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Stefan Kanchev – Lord of the logos

Stefan Kanchev, the most famous Bulgarian graphic designer.

The Bulgarian Stefan Kanchev is still regarded as one of the top ten masters of graphic design in the world

By Anton Staykov /  Illustrations Archives

The long-awaited design of a new tourism logo of Bulgaria is about to justify the saying that is not bad publicity. The many critics of the new logo claim that it lacks focus, that it is mediocre and tends to resemble the logo of Kyrgyzstan designed a year ago – the difference between that it cost Bulgaria 1,4 million leva compared to 600 euros for Kyrgyzstan. Bulgaria On Air does not intend to take part in these disputes. But they are an occasion to recall that Bulgaria is actually a country with leading positions in graphic design. And that a Bulgarian is named by many prestigious publications around the world as one of the ten greatest masters of this art. Anton Staykov reminds us of Stefan Kanchev.

The artist Stefan Kanchev (1915-2001) was a pioneer of graphic design in Bulgaria. An author who gained worldwide fame and figures in prestigious encyclopaedias of graphic design and trademarks.

The Japanese magazines Igarashi and IDEA respectively analyse his philosophy a nd graphic exquisiteness. In numerous Ameriacan, Hungarian and German publications (Novum Gebrauchsgrafik, Neue Werbung) Kanchev presented Bulgaria as a personal sign of talent and professionalism.In 1967 he was represented at Trademark International, New York, with 23 trademarks. And in 1994 Stefan Kanchev was officially ranked among the world’s ten most important graphic artists. In the International trademarks centre in Ostend, Belgium, he is seen together with legends like Paul Rand and Saull Bass, Yousaku Kamemura, Jasques Garamond, Franko Grignani  , Joseph Muelerr-Brockmann, Jan Rajlich, Anton Stankowski and Hermann Zapf.

FOLK ART. Kanchev’s work is an amazing mixture of cosmopolitanism and loyalty to the Bulgarian visual memory, to Bulgarian folk art. His trademarks are understood by any citizen of the world after 1960s. At that time there are still no talk t of integrated marketing communication, brand strategies and communication measures – his marks are known for their imaginative ideas and aesthetic genius, always easily read and unequivocally understood. (“To reduce things to a sign means that you are capable of synthesis, for which knowledge of the problem is a must,” Kanchev said and also: “Applied graphics is not a cosmetic accessory of the environment we live on.”)

PIONEER. Stefan Kanchev did not copy blindly folklore colours and graphic schemes. As he put it: “Canons grow old , they lag behind the dynamic of the time.” For him, the spirit of the time was important, therefore he watched the development of abstract art and pop art. After the 1960s, this is a clearly seen in his own work – loquacious ornamental rhythmic is replaced by a graphic system with strict structure and mathematical logic. In designing his brilliant graphic vignettes and trademarks, Kanchev worked with the means of expressions available  to any artist. But in his designs the line, the geometrical figures, the colour harmonies are subjected to a flawless aesthetic and meaningful order. “I am for all that is new. For modern art. For any trends inspired by time.”

CREATIVITY. Hundreds of postage stamps, books, posters, thousands of registered trademarks. New Year’s cards, greeting cards, ad pages, fancy letterheads, labels, packaging… Kanchev worked actively and untiringly, in all fields of graphic art. Active and uncompromising in the commissions he headed in the Union of Bulgarian Artists and the Centre for Applied Aesthetics. His criteria were the same he applied to his own graphic art – varied and harmonious composition, inventiveness, attention to graphic order and balance. It is difficult to believe that this harmonious master worked entirely during socialism – he overcome the ideological dogmas of the time and managed to create his design as a citizen of the world.

TYPEFACES. Stefan Kanchev was familiar with the best examples in the field of typefaces in Bulgaria and
abroad, and uses a letter style for each concrete task. He always coped brilliantly with the difficult task of combining Latin and Cyrillic characters.
He created new typefaces in an unrivalled way. The Bulgarian Cyrillic alphabet owes much to this master who is still topical in the beginning of the 21st
century. Kanchev’s typographic examples comprise new images in which the combination of sign and typographic elements are inseparable. The viewer does not even realize that the end result is achieved from a letter and image – two components dissimilar in nature.

TRADEMARKS. Many logos designed by Stefan Kanchev are still used in Bulgaria. TV antennas today are an almost forgotten thing of the past, but the logo of the national television
created by Kanchev (the letters B & T, intertwined like an antenna) still exists and is easily recognizable. The Petrol trademark with the likable dragon
is still with us, even if the company itself underwent numerous transformations;
the Union of Bulgarian Artists coped with the crisis of the transition under the logo left by Kanchev; the Black Sea resorts still use logos designed by him with uniquely intertwined seagulls, waves, birds, geometrical figures, symbols of minimalists hotels.

Most Bulgarian publishing houses feature his trademarks. Kanchev showed exceptional ingenuity, using the seemingly limited
possibilities of the square, circle and triangle.

COMPUTER AND HAND. Stefan Kanchev knows exactly how, not only what. He lawlessly designed his logos and brilliant calligraphies as combinations full-empty, visual-associative, image-sign, to craft a master gem: “Some think that the computer will do it all. Technologies save time, yes. But the hand has to touch
the computer project to render it graphic.”

Kanchev directed a symbolical message to his followers in a sign, created by the first three letters of the Bulgarian alphabet. His ABC traces the typographic development of our society through the
Cyrillic script, our Slavic past, ideology, pragmatism, technology and future. He left three dots for the next letters. In 2013 Bulgaria’s graphic designers are diverse and eclectic, use new technologies are open to Europe and the world, continue their quest for the true presentation of the Bulgarian identity.

Stefan Kanchev knew that the trademark is rooted in tradition. And that the signs we leave behind are important.