occasion of awarding the patriarch an honorary doctorate.

- 2008. Mitkov opened his own gallery at 5 Nurnberg Strasse, Berlin. He contributed to the activities of Herzzentrum, selling his paintings through the high-end auction house Christie’s with the aim of supporting the organisation.

- 2008. Mitkov opened his own gallery at 5 Nurnberg Strasse, Berlin. He contributed to the activities of Herzzentrum, selling his paintings through the high-end auction house Christie’s with the aim of supporting the organisation.

- From 2008 to 2011, Mitkov’s life involved incessant shuttling between Bulgaria, Germany and Russia. He flew at least twice every week, crisscrossing Europe and Russia to open numerous shows not only in Moscow and Berlin but also in Zurich, Rome, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Innsbruck, Bremen, Milan, Karlowi Wari and Novosibirsk. During that period, Mitkov scooped plenty of fine art awards:

- Laureate of the "Medal of the Franz Kafka;

- World Prize of Salvador Dali for Fine Arts by the Alliance Salvador Dali International;

- Order of Lomonosov;

- Prize for Fine Arts of "Masarykova Academy" Prague;

- Gold Medal, France 29th January 2009;

- Diploma of participation at the International Painting Camp "Bucovina - Past, Present, and Future", Romania 2011;

- 2009. The newly elected Russian Patriarch Kirill was presented a painting by Pavel Mitkov during a visit of Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov in Moscow.

- 2011. Mitkov opened a permanent gallery at GRADNHOTEL PUPP, in Karlowi Wari.

- 2011. A large exhibition was put up in the Russian Parliament. Its speaker at the time, Sergey Mironov, was Mitkov’s fan and had a painting of his in his office.

- Pope Benedict XVI received a painting by Pavel Mitkov as a gift from the Bulgarian Parliament on the occasion of 24 May, St. Cyril and Methodius Day.

- Since 2011, Mitkov has participated as an exhibitor in major art fairs: Art Manege Moscow, Art Innsbruck in Austria and Art Monaco.

To date, Mitkov has been constantly searching. He has been crisscrossing the world and rendering it from his own perspective. Despite having plenty of opportunities to live anywhere in the world and being welcome in many places, Mitkov has remained in Bulgaria and cares deeply about his country and his kin. “A man only has one mother and one homeland. It is not by accident that we are born at a specific place. We are bound to it for life and must read carefully the signs of fate so that we can answer the question: Why there? If a man is unhappy with their homeland, they perhaps need to ask themselves what they do for it. Bulgaria has always lived in interesting times, and the present times are exciting, too. We are a great nation with a very long history and very rich culture. A Bulgarian is able to create more than a hundred other people, but unfortunately, is also able to destroy a hundred times as much. It is for that reason that Bulgaria’s progress goes unnoticed globally. But it is also for the same reason that no empire has ever managed to break us.”

Mitkov’s future plans concern the world’s spiritual growth. The artist is contemplating expanding his activities in China, Russia, US and, of course, Bulgaria.