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About the Author

Freed from the Earth's gravitation

Kolio Karamfilov appeared in the contemporary Bulgarian art unexpectedly, but with a strong and original voice, and it became immediately clear: he was a personality with a powerful creative potential, emotional experience, and subtle sensitivity. It is these qualities that give flesh and depth to the characters he created and set him apart from other young authors close to his searches. Unlike most of his peers, Karamfilov graduated from his "universities", passing only through the education of the National High School of Stage and Film Design in his hometown of Plovdiv. Later on, it's all personal discovery, personal achievement - of both the secrets of the craft and the magic of installation art.

From the very beginning, Kolyo Karamfilov expressed himself freely in various forms. From graphic art he naturally moved into sculpture or painting, and from there into happening. His handwriting - although marked by the general stylistics of the current decade and close to that of his followers from the "Edge" avant-garde group, and other artists of the youngest generation - had its own plastic range and autonomy. His innate ability for invention and improvisation marked him as a recognized leader in the contemporary Bulgarian avant-garde. Sensing and expressing the universal pulse of the times and simultaneously endowed with the genetic memory of his Balkan roots, Kolio Karamfilov established himself as one of the most representative figures in current Bulgarian artistic practice. He was not a contemplative, although his art was intimately poetic. Nor was he a rational thinker, despite the intellectual charge of his works. His images were born in a hot encounter with the things of life. His plastic symbols were the extract of a mental storm. Once brought out of the chaos of what is experienced and seen, they become companions forever. Inseparable from the artist himself, they live, suffer, and grow wiser with him. 

In general, the symbolism of Kolyo Karamfilov could be defined as synthetic. Because of its very fabric, in which we struggle to dissect so many crisscrossed, layered, compressed imagery, it is far from uncontradictory clarity. In it the artist sought to encode the complexity of being, his unfathomable mystery. Intuition, heartfelt tenderness, and audacity were the weapons he had for this lofty purpose. He did not want to be and could not be a slave to everyday realities. His thoughts and senses were burdened with all that the end of our cruel century has heaped upon our shoulders. Therefore, through the bitterness and relativity of knowledge, through the aggression of the visual chaos that surrounds us, through the horror and suffering, the artist sought ford and trust in the key symbols of existence that embody the eternal human destiny and truth. For Kolio Karamfilov, such a key symbol could also be a large tear, shed from under a heavy eyelid that fills the entire space. For truly great is human suffering. And things are big or small not depending on their deceptive appearances, but on their intrinsic value. This the true artist knows unerringly.

Assoc. Prof. Ruzha Marinska

The Inexplicable domain of Kolio Karamfilov

Kolio Karamfilov's appearance in Bulgarian art was as unexpected, powerful and unpredictable as his departure from the troubled world in which he lived. Like a rebellious child, he modelled it, destroyed it, and built it up again, like a mysterious universe in which this side and the other side met and diverged in an unexpected plastic object, more a sign of something that was or would be not what we expect, but what has touched the free soul of the artist! And there are no rules, no compulsory lessons, no modern and postmodern - only a powerful energy that crashes into earthly appearances of good and evil, of pain, sin, and conscience, and remains in space as signs of the eternal meaning of life and death. Any attempt to explain Kolio Karamfilov with the rules of the rote aesthetics of contemporary art only distances us from his organic spiritual and human essence.

Kolio Karamfilov was an artist of spatial plastic suggestions of meaning and emotion. His art is as definitely representational as it is a sign, a code for something that only his inner vision has seen and emotionally read. His seemingly frivolous play with representational forms aligns him with the raw primordiality of ancient messages that have come down to us as culture and spiritual memory, which his restless imagination awakens to new life. Once upon a time, I think at the first International Triennial of Printmaking in Sofia in 1995, for the first time, a printmaking cycle appeared, charged with power and energy, raw in execution, as if it came from some other time in which the plastic space is a universe of faith, of sacrament, of birth, salvation, and death.

