1. Creations in Poland (1992-1998)
The works can be appreciated for their rich colours and texture. It was emphasized that Valkov found the original (unique for him) style right from the beginning of his career, something that other artists are looking for a lifetime and often without success. For the audience “the Valkov’s Style” was the form, and rarely undertaken by other artists, the theme of the Gypsies.
by Jerzy Żywicki, Ph.D
A Critique on the Work of Stojan A. Valkov by Jerzy Zywicki, Ph.D., Art Critic and Professor of Fine Arts at the Institute of Fine Arts, Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, Lublin
Stojan A. Valkov has been in possession of the diploma of the Institute only for several years; however, only for several months he has dealt with sculpture the style of which can indicate the birth of his own artistic vision. University education, which introduces students into the world of values, established by ages long tradition of fine arts, attracted his attention to specific aspects of art form, enabled him to envision the potential of certain materials, and develop appreciation of solid workmanship. It has not, however, as it often is the case, always contributed to manifesting his own individually in fine arts, or made the artist find his own creative way. During university years and soon after that period Valkov’s works had mainly imitative character and were made of plaster. Employing purposeful deformation and overstatement, he analyzed the problems concerning portraying human body. Although nowadays we accept these works as wholly correct (as far as form and workmanship are concerned), we are at the same time struck by their eclecticism resulting probably from too strict adherence to academic patterns and schemes. Works of such character could not give artistic fulfillment to, first of all, their creator. It is particularly because he rejects any imitation in art, considering it to be non-creative; moreover, the concept that “art has to be individual” is expressed by him with such a conviction as if it were his life motto. Satisfaction with his own creation came several years after finishing his studies and together with liberating from academic traditionalism.
Creation of a series, Valkov found a of intriguing themes and a fascination of working with new materials thus helping to enrich the means of expression and, the most important aspect, his personal, artistic vision.
The series “The Romany” started in 1996 and is still being updated. It is composed of a number of sculptures created in a traditional technique of empty cast brass or weld from thick steel sheet. The first sculptures make impression with shining surfaces of golden metal and they portray the figures of dynamic, picturesque poses of women and men. These compositions are closer to abstraction than realistic portrayal. All figures are stylized and
depicted in a dreamlike manner. Realistic elements (e.g. dresses) are treated mainly as sculpture fortna aimed at achieving a particular goal. That is why the figures of women Gypsies in loose, spread dance dresses, or a male Gypsy- the Endless Exile with a walking stick in his hand and a traveling bag on his back- become comprehensible for the viewers only after a closer look. The lack of the realistic universality motivates Valkov to care not only for aesthetic values of his sculptures but is also a conscious intention to give to the viewers the chance to personally interpret these themes. Associations can surely be multiple. The spectators who see solely the representations of dancers in golden forms will definitely think about the fascinating folklore of the Romanies. Those whose eyes will be attracted by the figure of the wandering Gypsy may miss the life of an exile that is full of unrestricted freedom.
The value of presented brass works is constituted, most importantly, by their pictures uniqueness which is related to impressionistic tendencies. The way the mass is treated is indicative of the need to affect the viewers by means of multi sectional and multi view compostions, i.e., suchlike compositions that have equally attractive value when looked at from different angles. Various textures are constituted by surfaces that are as smooth and rough surfaces contributes to the achievment of an effective character of these works. Light influences the expression of mass, too, since it defines their smooth contours and profiles and blurs rough shadows and reflections.
The second part of Valkov’s exhibition is characterized by a considerable amount of originality and artistic expression in sculptures which represent the group of unnaturally large and aggressively expressionistic heads. These compositions, similarly to the works described above, should be also treated as allusions to human postures. These are rather “portrait-symbols” or attempts at creating a synthetic picture of a Romany but not portraits per se pertaining to particular individual models. In none of the heads can we find individual features exposed or traces of concrete characters. One can notice, however, characteristic traces of Gypsy physiognomy, such as narrow foreheads, broken noses, or mustaches.
The idea and accomplishment of creation of the sculptures is connected with PRIM (Lublin)- an industrial company in which the Bulgarian-Polish artist was employed as a welder. He discovered that wastes thrown away to the scrap yard might become material which could give enormous plastic
possibilities in the hands of a skillful artist. He started to cut them with a blowpipe and then joined the parts by means of welding into figures of the Romanies.
