Emil Venkov's Message exhibition cannot be seen as a comprehensive retrospective or a taking-stock of his work to date. It is more in the nature of an avowal of a restless spirit, the confession of a man mature in years and yet an eternal rebel. It is a natural open arc which rises from the depths of man's memory, brings together millennia of human history, human joys and dramas. It is a timeless dialogue, but also a timely word of warning. And it is nothing that should surprise us from an artist whose oeuvre has always been shaped by the broadest spectrum of human feelings and whose creativity and temperament as artist and man has primarily found expression in stark contrasts such as love and hate, tenderness and passion, humility and defiance – and life and death. Contrasts, then, mark Venkov's work in sculpture over the last three decades and more.
On the one hand there is his monumental work for architectural and urban settings – grandiose and robust, communicative and dynamic, with an evident proclivity to economy of expressive means, even to the point of complete abstraction; executed in classic materials such as undressed stone or cold metal, in forms and shapes commanding the setting and remotely evoking sculptural archetypes. Balanced and pure, yet also persuasive and plain spoken.
On the other hand there is his small scale work, diverse, often Baroque in its playfulness, with the brilliant sheen of consummately worked bronze or fine marble; full of allegories and allusions, symbols and fragments, passions and erotic suggestion, but above all of intimate recollections and deep human feelings. And somewhere in the midst of this the figures of big clown and the circus artistes who, with the slight ironic distance of philosophers and the quiet understanding of the chroniclers of humankind, meditate in their red-coloured world.
The last decade constitutes a new chapter in the work of Emil Venkov, opening up fresh themes, particularly in his small pieces. Coming to terms with his own personal life, Venkov has here produced devout recollections of a loved one in the form of sculptures such as Psalm or Sigh. A new faith in mankind, a new tribute to the human race is evident in numerous variations of the female torso. Reminiscences of Greece and Antiquity are the artist's homage to humankind and civilisation.
At the same time, however, works have been created which are the leitmotiv of Venkov's Message and speak very openly and pertinently to the world. One level of this is the world of Antiquity, with its philosophy, its fatalism, the unquestioned role of tragedy and drama, a Nemesis of sorts who will not give up her sword and who settles the immutable destiny of humankind. It is there in Venkov's Metamorphoses, Phoenixes and Idols – the syntesis of animal and human fragments, in the female torsos and phallic symbols, the fragments of building, the harrying wheels of destiny, in the sharp claws, directed towards and absurd attemt at self-destruction. Venkov's sculptures from the last two years – monochrome epoxy works of monumental effect – are his own vision of the possible consequances of trends in lifestyle and technology.
The loss of all inhibitions, ideals and time-venerated taboos is materialised in his most recent monumental work, a five metre sculpture which embodies something resembling a monster from science fiction, remotely recalling Durer's horsemen of the apocalypse, though far more dreadful in its portent of mankind's self-annihilation.
Venkov's Message, notwithstanding the gravity and drama enciphered in it, is not entirely without hope. The artist knows and would believe that before Icarus fell the rarefied heights granted him an exhilarating feeling of freedom and that the phoenix before it was born again from its own ashes had to suffer the pain and destructive power of the flames. And even though today's world brings and end to many myths. the collapse of age-old dogmas and, alas, too often the loss of human responsibility and respected ethical norms, mankind and human dignity cannot be completely destroyed and ashes can never be doused carefully enough.