Bulgarian artist Dido Peshev is most certainly passionate about both his work and Metallica. Spending his childhood outside Sofia amidst the beauty of the Balkan Mountains, Peshev’s path to both art and music carries an almost fable-like quality, and the result has been a dream for Peshev. Here, he discusses his early life and love of nature, offers a detailed overview of the current art scene in Sofia, and shares his own musical endeavors.
1. Tell us a little bit about your childhood in Sofia?
I grew up in a small, beautiful town near Sofia called Etropole. It’s located close to the
northern slopes of the Balkan Mountain range here in Bulgaria. The view around my home is full of beautiful mountains, and this was the place where I spent my afternoons riding a bike, exploring new paths and other “adventures” every kid knows.
I remember finding my father’s audiotapes with songs of some old classics like Uriah Heep, Nazareth, and Deep Purple. Back then, I loved playing tennis, so the tennis racket became my “guitar” – rocking with it on my bed. Queen’s “Breakthru” video was another thing I remember like it was yesterday. I was so excited, waiting for the train to break the wall and hearing the killer bassline right after that. Meat Loaf’s music video for “I’d Do Anything For Love” was also something that attracted my attention.
In the summer of 1998, a friend gave me ReLoad. It was my first time going to the seaside. Imagine me and my parents in our car – Wartburg 353, an East German classic – with me listening to “Fuel” while our car was overheating. We had to cool it down every 30 minutes. This album was my summer vacation soundtrack, and I think this was the moment that changed something in me - Metallica got into my blood.
Two years later, while I was attending drawing lessons, I enrolled in guitar lessons too. I cried after my first one. I had to learn D minor chord, but my finger was not able to go to the third fret. A year later, I was playing with a guitar orchestra.
Through all that time, I dreamed of an electric guitar. One day, my father and brother brought me a present – a real electric guitar, a Bulgarian one, with a hand-made distortion stomp box. “Jump in the Fire” and “Enter Sandman” were the first riffs I learned on that guitar. After that, I went through “Ride the Lightning,” “Harvester of Sorrow,” “The Memory Remains,” trying to learn all the riffs I loved. Maybe not the whole phrase, but just a fragment of it. It was like I’d on the top once I accomplish some of them. Not long after that, me and my father changed the body of the guitar. I liked the shape of James’ [Gibson] Explorer, so we did something similar to it. The final result was not really in tune (I can say the same for the guitar before that), but the whole process, carving it each day after school, working with bare hands, assembling it, and everything else until the end was so spectacular for me.
After that, we made our first band playing a mix of covers and some original songs. My first battle jacket was also born – with only one Metallica patch on the back and a skull in flames that I drew. I was often trying to catch any reception to a local rock radio station. In my hometown, surrounded by mountains, it was hard to catch any signal, so I made an antenna with around 30 meters of cable connected to my radio receiver. Walking on the roof beams, I found a spot where I was able to listen to it, and it helped me explore rock music in my early teenage years.
Photo Credit: Victoriya Vucheva Photography
2. Tell us about the first images you saw as a child that made you want to be an artist?
Not sure if it made me want to be an artist, but something that impressed me for the first time a lot as a child was the character of Edward Scissorhands – his skills, the place he used to live, his love story, and how the people reacted to him. I remember I felt sad about the end of the movie, so I started drawing him. I kept one of my drawings – Edward in the backyard shaping the dinosaur from the bushes.
Later on, when I was already living in Sofia, the things that brought me to what I do now were some of my favorite bands and artists from the punk/hardcore/metal scene. Fifteen years ago, I came to Sofia not only to study but mostly to make a new band. I studied landscape architecture, and a lot of what I’ve learned there, the architectural drawing, helps me even now in the drawing process. After my fifth year here, we started recording our first album, booking shows, and traveling in different towns. I loved the do-it-yourself ethics from bands I was listening to and still listen to today: artists like John Baizley from Baroness, Jacob Bannon from Converge, and many others like Kylesa, Mastodon, and Gojira. I was inspired by the idea of printing the t-shirts for my band, making the artwork, selling it at the shows, and talking with the people who came to hear our band. This was the moment when I decided to give it a shot.
I was living in an attic with two rooms. My friend Eddie and I turned one of them into a small printing studio. My first press was literally made from a piece of wood, two clamps for the screen frame, and a wooden plate for the t-shirts. I did most of my band’s merch. We screen printed the cover of our first LP and some of my friends’ band merch, too. We started booking shows for other bands – the first poster I did was for Kylesa when we booked them in Sofia – right after that, Torche and Cancer Bats. Music, drawing, and the connection with bands opened a new inspiration and “journey” for me; these things connected me with some of the huge rock bands. One of my first posters for a big show was for Gojira at Academy Brixton in London. People like [Gojira’s] tour manager, Tailor Bingley, and later on, Bill Kelliher from Mastodon and their tour manager, Tim Moss. These people were so kind. They trusted me, they gave me the opportunity to work with them, which was a huge “helping hand” for me to be where I am now talking about Metallica. Like many other fans, I was a kid with a room full of Metallica posters. The band was my guiding light and still is today. Now, I have the opportunity to do posters for it. Sometimes it looks unreal.
