Known for her larger than life naturalistic work, Barbora Kylsilkova’s two most important pieces were cut out of frames and stolen. 200 nails were skillfully removed from the canvases easily appraised at 20,000 Euros. Angst ridden over the loss, a light at the end of the tunnel appears when authorities apprehended the thieves. In an almost mind-boggling gesture, Kylsilkova dropped charges in exchange of having Karl-Bertil model for her resulting in the most unlikely of friendships. Not only does Bertil become Barbora’s muse, but reflections each other troubled past and present are confronted throughout the Benjamin Ree’s directed Neon documentary – The Painter and Thief.
There seems to be an attraction between them which is unexplainable or understandable to anyone but them. Navigating through a time our history where a pandemic has paused human interaction face-to-face, this film is even more poignant now. Rees has given us the greatest gift of witnessing what happens when one simply forgives sans judgement. It is a human emotion that most have forgotten or rarely enact. We are so quick to judge, yet here are two individuals who literally let it all hang out with no apologies. The Painter and The Thief, broke my heart, lightened my spirit and engaged hope within myself and humanity around the world.
Yet, there’s a slight hiccup that as open as Kysilkova has been, she ghosts Bertil once he is re-incarcerated to save her own sanity and salvation. Upon his release, Bertil now has the opportunity to illustrate capacity for humanity and forgiveness toward someone who gave him the greatest gift of all – unconditional love. The type of love you only get from your Mom or Dad. It filled me with an elation like I have never known was honored to witness.
When I look at the method in which Rees shares Barbora’s artistry from beginning to end, it makes my spirit soar. Not being an art aficionado, I do know beauty when I gaze upon it. Barbara Kylsilkova’s paintings are sheer artistry that I would dare compare to a modern day Van Gogh. During a recent interview with her, I inquired if she had a user’s manual or blueprint of sorts to her work. As most artists, who are obsessed with perfection, she was not satisfied with her answer and emailed me this instead in referent to the final piece showcased in the film.
“In 2011, I made a painting ‘Heartbeat.’ “It’s a situation when one man is listening to the chest of the other, waiting to hear whether there is or is not a heartbeat. Many times did I wonder whether Bertil’s heart was still beating. So I decided to give it a shape on a canvas. My first intention was to have Bertil’s girlfriend, at that time, Ville, there, as seen in the movie. But, before I started the piece, they broke up. At the same time, I felt I needed to create a painting where I don’t only expose Bertil, but myself as well. Seeing that a friendship may last longer than a relationship. Knowing that in this composition it will be me checking his heartbeat, I brought it few steps further. I placed Bertil to the same sofa on which Chloe & Emma were sitting. Both of us are dressed in the same skirt. This skirt has appeared in “The Pussy In You” (the portrait of Bertil with the wine glass) plus several other paintings I’ve made and so it became certain symbolic of a stigma. And yes, we’re both topless…We are equal.” Barbora goes on to say, “It’s quite a user’s manual, I know, but in this case it’s a must.”
She doesn’t like plastic flowers. He doesn’t like pineapple on his pizza. They’re both tough and extremely blunt. Yet, they are part of a real life mystery in the spirit of a good old fashioned Agatha Christie novel that ends with these two soul mates reframing one of the recovered stolen pieces from a storage room. One could say it was a metaphor for their wonderfully, complex journey. Kudos to Benjamin Rees, to showing what only a camera lens can capture. Raw, unnerving reality as it unfolds in its purist form. Produced by Neon, The Painter and Thief is available now via streaming.