‘The artist carves the image of events in history. And these images do not fade, the more the artist has enriched them with his love and enthusiasm.’
It is difficult to survive in the future without knowing the past, without preserving the legacy bequeathed by the labour of people who dedicated their lifetime to the noble cause of ‘art’. Creators are gifted with a rare talent to provide pleasure for the senses from a piece of material, but they also have the privilege, even after the end of their finite existence, to leave a part of themselves among us all. These legacy artefacts are constantly taking us back to memories of personalities whose life mission was the creation of an art originating in the rich spiritual make-up of a vulnerable artist and given form through the dexterity of his hands. It is our duty to preserve these treasures, to take care of them and to show them more and more often so that their creator remains everlastingly alive in order for his mission to be completely fulfilled, for his art to become eternal, and his personality remembered.
130 years ago, in distant 1889, Ivan Stefanov Lazarov came into this world in Karlovo. Years later, his name acquired popularity and, to the present day, he has belonged to the galaxy of those great masters—sculptors—the light of whose example does not fade.
To keep this creative flame burning, daily care is called for, and that is why the marking of the anniversary of his birth is necessary, not only to honour the artist’s memory, but also to speak again of his artistic work, to feel and grasp the tireless enthusiasm of the sculptor who put his heart into his work. All this emotion from a contact with Ivan Lazarov’s art, blended with his vitality, would most fully be felt at the place where the creative process and daily existence throbbed simultaneously; and what better place could there be than the house where the artist spent a great part of his life?
Walking along the central streets of Sofia, we cannot avoid noticing a building with a special aura. Built between 1912 and 1913, and located at 56, Vasil Levski Blvd., the home of the Bulgarian sculptor who lived there until the end of his days attracts our attention from its very entrance with the sculpture of an elderly woman seated on the steps, resting her head on her hand, welcoming, seeing off and awaiting the next visitor to the house. This emblematic figure, sculped by Ivan Lazarov as a monument for the grave of the poet Dimcho Debelyanov in Koprivshtitsa, hints at the exposition inside the house museum. The rooms now lack the warmth of human presence, but the spirit of the artist is felt through the artworks created with his hands.
Right behind the house, there is the holy of holies of every artist—his atelier. Having suffered the wear and tear of time and the damage of the bombardments of Sofia during the Second World War, it still ‘lives and breathes’ despite all, to demonstrate the power of the creative spirit, to share the thoughts and actions, the moments of reflection and energetic creative activity, the noise from the working of the stone. This entire palette of emotional superimposition seems to have penetrated the walls and the ground, and floats in the air to infect the one breathing in with the passion with which Ivan Lazarov worked and put into everything he touched.
The overall aim of the exposition is to combine the abstraction of the spirit as a concept and the real material form into a unified entity: to give the viewer a maximum sense of perception of the artistic material, to make him feel part of an illusory reality, providing him the opportunity to touch, ‘face to face’, the talent of the sculptor and his human nature; through the works on display, to trace the path followed by the artist, brimming over with inquisitiveness, provoking constant quests into the possibilities that the material offered him in construction of the form; to feel his personal experiences of contacts with people and the clash with their world view of their surrounding reality, and to follow, through the works, the stages of the sculptor’s creative development in pursuing the greatest goal in his professional career—finding his own style and winning a memorable place in the history of art.
The presentation of an artist of the calibre of Ivan Lazarov is an extremely difficult task because such a publicly engaged personality, as he was, cannot be revealed in its entirety to the viewer only and exclusively through his artworks. Words come to our aid in painting, albeit very sketchily, a portrait of the artist. But being comprehensive is not always useful; sometimes, in the unsaid lies a provocation kindling our curiosity, making us look for more and more in order to feel completely satisfied.
As he wrote about himself, Ivan Lazarov, ‘came to life as a sculptor’ during the Balkan War. Fresh out of the State Industrial School of Arts (now the National Academy of Art) in 1912, in the class of sculptor Zheko Spiridonov, at a time of an extremely severe sociopolitical and economic situation for a belligerent Bulgaria, he produced several works focusing everyone’s attention on his talent. ‘They Won’ and ‘Bayonet Charge’, created at the end of the war of 1913, are ‘a synthesis of what [he] had seen and experienced’ during that period and an expression of the epoch, becoming emblematic of the sculptor’s oeuvre.
After completing his artistic education, Ivan Lazarov took up the duties of a probationary teacher at the 2nd State All-male Secondary School in Sofia and, a year later, he was appointed a full-time teacher of drawing at the 7th Sofia All-male Lower Secondary School. In the period 1917–18, Ivan Lazarov specialised at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, in the sculpture class of Prof. Hermann Hahn. A year later, in 1919, he began his studies at the Academy of Arts, initially as a lecturer and, from 1924 until the end of his life in 1952, as a professor of sculpture. Ivan Lazarov also served as the director of the school (1937–39 and 1943–45). Awarded the title of academician, in 1950 he was among the founders and First Director of the Institute of Figurative Art Studies of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. His activities extended far beyond his handmade work in the field of figurative art. His creative legacy includes theoretical studies and articles on various issues of figurative art. Ivan Lazarov was also among the initiators of the creation of the Native Art Society in 1919. His rich creative biography once again takes us to the image of an artist with an extraordinary determination and commitment, not only to sculpture, but towards art in general.
Ivan Lazarov’s artworks are the material testimony to the evolution in his artistic outlook. If his first war compositions in bronze are of an impressionistic nature, then, later, the form seems to be deliberately deprived of any superfluous details, acquiring a purity and simplicity, with an emphasis on the purely emotional impact. The sculptor’s travels to Germany (1918), France (1925), Czechoslovakia (1925), Italy (1932), Turkey (1940) and other countries, and his acquaintance with world classical art helped him immensely in his search for the right form, according to him, in experiments with the material and its potential in recreating images and their spatial realisation.
Learning from the past, he skilfully interpreted its lessons in the present by creating contemporarily resonating works. Creating from materials found in his native land, and exploited in the centuries-old tradition of our folk art—woodcarving, stonecutting and ceramics—Ivan Lazarov infused the material with the spirit of the Bulgarian to achieve a completeness of the three-dimensional images or relief friezes bearing the breath of the native wind and the aroma of the earth burnt by the bright sun.
The line of the native runs through the entire work of the artist. Far beyond the literal recreation of ethnographic motifs and traditional symbols, it manifests itself as a leading trend and meaningful goal. Through his works created in stone, wood or ceramics, Ivan Lazarov tells stories, portrays epochs. Proof of this are his first war compositions in which the ordinary man personifies the dramatic events, thus turning the art into an accessible emotion for the viewer. A metaphor, rather than literal depiction, is hidden in the themes and images—collective signs of the epoch, of reality, here and now.
The selection of 84 sculptures arranged in the space of the house museum of Ivan Lazarov tells a creative tale. Among the hues of natural materials such as wood and stone, from which the artist created numerous portraits, figures of animals and people, figural compositions, viewers can also feast their eyes on a series of reliefs, executed in the technique of majolica, where colour, form and compositional solution complement each other, extremely delicately, without the predominance of one over the other, turning the easel artworks into a real pleasure for the senses.
The exhibition includes works from the collections of the National Gallery and the heirs of the sculptor. An artist is presented, but his mission in the dissemination, study and popularisation of Bulgarian figurative art is also perpetuated in order to show once again that tradition can be woven exceptionally successfully into contemporaneity, creating new directions of development in art, and to remind yet again that history creates a future made by all of us through recounting the experiences and preserving the lessons by personalities who dedicated their lives to art and shared their talent with people.
Dr Tanya Staneva