3. What music were you hearing as a young kid, and then as a teenager?
Judas Priest, Metallica, and Black Sabbath were some of the first bands I got into. The first live show I attended was when Judas Priest/Queensryche played in Sofia. It was a killer show – my father drove me and a few friends of mine to the stadium. Everything was so epic and surreal for me when Priest opened with “Electric Eye.” Later, in my early teenage years, a friend showed me Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, and Motörhead. Then, I found Slayer, Maiden, and other bands like Tool, etc. But Motörhead is still the band closest to me - their raw power, the attitude, and Lemmy – he was the living, breathing embodiment of rock n’ roll.
4. What kind of art appealed to you as a creator?
I love the colors of the old sci-fi illustrations, book covers, and old psychedelic posters. I’ve been in love with Ernst Haeckel’s work – his microscopic findings that mix science with art. Brilliantly colorful and highly stylized drawings, watercolors, and sketches reveal how different forms of plant life appear under the microscope. These illustrations always remind me of the years at the university exploring plant morphology and the life forms with the microscope in class. Although each hand-drawn organism looks like something from a science fiction book, Haeckel’s work sheds light on the incredible hidden intricacies of real, natural forms that inhabit the Earth. The details of Hieronymus Bosch’s works, Albrecht Doré, Gustave Dürer, and other amazing artists – all the vintage botanical illustrations, and, let’s say, books like “The Birds of America” by John James Audubon, have all been inspirations for me. I find it not only in the details of their works, but also in the colors they use, the story behind their drawings, the times in which they were created, the information the artists had about the surrounding world, and the tools and media they were using.
Photo Credit: Alexander Stanishes Photography
5. What images and symbols have been the most attractive to you over the years?
Sometimes, I love watching documentaries about ancient, sacred places and lost cities. The symbolism behind the buildings, the way they were built because of specific beliefs, like in Egypt. It’s interesting to explore this mix of psychology, religion, art, literature, and myth. I try to incorporate symbols in my prints, too. When drawing a poster for a band, I try to relate the main object or small fragments with it. My first Metallica poster was for the show in Warsaw, 2019. It was a Winged Hussar under the night sky. There you can find “Orion” hidden between the stars. Just next to the horse, you can see two bees taking pollen from flowers. This was not planned to be included, but when I was drawing the poster, I listened to James Hetfield on Joe Rogan’s podcast. He talked about being close to nature living in Vail, Colorado, the quiet life, how he feels like part of the nature there, the mountains, and his passion for his beekeeping hobby, so I said, “Let’s put two bees inside for James.” Most of my prints are related to the song title or the lyrics – I like mysticism and “dark” themes in some artworks.
6. Is nature important in your work? Do the woods and wildlife inspire you?
For sure. It’s the one place I can be with myself outside of the noisy city and all things related to managing my shop. I love city life, but I get the energy to keep doing what I do when being on a walk in the forest or playing live with my bands. Many of the details in my drawings are from real-life references – I take photos of flowers, insects, interesting woods; I even bring back home animal skulls found in the outdoors. It’s easier for me to explore and draw the details this way. Saying this, I thought of Ray “Bones” Bandar, a biologist and high school science teacher who collected more than 7,000 animal skulls in the basement of his San Francisco home. His basement was like a scene from a movie. For 60 years, Bandar was a volunteer field associate in the department of ornithology and mammalogy at the California Academy of Sciences, collecting some amazing stuff.
7. Would you say you’re a realist or a dreamer?
I think I’m a realist. Since I started doing show posters for bands, I’ve been dreaming of creating one for my all-time favorite band – Metallica. But I’ve learned that passion, perseverance, and a lot of hard work is the key to achieving something. To be self-aware, not to push things and do something at any cost, but to first realize what makes you happy. I love my life, and I love what I do now for a living; I have never imagined it that way. I have never thought I would be chatting with Steffan Chirazi, too.
When you love what you do, you put a thousand percent into it. For me, it is not only creating a poster. I do prints for bands I am a fan of, I like their music, and I love to get into the details of the band like watching interviews, listening to podcasts, seeing their recording process, the gear they use live on stage, etc. Through all these things, I feel more sure of what stands in front of me when starting a new project. This makes my work easier. Then, once I screen print the posters, I sometimes go to the concert and watch the show. I meet the band and talk with them. This whole experience is the most important for me. Twelve years ago, I worked at the Sonisphere Festival – “The Big 4” show here in Bulgaria. On the Friday before the show, me and two other guys built the Tuning Room for Metallica, and I have such good memories from back then. It was a unique atmosphere of a great celebration.
