Friday, July 19, 1991 to Sunday, August 4, 1991

    PAINTINGS: DIMITAR NESHEV AND SVETOSLAV TZEKOV Painting is political The communist-direct art education which Dimitar Neshev and Svetoslav (Jack) Tzekov received in Bulgaria taught them that painting is always political. Neshev and Tzekov’s paintings may be regarded as political acts of individuality and free expression. These same paintings in Bulgaria would have been subjected to official repression and criticized as evidence of the artists’ political ‘unreliability’. What is painting for? Dimitar Neshev’s paintings are frankly about the presence of God. Trained in the techniques of icon painting in the manner of the Bulgarian tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church, he is intending now to produce a contemporary iconography of Christian faith. The paintings showing at Gallery 101 use some of those traditional techniques to try to say what a traditional icon painting will say but no attempt to do it in a contemporary way. What is so powerful about a traditional icon is that the religion consists in a painted wooden object. Neshev explains that an experience of an icon creates a correspondence between the image and the observer. The effect is like an electric flow, but it is an experience which in pre-electric times was described as a fluid passing from the icon to the viewer. For the quiet and attentive believer the icon’s effect is a mysterious, fluid sense of transmitted meaning. Whether this works for present viewers will be a matter for them to answer. Neshev’s work partakes in a curious dialogue with modern abstract painting that is like a conversation between people who speak different languages. The paintings are delicate compositions of colour, texture and form, oil colours and metal foil over carefully prepared grounds on wooden supports. The religious and spiritual voice is primary and constant, yet in some of the paintings the object has a strong presence of its own. Even though it may be partly derived form its spiritual source, the presence of the painting/object is a character which it shares with modern minimalist sculptural and painted iconic works. The materials’ own presence speaks of an insistent physical reality, a materialist epiphany. The care, and dare we say force of love, attended upon the painting’s construction has created an object of undeniable conviction. In the presence of these painted objects it seems clear that electronic imagery is insubstantial and phantasmagoric. We might wonder if the theoretically alleged failure of truth in the contemporary world is due to the inability of electronic imagery, and perhaps most photo-mechanical images, to convey human conviction, an ascertainable presence, or a tangible and believable reality. The notion of a spiritual art is likely to be easily mocked by a cynical and art-world weary audience. Religious painting was not encouraged in Bulgaria either. Pictures of social realism and communist history, preferably in line with government policy, were supported by the state. Religion was claimed to be something that kept the people away from scientific truth and progress. But when one’s life and view of the world is traced through religious experience, the paintings of Dimitar Neshev are imbued with spiritual reality. Airbrush and op-art The main themes of Tzekov’s paintings are the persistence of faith, a critique of bureaucracy, and the expression of a sense of the absurdity and melancholy of life. "I’m trying to compare difference. It’s like composing." - Svetoslav Tzekov What might appear at first glance as a delirious and glib airbrush image-rhetorician is actually a sincere painter newly exposed to and uninhibited by North American and international art style conventions. It does not occur to this artist that airbrush painting conventionally carries associations for the artworld cognoscenti of truck and van decoration, graffiti, and gratuitous illusionistic effects. Tzekov is using devices of op-art and the technique of spray painting to make three-dimensional illusions and effects, but this is appropriate for the investigation of his painting themes. He is consciously contrasting soft and hard, light and dark, illusion and anti-illusion. In the painting title Fall, an effect of illusion – the ostensibly real (perhaps surreal) forest of trees and pieces of paper lying on the ground, everything glowing in an eerie white moonlight, - is combined with devices that conflict with that pictorial illusion, - sharp and fractured red shapes painted irritatingly bold and flat directly on the surface yet inserted into the forest branches. Tzekov is trying to create a sense of incongruity and difference, and some sense of the sinister. The red fractured shapes don’t comfortably integrate with the illusionistic picture. This pictorial conflict produces what Tzekov refers to as an effect of the absurd. It is this effect that is important to the intention of the artist who believes that this notion is part of a true description of the world. It may also be mentioned that the colour red is always for Tzekov associated with communism, and he regards the fracturing shapes as an image of the obvious political disintegration of the communist world. There is in this the reinforcement of the notion of absurdity for Tzekov, and a re-emphasis of the double meaning on the title, playing on the fall of leaves and the fall of bureaucracies and communist systems. The use of images of empty pieces of paper and flat rectangular planes in Tzekov’s paintings carry symbolic weight. In the two paintings titled Fall and Dreams, crumpled, abandoned and floating papers are scattered, each blank page void and lifeless. The useless and blank paper refers to the desolation of the contemporary bureaucracy. In Dream, the edges of some of the papers are on fire. In a religiously informed work such as Untitled (black and white checkerboard outlining a niche for Madonna and child), the image of paper can also become an optimistic symbol of the blank page which the future will inscribe, an image in a painting that is about the persistence of faith. Daniel Sharp, G101 Artistic Director