Composition, s.d. [2000-2005], graphite, wood, 200 x 200 cm
The large Composition of the Bulgarian artist Petar Dochev (1934-2005) is a work from the last period of his remarkable creative output. Dochev was born in the mountain village of Lesidren, in the heart of Stara Planina, and his connection with the spirit and energy of the place remained strong throughout his life. When he started out as a painter in the mid-1950s, Bulgaria was living through the harshest years of the Communist regime, a time of terror and total isolation. For the arts it was the period of Socialist Realism, the style that imposed strict rules on artists as to what they should work on and how. It was dry academism applied to ideological templates.
In the early 1960s Petar Dochev started working as an artist in the Kremikovtsi metallurgical plant, near Sofia. The enterprise was one of the largest industrial projects in the entire Communist period, a metallurgical behemoth and a symbol of the country's attempt at growing as an industrial nation. Without doubt it was these years that had the most influence on both him style and the subjects he focused on.
In the 1960s the central theme in Dochev's art was the figure of the worker. He would show him in frontal view, plying his daily craft. His workers from this period are done in a realistic manner with unconquerable, superhuman heft. The manner that Dochev's employed for representing workers was far removed from the then reigning ideological pathos.
In the 1970s Petar Dochev turned to landscape painting, and specifically the type that was born in the years of total industrialisation. It was the period in which industrial landscape was the central subject in the entire Bulgarian art. For Dochev this offered a considerable opportunity to come away from the figural painting and seek new ground in landscape painting. He saw this as a natural way of reaching abstraction that originated from the gradual dissolution of the concrete. Dochev's pictures from these years are dynamic compositions in which the horizontals of the earth clash with the verticals of the industrial smokestacks. In his landscapes he started using techniques that he eventually grew to love: layering the paint, scrubbing off or damaging the surface.
In the 1980s and '90s the landscape experiments took him to a new stage. His pictures completely lost all thematic or compositional connections with reality; increasingly they became abstractions in which painterly matters — the nearly sculptural application of paint and the colour, intensive and thick — are the main means of expression. In these years he worked actively with red and blue gold, with almost-polished surfaces, with simple geometric shapes (chiefly the circle or the square). It is in the end of this period that he started experimenting with his materials, substituting metal clay (the substance made from residual dust in metallurgical processes) for paint.
In the last decades of his life Petar Dochev went in a sort of self-imposed exile from public life. He retired to Lesidren, his native village, where he built a large studio, which he turned into a laboratory, as it were, where he sought the most precise realisation of his ideas. In an interview that he gave in March 2004, just months before his death, he said: "Today I can say that after 40 years of worthy work I am satisfied. True, I still find time in short supply, because I still have plenty of things to say. I am full of energy ... many realities have passed through me ... the artist should jealously protect his territory and avoid what disturbs him."
Text: Vessela Nozharova, 2015