Photo Credit: Alexander Stanishes Photography
8. What would your Desert Island Metallica disc be?
I will for sure have Master Of Puppets in my pocket.
9. Tell readers how the contemporary art scene in Sofia has changed over the years?
Regarding music, some of the important acts here from the ’90s were bands like Babyface Clan and Panican Whyasker. These bands influenced a lot of the alternative scene here. You can also check Les Animaux Sauvages if you are into electro/minimalwave/postpunk. In the hardcore scene, important bands from the early ’90s were Face Up (Vendetta) and Last Hope, in which I now have guitar duties. All that scene started in Varna years ago, and I can say it is still here because of them. For the fans of hardcore, punk, and a bit darker tunes, I can recommend Outrage, Indignity, BFDM, Adult Crush, and Expectations. The other band I am also in is called Nocktern (if the readers are fans of heavy-fuzzed guitars mixed with low-end synthesizers and electro).
There are good graffiti artists and amazing printmakers here using the classical etching medium technique in a contemporary way, and visionaries like Zoran Mishe and the rest of the guys from PRINT NEST studio – check their work. Something really beautiful from the past few years is the work of another friend of mine, STOPAN – a master bookbinder at the Bulgarian National Crafts Chamber. His bookbinding is influenced by the old Bulgarian decorative traditions as his base.
10. Walk readers through your latest poster for the band.
I had a few different sketches for my first Metallica print from 2019. This was one of them. It was influenced by “Spit Out the Bone,” and I wanted to represent the main character from the video directed by Phil Mucci. I knew James was inspired by the phrase “Spit Out the Bone” that was taken from the British punk rock band GBH and their song “Passenger on the Menu.” In an interview, he said that we could be a much more efficient race if we just allow computers to help us, that they are helping us, but how far does that go? I did the main character and changed his face with a skull inspired by Pushead. In the background, the main drone machines control and destroy the world. Actually, this song also became my favorite from Hardwired…To Self-Destruct when I first listened to the album.
11. Are there any lyrics specifically that influence your work?
In this particular artwork, it was the theme from the music video. Basically, as I said before, I always search for the “strong moments” in the lyrics. Maybe a phrase or the album title I can visually represent in my work later on.
12. Talk a bit about Bare Hands Society. Bare Hands Society is where I have been presenting my work since 2011. Before that, I was living in that attic, screen printing my stuff and selling it directly, meeting or shipping to clients. It is a small shop/gallery space in downtown Sofia where you can find most of my prints, but also another part is the collection of artworks on t-shirts, caps, accessories, and other clothing. Closer and more personal to me are the prints, but I’ve always enjoyed creating art for apparel. You can find the work of other artists, too. Under that name, I wanted to collect and present works that have been hand-crafted the same way as my work is. I do an exhibition presenting the art of different artists each year called “Wooden Wall” – a screen-printed wooden plate collection in different formats with the work of tattoo artists, graphic designers, other printmakers, and graffiti artists. The past two years didn’t happen because of the pandemic, but I’m already working on ideas for the next edition. I also plan to invite show poster artists from outside Bulgaria to present their work here.
I’m truly happy that the spot is now recognized by people with common interests. It became a spot for meetings and different events: exhibitions, album listening parties, or just hanging in front for a drink or two in the afternoons once the sun is at the front doors. It’s a pretty social place that connected me with a lot of nice people, even working with some of them on projects outside our country. I made a print for Marilyn Manson because of his physiotherapist who came to the shop. I did merch for some movie productions and other bands - I remember Pieter Smit, who was actually taking care of the show logistics for some of the biggest acts in the world like The Rolling Stones and AC/DC, came into the shop once. The moment he walked in was just a few days after my print for Warsaw came out. He told me he saw the print because the same year they were taking care of the stage logistics for the 2019 Metallica European Tour. Right from there, we did a merch for his crew, and we’re still working together. The shop brings me a lot of daily work taking care of it, so I can’t draw every day, but once there is a music poster, I get away and try to be focused only on the project.
I love this place. I feel like it’s my second home. And looking back now at all the written things above, I can say that everything is connected. All the small steps and difficulties can lead you to the things you truly love.
The yellow, the black, and the unmistakable “M” have imprinted on millions of sub-consciences. And as 2023 draws to a close, from the tiniest avatar to the grandest mural, the 72 Seasons/M72 World Tour colors scream “Metallica” wherever you see them.
Intense and deeply sensitive, Lee’s work is all about an instant connection through his subject’s eyes and the consequent energy that moment generates. His portraits, showing each band member in open, unfiltered, and vulnerable states, have taken on a following of their own. Such is the raw honesty in their depictions; every inch of their years lived, seen without compromise.