Every metal scrap has its specific shape and form which ii a way influences the composition of the sculpture. It does not create any important limits; on the contrary. It develops artistic creativity. When making sculptures, the artist can select different scraps of metal, join them into wholes in whatever way one likes and set them at various angles. It is particularly important for Valkov since he considers it most important to maximally affect the viewer. The idea of a cycle has been employed for exactly the same objective, which in turn lets him develop his ideas into meaningful series. What follows is the possibility to deal with these ideas in multifarious ways and to confront separate versions. The sources of sculptures are various. The most important of them is imagination or a photography from an album devoted to Romanies, or even a coincidence (e.g., a mental association between a metal scrap and a human head). The sculptor starts from numerous sketches and small clay and plaster bozzettas. The author treats them as a starting point for further work but he is not a slave of theirs; he always abandons his first concepts when he notices that suchlike actions will benefit his sculptures. Similarly, he does not treat the finished works as ultimately finished and unchanging. He thinks of further enrichment of their form by their transformation into compositions made of brass scrap, or by combination of welding and clay.
Valkov’s portraits affects the audience with their form, format and expressive value of the matter. They seem to be heavy and monumental due to their dimensions (certain sculptures reach 1.40 m in height) and form. The latter has been determined by the material which is difficult to form and make the artist simplify his work maximally and also leads to geometrisation and synthesis. The shape of sculptures does not result from the technical limitations but, as has already stressed, suttee thinking undertaken in order to magnify the strength of expression of particular sculptures. The intended expression has been achieved by means of particular sculptures. The exaggeration (e.g. in a few works there is a recurrent motif of exceedingly prolonged neck) and, probably most of all, expressive exposure of numerous cracks, rifts and stitches. The impression is emergence is due to partly natural color of steel scrap and partly to the color metal gets when treated with the acetylene blowpipe.
It is surprising that Stoian Valkov’s artistic debut has shown his own problematic and shaped a specific means of communication. My opinions is that every viewer who looks at his sculptures will consider them an interesting artistic proposal which will remain in their memory for a long time. It may not result from the artist’s stylistic solutions but from the formula of his works and an excellent expertise. An observation worth remembering is that the artist devotes his work to Romanies, an ethnic group which is considered intriguing and to some extent exotic but which has been underestimated by the artists.
University of Maria Curie-Skłodowska in Lublin, Poland
”…The sculptures are extraordinary. Huge, metal busts measuring a meter or more in diameter. Gaps, cracks, scars and holes all add up to create a map of a face with its inimitable expression. Those faces are alive. A hint of primal, raw wildness gives them an unpolished, exotic look…”
by Malgorzata Gnot,
From ”TALENT IN THE JUNKYARD”, Kurier Lubelski, 31.05.1996, Poland.
2. Creations in USA (2002-2022)
„Gypsies constitute a recurring motif in Stoian Valkov’s works. It may be because the artist’s life has been for many years not unlike that of gypsies – always on the move, always looking for a place to settle down”.
Although he now lives in the U.S., Valkov hails from Europe’s sunny state of Bulgaria. He was born in Ekzarch-Antiomovo, a small village on the Black Sea coast. As a thirty-year old man he moved to Poland and into a new linguistic and cultural environment. For a few years Valkov lived in Lublin, a beautiful city in Eastern Poland with a several century-old history and uncountable historical landmarks. While in Lublin he enrolled in courses at the Faculty of Art, Maria Curie-Skłodowska University. University level education allowed Valkov to become familiar with the history of art and aesthetics, but above all helped shape his artistic technique. He has very fond memories from his college days when he was not only learning the basics of drawing, sculpting, painting, printing and composition, but also studied form and – what was of vital importance to him – gained a respect for material and a solid technique. In 1992, after a five-year course, Stoian Valkov earned a master’s degree in art education. In order to receive his diploma he had to submit a sample of his work for the scrutiny of an examining board made up of the Faculty’s professors and present a written thesis. He presented a set of his sculptures while the thesis dealt with the work of his famous countryman – Christo.
Stoian Valkov’s artistic debut took place shortly after his graduation. His sculptures, much different from his earlier student works, had a unique, individual style which clearly showed the birth of a completely original artistic vision. The need to achieve that indigenous style had its roots the artist’s outlook on life and his psychological expectations. The view that “art has to be individualistic” was expressed by Valkov so often and with such conviction that it almost sounded like his artistic creed.
