It isnít everyday that you get to see the works of contemporary East European artists ó in this case, Bulgarian óeven if it is exclusively graphics and not paintings or sculptures. Thirty-seven of them by 27 artists, some of them well known, were on view for a week at the Academy of Fine Arts recently to mark the Bulgarian Republicís formal declaration of independence from the Ottoman Empire. A week wasnít enough for word to get around. But showcasing graphics rather than economic and political milestones indicates that art can be a significant option in contouring a countryís brand image with an appeal thatís general and non-controversial.
The diverse themes and styles on view confirmed that the universal language of modernism has muted regional particularities. Perhaps the disruption of Bulgarian culture by the lengthy Ottoman occupation and then the straitjacket of social realism imposed by Soviet politics had, to an extent, stifled traditional, local elements in art. However, a certain European flavour, reminiscent of creative fountainheads such as DŁrer and Bosch, could be sensed too.
This was most prominent in Evgeni Kuzmanov, whose sharp, monochrome lines mined mythology for an intriguing narrative on centaurs, though it didnít seem to refer to the abduction of Hippodamia and the battle that followed, immortalized by Ovid. Buyan Filchevís figures of macabre comicality embedded sly allusions to the seminal experiments of early 20th century art and to the tribal-folk dialects those had drawn upon. The imagery of Valeri Vassilev, Nikolay Maystorov and Tz Panov were rooted in a dark imagination. While Vassilevís ďstrange creaturesĒ disintegrated centrifugally (picture), Maystorovís sculpturesque Angel was dense in its grim vulnerability. And Panovís apparitional shapes evoked both crumbling castles and rather wary crowned heads.
If there was a brooding intensity in Stefan Markov, Rumen Skorchevís accent on mask-like stylization and clownish figures shone with wry humour. S. Venovís Time built up a low-key dramatic tension with hefty, black bands that intersected and splintered into chaotic lines and cross-hatches as phantom figures moved behind them. Gredi Assaís scribbly lines and whorls had a persuasive immediacy, while Elena Panayotova captured what can be called the era of air mail in a work of chatty verve. Vladimir Chukichís montage of disparate images was too elaborate and remained obscure in its references. But the playful motifs of K. Rizov, reduced to skeletal forms, and Petar Petrovís fish-eye view of a boat from underwater could engage even the uninitiated.
The abstract works ó whether geometric like Svilen Blazhevís Motif, mildly Expressionistic like Christina Ganevaís The Other Side or poised in between like Panovís Jazzówere more universal than regional, but articulate nevertheless. And two artists compelling in their understatement deserve mention as well: Milko Pavlov and Branko Nikolov.