Exhibit of paintings by Albanian artist Ali Miruku will open Friday at the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach/
By Charlie Patton/
For the first 35 years of his life, Albanian-born artist Ali Miruku was forced to paint what the government wanted him to paint in a style the government dictated.Miruku was one of 10 artists selected to be trained and employed under the strict direction of the Albanian communist government. His job was to document the lives of workers and to create monumental images of Albania’s past. Having graduated from the Arts Academy of Albania in 1979, he was expected to create “socialist realism,” said his daughter, Arjola Miruku.
“Everything goes through the state,” she said. “Everything goes through a screening process.”
The results were often impressive: Breathtaking images of workers at a hydro plant. Vivid depictions of Albanian warriors battling the Ottoman empire. Six of his paintings are in the Albanian National Gallery of Art. One was chosen to illustrate a postage stamp.
But he still chafed at the demands bureaucrats placed him. Things changed in 1989 with the fall of Albania’s communist government. He would move to Switzerland, then to the United States. He spent nine months in Ponte Vedra Beach in 1993, then returned permanently in 1997.
Meanwhile, his art became “more and more modernist and expressionist,” his daughter said.
Many of these more modernist paintings adorn the walls of the home he shared with his wife, Suzana, before his death at age 59 in February 2014. Many of them will soon be on display at the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach in “Freedom,” an exhibit that opens with a reception from 6-9 p.m. Friday.
Ironically, the artistic freedom that Miruku enjoyed before moving permanently to the U.S. became more limited by his choice to live in Ponte Vedra Beach. Others advised him to move to New York where his more abstract work would be celebrated, his daughter said. But Miruku wanted his children — Arjola and her brother Erjon — to go to good schools. So he chose to stay in Ponte Vedra Beach.
But in Ponte Vedra Beach, people weren’t interested in abstract paintings by an Albanian artist, Arjola Miruku said. So his landscapes and portraits reverted to a more realistic style, in some cases almost photorealistic.
“I paint what the dollar wants,” he told his daughter.
His early days in the U.S. were a struggle. To put food on the table, he worked construction. He applied for a job as a dishwasher at the Athens Cafe on the Southside. But the restaurant owner learned of Miruku’s artistic talents and hired him to do an interior mural for his business. After he saw what Miruku could do, the owner told him he couldn’t hire him as a dishwasher and commissioned him to do more murals for the restaurant.
In 1996 he went to work for Creative Environs (now Environs), a company that specializes in scenic art, murals, sculptures and three-dimensional signage. His first work for the company was a mural for Adventure Landing on Beach Boulevard. From 2005-2009 he worked as an artist and sculptor for Sally Corp., which makes dark rides and animatronics.
He became a passionate American resident. And he continued to paint, both commissioned works for his clients and more personal work for himself.
He came a very long way from the boy who at 8 asked his father to buy a box of paints, only to have his father tell him he could feed a family for a day and half with the money those paints would cost. But his father relented and bought him the paints and gave him his life as an artist, a life that is now to be celebrated.