by Svilen Stefanov
The art of Milko Pavlov is undoubtedly memorable, despite its initially apparent non-narrativity. I remember with great clarity his sandy surfaces from the early 1990s, as well as his large-format paintings with their complex, rugged surfaces in the space of the XXL Gallery from the middle of the same decade.
The reason for this sharp focus of social presence is that both before, and now, this artist has been winning appreciation not only for his abandonment of figurativeness (or the search for its boundaries), but also for the negation of combinatory compositional attractiveness, understood as a visual ‘entertainment’ of shapes and colours, which, at the time, characterised the abstraction that never developed in our country. Thus, Milko Pavlov generates a course of development that is particularly important for Bulgarian art.
Turning to the historical sources of this painting (to understand it more fully) is possible but perhaps unnecessary, as they can only partially explain the encoding of Milko Pavlov’s graphite surfaces. The shadows of Antoni Tàpies, Yves Klein, Alberto Burri, Piero Manzoni, or Jules Olitski, will probably direct us to the line of continuity of an art of painting where the surface and its relief simultaneously construct the material presence and semantic levels of the work. They will direct us to the painting, which is present with the realism of its substantive concreteness, but also with the psychologism of this same concreteness, insofar as it is not all the same whether, before us, there stands a plane of glass, concrete, metal or plastic.
There is little doubt that post-variativity characterises contemporary art. In this connection, it is logical to assume that the key to understanding Milko Pavlov’s large grey canvases is to be found in the material, in the technique. However, if I have so far referred mostly to ‘surfaces’, that does not mean that we are talking about abstract art (Art Informel). The impression is of a restrained and simultaneously sensual, markedly intentioned artist.
The images originating from this technique may lead the viewer to the most unexpected visual associations within the borders of his individually limited cultural memory. I emphasise that here the technique and the process are meaning-generating, inasmuch as the artist aims (in his own words) at а ‘self-producing’ of the work. The graphite image builds itself, as it is executed in the technique of frottage, and the result deliberately obtained stands at the boundary of fortuity.
In other words, this is a conceptual limitation of the rational achievement of the work that appears before the eyes of its creator in the process of rubbing the graphite onto the canvas or paper placed on a certain textured base. In fact, the already-mentioned ‘frottage’ comes from the visual experiments of Surrealism and, in particular, from Max Ernst’s drawings, leading us still further beyond the idea of an objectless art of painting closed in upon itself.
The ‘human content’ of these works is inevitably linked to the social sensitivity of the artist who, in his previous exhibitions, has publicly stated that he is interested in problems such as the planet’s catastrophic population growth, or the problem of faith through the creation of icon-like images ‘Not-Made-By-Human-Hands’. However, the fact is that no artist can stand beside his works in order to explain his concern about the eventual evolution of the artificial intellect ‘Sophia’, while his works translucently percolate all kinds of meanings. What exactly, then, stands before us?
It is difficult to decipher in the frottages the anxiety generated by the existence of the mega-computer ‘Sophia’, for this is obviously an art that has self-restricted itself from the narrativity of the legacy of pop art and conceptualism. And this is not necessarily bad, because didactic political correctness has for decades now condemned contemporary art to an indolent predictability, which is not even especially productive, in that the impact of visual arts is principally limited and functions for specialised use among people who, one way or another, share humanistic values.
In this exhibition, Milko Pavlov poses questions and seeks his creative authenticity through the enigmatic filter of the images that emerge in the mind of the viewer. We can never be absolutely sure how our consciousness will react to the graphite rubbings in question, but, in any case, the unpredictable metaphoricity of the conflict between the non-sensuous and the specific matter is present.
Socio-psychological fiction is possibly a good definition of Milko Pavlov’s artworks because, formally speaking, they do not mean anything. They are materialistically concrete, but the building technique is slickly intentional and predisposes to personal empathy (or even specific judgments, who knows?). Graphite images may, for example, remind us of the Holy Shroud, simultaneously insisting on the material as a surface, but also on its corruptibility, on the fragility of human memory, on the relativity of space and time – exactly the opposite of the statistical pragmatism of artificial intelligence. Thus, in answer to the question: ‘What is this before us?’, one can formulate something of this sort: this is self-creating graphite, which is matter ambiguously going beyond itself.