The Voeten Collection represents a unique combination of both Belgian and international works. Currently it comprises over 1700 art pieces that have been collected during a period of more than 40 years. They are exhibited in two separate locations – at the Art Center close to Herentals and at the sculpture park near Gheel.

Svetlin Roussev

Antichamber of the Temple, 1997, oil on canvas, 300 x 400 cm.

Baba Vanga, 2003, oil on wood, 200 x 100 cm.

In the Art Collection Hugo Voeten are forty paintings of Bulgarian artist Svetlin Roussev, born in Pleven in 1933. Baba Vanga, the Nostradamus of the Balkans, is depicted on two of these works: Antichamber of the Temple from 1997 and Portrait of Baba Vanga from 2003.

The Bulgarian Baba (grandmother) Vanga, born Vangelia Pandeva Dimitrova on January 31,1911, acquires world fame as mystic, clairvoyant and herbalist. She has countless followers who believe in her paranormal abilities. She was born in Strumica, located in present Macedonia, at that time in the Ottoman Empire. In her childhood Vangelia is an ordinary but very intelligent girl. She grows up in poverty. At the age of twelve she is hurled in the air during a tornado and ends up in a field. Dust and sand cover her eyes. There is no money for an operation. She is blind en gets her first visions. She becomes a famous fortune-teller. During World War II she gets more and more followers. Many people, even the Bulgarian Tsar Boris III, visit her and hope to hear from her what their own future will bring them. Even several leaders of Soviet Republics, including Leonid Breznev, come to her house. Baba Vanga moves to Petrich, a town with healing thermal springs near Rupite, in southwestern Bulgaria. The clairvoyant will remain there until her death in 1996. Her house is a museum since 2008.

It is said that Baba Vanga would have done different predictions, including the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the attacks on the WTC towers, the tsunami in the Indian Ocean and the rise of the Islamic State. She has become an icon in Eastern Europe but is rather misunderstood in the West because her predictions are not scientifically substantiated. What is more, she had strong ties to the Communist high officials, which would have manipulate her predictions. Anyway, Baba Vanga has caused quite a stir in both her followers as the skeptics. The artist Svetlin Roussev was one of her close acquaintances and he immortalized her in various paintings.
At the request of the clairvoyant a church, a 'memorial temple' is build between 1992 and 1994 on its chosen site near Rupite and dedicated to Saint Petka, the patron saint of the blind. Later a monastery is added. Many people annually visit the site and Bulgarians who live abroad often let baptize their children in that church. The murals of the facade and the icons in the building were created by Svetlin Roussev. The icons deviate from the orthodox rules because Roussev painted them in his own personal style. No distant archetypes but deeply human characters create a fascinating atmosphere. In 1997 Roussev realizes Antichamber of the Temple, an oil painting on canvas that is now in the Collection Hugo Voeten. It is remarkable that all the figures of the painting form part of the mural on the facade of the Saint-Petka church in Rupite but in an other composition. The artist makes many preparatory studies and drawings of characters and use them in his various works.

A temple is a building where many religious meetings take place. In ancient times people could also come to ask the advice of a prophetess, possibly the High Priestess as it was in Delphi. An antichamber is a room where people wait to be received by an important person, in this case, Baba Vanga, represented in the upper left corner of the painting. The blind woman with a headscarf is deep in thought, her hands resting on a pillow. Waiting people, the expression of a chastened soul on their faces, turn away their eyes from the public. They seem to retreat into their own world. One woman, her head resting on the pillow and the hand of Baba Vanga, looks to the viewer but her gaze is empty. The resignation of the Bulgarian people, after so much suffering and oppression, is the only connection between the figures. Remarkable is the little girl with a green plant between her two hands. In a frontal position she looks to the viewer with her eyes wide open. Her pale, drawn appearance, contributes to the fragility of the child. Does she personify the hopeful message the people desire to get from Baba Vanga? Some people bow their heads in respect for the prophetess. The dark background increases the charged atmosphere and the gray figures seem to be carved sculptures. Also striking is the subtle use of blue in the vertical line that often recurs. This is a way for the artist to create depth in his work. Blue is a color that represents restrained grief in the paintings of Roussev. His red on the other hand indicates blood, often shed meaningless, but also love, respect, in this case for Baba Vanga, where all hopes are focused on.

For this work Roussev has made several studies with many variations before he made his final composition. His models often are people he knows well. His parents are frequently present in his works. The lady with the crutch on the painting is his mother. The figure in the wheelchair is Zheni, a niece of Roussev's wife. Donka Pavlova, who has lowered her head in Vanga's lap, is the daughter of Pavlov, the famous Bulgarian poet. In the lower right corner there is a woman sitting down. This is Dora, a professional model, one of the favorites of Roussev. "Drawing from live gives me stability and confidence; it gives something extra to the drawings" says the artist.

Portrait of Baba Vanga, an oil painting on wood of 2003, is another work which forms part of the Hugo Voeten Collection. Svetlin Roussev depicts Baba Vanga again very recognizable by the many preparatory studies he made of her. All the attention of the viewer goes to the face with the headscarf. The face is white. Her eyes are closed. She is painted as if she herself has become a ghost. All attention is concentrated on the clairvoyant because the artist left the rest of the panel unpainted. This is a technique that is often applied by Roussev. The figure of Vanga radiates light as if the artist wanted portray the healing power which is of a different world. The head flows into a body whose existence one can only imagine. The symmetrical composition of black and white emphasizes the duality of the clairvoyant who, on one hand lives in a visible world and on the other hand in an esoteric universe. The mystical figure refers to a consciousness beyond normal human perception. The power that emanates from Roussev's work continues to intrigue the viewer and makes a lasting impression. The Bulgarian soul of the master is palpable in his work. Hugo Voeten bought many drawings of Svetlin Roussev. Previously, the painter used them as study material for his paintings, also for those that are in the collection.

For a long time the artist was Vice Minister of Culture in Bulgaria and director of the National Art Gallery in Sofia. Svetlin Roussev was chairman of the Bulgarian Union of Artists, Honorary Professor at several universities and academies, including the Royal Flemish Academy of Science and Arts. In 2014 he won The World Prize of Humanism. He has been curator of the Collection Hugo Voeten and various temporary exhibitions in the Art Center in Herentals.

"Russev ist hoch sensible, und seine Bilder sind groszartig. Im Gefüge der schnell wechselnden Kunstmoden hat seine Kunst ihre feste Position und strahlt jene Sicherheit aus, die wir meisterlich nennen". Professor Dr. Dr.h.c. mult. PETER LUDWIG

Text: Myriam Geurts, November 2016