Dimitar Arnaudov – artist, art theorist, critic, poet, long-time teacher, the oddball who ‘missed the tram he was riding on’, is a phenomenon unlike any other on the Bulgarian cultural scene. Much has been written about him and his artistic legacy has been presented, albeit posthumously, in numerous exhibitions, including at the National Gallery in Sofia. Ninety years after his birth we turn again to his art, to the questions about him that, despite all the research efforts made so far over the years, seem to remain unanswered. A legacy that is most often defined as intelligent, deeply emotional and categorically part of the process of the ‘radicalisation’ of the Bulgarian art scene between the 1960s and 1980s. But in this legacy lie unexplored, or simply as yet unnamed, creative accomplishments that await their discoverers and proponents. The exhibition In the empty space beside us, which presents over 50 paintings by the artist, is not only an occasion to recall Dimitar Arnaudov’s notable presence in the artistic life of our country, but also an opportunity to venture into the untraversed fields of meaning that he bequeathed to us via his images and words.
The empty space beside us is a territory that each of us guards fiercely. Through forgetting, revulsion, sorrow, with the defences of the mind and the heart. It is a zone freed from visible presences. A place that no one can ever fill; that pause between words that allows us to uncover their meanings; a breath drawn between two sighs; that distance to the Other that we must overcome in order to meld lips together and cherish those gestures: a kiss, an embrace, a parting. But the empty space beside us is also a locker, a storeroom for past feelings, stirrings, experiences. ‘Closet’ – that sliver of space so beloved of Dimitar Arnaudov within whose walls he would read encyclopaedias and write poetry, and sometimes even draw. A depot for hidden loneliness, unspoken words and pain – great pain and traces of suffering. This dual nature of the empty space beside us marks out this void as one of the greatest mysteries of our existence. A phenomenon of creation, but also the truest companion of man’s primal need to self-annihilate. Few are those who recognise the empty space beside them, who can bend it to their will and fill it with meaning. And Dimitar Arnaudov seems to be among them.
Aside from a possible thematic and chronological systematisation of Dimitar Arnaudov’s work, In the empty space beside us offers up a conversation about the place of erudition, alcohol and an untamed destructive sensitivity to the world in the creative process; a reading of the artist’s thoughts, poetic experiments, notes and diaries scattered over thousands of scraps of paper. The exhibition In the empty space beside us is first and foremost a conversation about ourselves and our ability to identify important phenomena around us. To appreciate art, not only in its visual merits and failings, but in synchrony with the artist’s biography, knowledge and emotional sensibilities. A simple, though these days increasingly unattainable, conversation about the empty space beside us that has turned into a chasm. An abyss into which every day topple thoughts, empathy and feelings which we are increasingly unable to protect and preserve.
Dimitar Arnaudov was born on 28 July 1933 in Pleven. He became interested in fine arts as a schoolboy and visited the studio of the artist Boyan Petrov. In 1951 he was admitted to the Higher Institute of Fine Arts in Sofia (today the National Academy of Arts), and later specialised in painting in the class of prof. Nenko Balkanski. He graduated in 1957 with full honours, and the following year he began working as a teacher at the Art School in Sofia. In 1963 he became a member of the Union of Bulgarian Artists and over the following years he travelled to many different countries. During this period he made his first attempts in the field of prose and poetry, to which he would return systematically for the rest of his life. In 1967, he began his teaching career at the Higher Institute of Engineering and Construction (today the University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy), after beating other candidates to the post of Assistant Professor of Drawing. In 1978 he was promoted to Associate Professor, and later to Professor (1986). He hung his first and only solo exhibition in 1973, and three years later defended his dissertation on The Artist’s Creative Process, which in 1981 would develop into a monographic study that was printed under the title The Artist and the Work (Psychology of the Creative Process) – to this day remaining the only one of its kind in this country. Over the years he has received numerous awards for his work, and his pieces are held in a number of public and private collections at home and abroad. Dimitar Arnaudov took his own life on 6 January 1989.