Valkov’s debut was a series entitled “Gypsies” which was made up of hollow-cast brass sculptures. The artist showed figures of men and women frozen in dynamic, colorful poses. Among them were Gypsy women in wide, wind-blown skirts and the character representing Gypsy the Wanderer with a walking cane and a traveling bag across his shoulders. Although the sculptures were figurative, they were much closer to abstraction than realistic representation. The figures were all highly stylized and dreamlike and all realistic elements (e.g. dresses and gowns) were there mainly as a form, a means of artistic expression. That is why the figures representing Gypsies became fully readable to the viewers only after a closer inspection. That was the artist’s deliberate effort which was to give the audience a chance for multiple and, above all, personal interpretation of the themes. And the associations were indeed plentiful. Those who saw mainly the dancers frozen in motion in Valkov’s shiny, metallic forms, probably thought about the fascinating world of the Gypsy folklore. On the other hand, the viewers captivated by the wandering Gypsy may have experienced the longing for a nomadic, yet colorful and intoxicatingly free lifestyle.
The second set of Valkov’s sculptures from that period to exhibit the same originality and incredible concentration of artistic expression was a group of oversize and aggressively expressionistic portraits of Gypsies. Similarly to the works mentioned before, those sculptures were portrait-symbols, merely alluding at the human form. They seemed to be an attempt at creating a synthetic representation of a Gypsy, rather than a realistic rendition of a singular model. Although the “heads” were lacking individual features of a particular person, they all exposed familiar traces of a typical Gypsy face such as narrow foreheads, crooked noses or moustaches.
The idea behind that series of sculptures came with a discovery the artist made while working as a welder for one of the Lublin industrial companies. He realized that scrap metal in the form of steel pipes, discarded and unneeded, could become artistically-charged material in the hands of a sculptor-welder. He proceeded to cut them into pieces with a torch and then welded them together to form the figures of Gypsies.
Valkov’s early work was received with awe and even admiration by the professional art critics and the artistic community. What earned their recognition was the fact that the artist was able to so clearly establish his theme and his fully unique style of expression over such a short period of time. Valkov’s sculptures were viewed as an extremely interesting artistic offering, both formally and in terms of its content. The sculptures were praised for their expressionistic form achieved through the use of deliberate deformations, exaggeration, as well as rich texture and color. Equally praised was the impeccable artistic technique. Valkov’s choice of his main theme was also considered original: the Gypsies, although universally considered an exotic and intriguing ethnic group, were nonetheless seldom subject of artistic attention.
It appeared that the successful debut, followed by a number of individual exhibitions of the artist’s works in Polish galleries, would be the beginning of Valkov’s grand artistic career. That, however, was not meant to be as the life caught up with him and sent him on the road again – this time to the USA. Difficult immigrant life meant that his beloved sculpting had to take the back seat to settling down on a different continent, learning the language and finding a job. Unable to pursue his own career, Valkov became an avid observer of the American cultural and artistic scene. He spent every moment of his spare time prowling the museums and art galleries. He was fascinated by the works of artists exhibiting in various venues and at the same time began to overcome his inferiority complex. He realized that his own ideas about sculpting were different from what everybody else seemed to be doing, that what he had to offer would be fresh and original. Valkov’s belief in his own creativity came back and he began contemplating a return to sculpting. After a few years of working as a welder Valkov achieved a degree of material stability and decided to return to sculpting. He rented a spacious, comfortable studio and began work with metal and the themes that captivated him a long time back – the portraits of Gypsies.
One of the most representative pieces of Valkov’s recent period is a monumental (three meters tall) bust of a moustached Gypsy smoking a pipe. The sculpture is worth a closer look as it not only represents a sample of Valkov’s artistic abilities, but also stands as a testimony to his unquestionable talent. The gigantic bust of a Gypsy will not leave the viewer indifferent: its sheer size is captivating, but not more than its formal expression or the quality of material from which it is made, its texture and color. The shape of the sculpture is geometric and synthetically simplified, although it is at the same time extremely fluid. The artistic value of the bust is mainly in its paint-like form, bearing an influence of impressionist tendencies, as well as its complex texture. The artist’s treatment of the figure shows the urge to operate through a multi-profile composition, i.e. to create a form which is meant to be viewed from various, equally appealing angles. The varied, light-dependant texture is achieved through the use of highly polished, almost mirror-like surfaces interspersed with rough, wrinkled elements. The play of light achieved through the mixing of large, polished surfaces with elements full of small dimples and protuberances together with well-pronounced welds makes for a pleasing, paint-like character of the piece. The complete sculpture is a metaphoric take on a human portrait.
I have been following Stoian Valkov’s career for many years. Therefore, I feel justified in claiming that both the deeply humanistic theme and well-conceived form of his works, rooted in an interesting artistic vision and superior technique, deserve the attention of art critics and enthusiasts. However, even the greatest talents need a helping hand. I strongly believe that if Valkov finds his Medici, he will shortly make a name for himself as a great artist.
Prof. Jerzy Żywicki
Faculty of Art
Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Lublin Poland, 2006