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.

Genko Genkov

Untitled (landscape, Tundzha River), 1978, oil on canvas, 69 x 95,5 cm

Genko Genkov was born in 1923 in the village of Choba in the neighbourhood of Karlovo, at the southern end of the Balkan Mountain. He grew up in Burgas, an important industrial, cultural and tourist center on the Black Sea in Bulgaria.

Richly talented, already from his childhood, he went to Sofia in 1940 where he studied at The National Academy of Fine Arts. He became acquainted with the work of Van Gogh, Cézanne and Gauguin. Impressed by their technique and expression he developed, as a second-year student, a unique style. In 1948 he completed his training at the academy in a difficult time for the Bulgarian artists, under strict communist rule. Artistic activities were subject to strict ideological rules of realism with glorification of totalitarian regimes. Resisting these imposed standards led to political repression. Western influences were razed to the ground. Genko Genkov was a remarkable Bulgarian artist with a highly individual spirit and a rebellious character. During the communist regime he permitted himself a great freedom of expression in his paintings, which earned him many problems.

Stalin died in 1953. Almost immediately the first signs of facilitation in the art expression were felt. Now the artists were able to give a more personal touch to their landscapes, still lifes and portraits. However, there was still a long way to go. Change only came in 1956 with the de-Stalinization in the USSR and its consequences in Bulgaria. The desire for more freedom found an impact in the art world. New expressive possibilities were possible.

Genkov developed a more personal, powerful style. His works often became as genius, crazy, wild, expressive, exuberant and boisterous as his life was. The artist could hardly reconcile with the civilized world. Repeated stays in prisons and psychiatric hospitals and excessive use of alcohol signed his life. Through his almost constant nervous excitement he was looking for a necessary way to breathe. That way he found in art. "Art is just one step in the direction of the madness of truth. Since truth is madness."(Genko Genkov)

Like the French Fauves at the beginning of the 20th century the colors explode on the canvases of the artist and Genko Genkov wants to liberate the painting of artistic conventions. The intensity of his emotions come out in full force at the viewer. The rough brushwork, simplified forms and bold distortions are also characteristic elements of his work. When using light and shadow is usually without intermediate shades and without soft transitions. The artist believes that a painting of pure colors must exist and no different shades of one color. "I don't dig undertones.I believe a painting should possess pure color" (Genko Genkov). They are powerful colors he catapults on his canvases, colors of burnt illusions of life. Mostly he painted landscapes in expressive colors. He used the contrast between red and black, red and dark blue and purple.

The love of color is present everywhere, both in his portraits and his landscapes. According Genkov violet is tragic, the cruel pressure of the nature to the world. "Purple symbolizes cosmic might" says the artist. There is something highly aesthetic in its flaming red colors. Red is, according to him, an expression of the energy of the world and symbolizes the material that radiates the purest light of life. The artist reworked his paintings constantly. Sometimes it took years before he put the finishing touch to his portraits, nudes en landscapes.

Genko Genkov, a living legend in Bulgaria, worked until the last days of his life and died in Sofia on March 3, 2006. His works are part of the permanent exhibition of numerous renowned museums of Bugaria and abroad, including the Guggenheim Museum in New York. In the Collection Hugo Voeten are three portraits and four landscapes. The collector bought them directly from the artist in his studio. After the death of Genko Genkov a foundation was created and his daughter, Eugenia Genkova manages his work.

"The copy is rather an object than a piece of art. Originals, despite their flaws are more beautiful because they do not repeat anything". (Genko Genkov)

Text: Myriam Geurts, February 2017