By Michelle Campbell
The dead rocked
On Friday, January 27, 2012, the dead were royally rocked in Zagreb, Croatia. There were two events at the Zagreb City Museum that were linked by one of rock music’s premier figures, Jim Morrison, of The Doors. In the museum was an exhibit about Zagreb cemeteries and funerals called “Mors Porta Vitae—Death The Gate of Life”, which strangely included a beautiful plaster bust of Jim Morrison.
There was also another event as part of Croatia’s “Night of Museums” that relates to rock music history. It was celebrating and announcing the release of a photo-monograph telling the story of the famous bust that used to decorate Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris.
The portraitist of Jim Morrison
While all Doors fans have at least seen photographs of the incredible white bust before it was stolen, most people don’t know it was the work of a Croatian sculptor, Mladen Mikulin. Indeed, the artist modestly insisted on putting it on the grave unsigned.
The photo-monograph was published to mark the 40th anniversary of Morrison’s passing through the gate of death, and is titled, “Mladen Mikulin, The Portraitist of Jim Morrison”. It details, in Croatian and English, all the personal and administrative procedures that Mikulin went through to realize his dream of placing his bust on the grave.
One can see letters from embassies, French officials and in an interview with the artist in 1996 by Darko Glavan, a well-known rock critic that was instrumental in popularizing The Doors and other groups in Croatia and former Yugoslavia during the 70s. The 1996 video of this interview has been on the net for years. The photo-monograph is dedicated to Glavan to emphasize his role in the story.
The 44 page booklet is filled with many beautiful images. First, you have photos of Mikulin putting the bust on the grave on June 4, 1981, to mark the 10th anniversary of Morrrison’s death that July 3rd. There are incredible pictures by Patricia Devaux, a French Doors enthusiast who chronicled the magnificent bust when it was new and beautiful.
Patricia has published her own photo-monograph with photos of the bust. I am also honored to have one photo in Mikulin’s booklet, showing the bust in June 1987, degraded but still regal. Sadly, after many years of abuse, the artist’s homage was stolen in May 1988.
SEE ALSO Who stole Jim Morrison’s bust?
A history of homage and inspiration
Mikulin’s homage illustrates a chain of events that is still continuing to this day. He felt compelled to put something on Morrison’s grave that would honor the spirit and example of the poet/singer. He also found the state of the unmarked grave unacceptable. Often it was covered with trash and tributes, and had no proper marker.
The story begins with Mikulin being influenced by The Doors and their music, and continues with Morrison’s example of artistic freedom. Because of Jim’s example, Mikulin made the decision to become an artist.
The bust was done before his entrance to art school, and is his personal homage to Morrison as “a torch bearer of artistic freedom”. His sculpture is meant to express his gratitude to Jim for giving him the courage to become an artist.
More labors of love
Also chronicled are other examples of inspired creation, manifested in labors of love. Already mentioned is Darko Glavan, who became one of the honored dead when he died in a car crash in 2009. Morrison and The Doors gave him the freedom to become a rock critic. Then he was able to return the gift by promoting the music to others, including the budding artist Mladen Mikulin.
I was especially moved by the last two pages of the photo-monograph. There is a postcard by Danny Sugerman, fan extraordinaire and late Doors manager, who since the age of 12 was touched by The Doors and Jim. Not only did he become their manager, historian and promoter, he became a rock music writer in his own right, another example of creative influence, inspiration, and homage.
Sugerman joined the honored dead in 2005. The last page of the booklet shows the bust with the words “I love you Dany” graffitied on it.
Now you have the story of the original bust, but what most people don’t know is that Mikulin produced two more pieces in homage to Morrison.
In 1989, he made a new plaster bust of Jim Morrison with the idea of replacing the original, stolen marble bust. It is on display for the first time in the Zagreb City Museum exhibit. This model was to be cast in bronze but Mikulin decided not to finish it after experiencing administrative problems with the cemetery.
It was long hidden in an attic, then the Curator, a friend of Mikulin’s, persuaded him to put it in the funerary exhibit. It is not included in the photo-monograph because the artist considers it an unfinished work. The finished piece would have been cast in bronze and more in keeping with the new gravestone put on by the Morrison family in December 1990.
The death mask
More astonishing is a bronze death mask produced by Mikulin in 2001, for the 30th anniversary of Morrison’s death. Not a bust, but a reclining bronze plaque with the face of Morrison, eyes closed in the sleep of death. Gone is the idea of the singer/poet as a living spirit. Morrison is being allowed to take his place with the honored dead.
The death mask has never been seen in public before, but there is an image of it on the back cover of the photo-monograph. Even now the artist is hesitant to have it reproduced separately. It is truly a beautiful homage, a summation of artistic inspiration. As with the previous bust, Mikulin dreams of it adorning Jim’s grave one day.
The photo-monograph itself is a labor of love, with contributions all around. Mislav E. Lukšić, a friend of the artist lovingly designed and produced it to tell the Mikulin’s story. Only 200 of the 500 copies printed will be made available to the general public, and they will go fast as an important part of The Doors story. You can order it directly from Mislav E. Lukšić (firstname.lastname@example.org) at a very modest price. This edition of 500 will never be reprinted so they are truly a collector’s item.
The rocked dead
All of this from Zagreb, where on a starry winter night the famous and not so famous dead were rocked, honored and celebrated with Doors music. Rock is more than music, and like all art, is a way of life. Jim Morrison and The Doors were, and still are, a door to another way of life for many around the world. Through their inspiration many like Mikulin have decided to follow the path. Forty years after his death, Jim Morrison is still a door to creativity and freedom and this photo-monograph, and the work it illustrates, is a perfect example.
Top photo by Heidi Purcell © 1981
All photos copyrighted. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission.
Also by Michelle
- The Doors Alive to play Olympia January 2019 with Letz Zep and One Night of Queen
- A music-themed weekend for European Heritage Days (Journées du Patrimoine) in Paris
- New documentary explores Jim Morrison’s last days in his own words
- Guided live music tour in Père Lachaise for the Fête de la Musique
- Lachaise Musical #3 : A Music and Visual Arts Walking Tour in Père Lachaise