Monumental, mysterious, and mystical, these prints are still today a measure of spiritual freedom, plastic independence and graphic discipline. It is difficult to determine where the author is! In painting, in printmaking, in sculpture, in cinema, theatre, installation...? Everywhere the surprise is the beginning with which comes the unpredictable and inexplicable, turning the language of childhood purity and innocence into lessons of artistic knowledge. Seemingly by chance, surprisingly as it were to himself, everything is in fact internally grounded by a profound moral prevision of human existence. A kind of frantic inner energy drives the expressive gesture, saturating the works with a primal power, relegated to a sign language in which the beginnings of modern art live in their own pristine plastic universe. An art enigma in itself, from the beginning of the Way to the unknown directions of the End, remains unanswered, open to a spiritual reading of those seeking meaning and faith beyond the rules of knowledge.

Acad. Svetlin Rusev

The unforgettable Kolio K.

Kolyo K. is gone from us with few joys, many sorrows and one big dream. I had never seen before, and will hardly ever meet anybody else, who carries in his heart a single dream. To believe that one day it will come true. Willing to jump rivers, swim across oceans, fly over mountains if need be - just for it to happen. And so, he left it to us too, his confidence that miracles can happen in our world. I have been fortunate to work with him since 1989 in two artistic groups, The Edge and Dtsco 95.

I always admired his creativity, his ability to build. A friend of mine said it best, "He was a volcano of ideas." Yes, he was literally churning out unique concepts that - unfortunately - remained unrealized due to the poverty of our existence. That is what harms us, his contemporaries, and it harms our native art. I know of no artist whose subjects come to him alone and are so sincerely and so powerfully re-enacted that they remain as open wounds. To remind us of the fragility and transience of life turned into totems of eternity. The great talent touched different genres and types of art with his inherent ease and awareness that he could do anything and everything. Out of his hands came exquisite graphic cycles, powerful, expressive paintings, numerous drawings and illustrations, sculptures and installations, objects, photographs, unique scenography in theatre and cinema, leaving an indelible mark on Bulgarian art. Those who knew him personally will miss the sung covers of Louis Armstrong, Sting, Goran Bregovic and Pink Floyd, the jokes told and "played", his loud and cheerful presence.

The door guarded by him yawns. The tamada's place at the table is empty. This saddens me to no end. To illustrate the scale, extravagance, and power of Kolio's ideas, I will recall one of them, which appeared in 1990. That was the year when the removal of the monument to Alyosha in Plovdiv was intensely debated. At one of the many and long meetings with his colleagues from the "Edge", as he sat there, he burst out, "Imagine, my friends, that one morning the city would fall asleep and there would be an Alyosha on every hill". Genius!

For me this is Kolio - a true improviser, an unrivalled actor in all his manifestations. It is utopias that are Kolyo's spaces, his world, where his ability to dream, to touch and mix the real and the unreal legislated. I am addicted to everithing that Kolyo created, not because I was close to him, but because what he created influences, obsesses and points the way to truths as yet unfathomed. I suppose today his soul is in heaven and soaring into infinity, but his hands and mind are in the earth. And he's digging like a bulldozer to get to the center and tell us what and who the truth is for everyone. A bow and gratitude for what he left on earth. And for the moments spent together.

Assoc. Prof. Rumen Zhekov

Boundlessly about Kolio K.

Kolio Karamfilov is a figure in the limelight, a figure without analogue in contemporary Bulgarian art, who reconciles many different, often even internally contradictory points of view, concepts, and attitudes. A personality beloved not only in the artistic milieu, but also by the general public, both for his diverse and impressive oeuvre and for his artistic presence. It is very rare among artists of this magnitude to point to artists who are distinguished by such immediacy and by their wholehearted acceptance of the other. Yet Karamfilov's widespread popularity does not detract from his avant-garde outlook and experimental explorations. He is one of the few Bulgarian authors who have their own distinct regional image (his native Plovdiv) and at the same time are nationally significant, recognizable, and representative. His specific place in the artistic processes of the last decades in our country is determined by the intersection between his consciously chosen auto-stylization as an artist of his own life, a voice from the margins, and the deployment of his work as a self-contained inexhaustible territory that alone is able to both express and preserve the individual sensibility of the artist. Thus, in their totality, Karamfilov's creative attitudes and self-stylizations compose the vision of the contemporary artist as a social outsider and modern nomad, as a spontaneous and unsettled voice from the margins, in which it is difficult to distinguish the song from the cry, the rapture from the derision, the ecstasy from the pain, the euphoria from the melancholy, the notion of the artist-prophet from the perception of the romantic ironist.

Prof. Galina Lardeva