I saw two portraits by Daniela Donțu at the Elite Art Gallery a few days ago, and was quite struck by her technique and aesthetic. Here’s Stări (1) (States [of Mind] (1) ) and Gânduri (Thoughts).
For some reason I couldn’t identify right away, I found these paintings mesmerizing. It took some photographing of old photos to realize what has drawn me to Donțu’s work, States [of Mind] (1) in particular. It’s the way the fluid handling of paint creates the suggestion of reflection-filled layers, as if you were looking at the man through a series of windows—or veils of affective memory.
I visited the new exhibition at the Victoria Art Center yesterday, and, while I liked all of the pieces, I was quite impressed with one of them in particular, Cătălin Burcea’s The First and The Last Step (Primul și ultimul pas, in Romanian).
The work consists of four segments of charred wood laid upon a narrow bed of sand. First things first: why four pieces and a single log? The parts may be a reference, perhaps, to the four nucleotide bases of a DNA strand, or, alternatively, to the idea of steps—considered separately from the first and the last step mentioned in the title. Moving on, it’s easy to see why these pieces of wood, passed through fire, a step before returning to the earth as ashes (and you can see in the detail below how chips of it are already coming loose and taking that road), is the last step. But how is it the first step? Maybe the fire that consumes us is a spiritual moment that allows us to be born. Maybe we’re already charred wood when we’re born (the old idea of birth as the first step towards death). I feel it’s this second idea, tied to birth, that gives this piece its oomph. The idea that with every breath we take we die a little—just as a light breeze will eat at this charred log.
I was revisiting today Niki de Saint Phalle’s Shooting Paintings (les Tirs) of the early 1960s, where for the most part she creates plaster-covered canvases or assemblages and shoots at plastic bags or spray cans concealed within these sculptural paintings—thus doing painting, sculpture, assemblage, and performance art all at once. (To which we should add the photos and films which document the shooting sessions or her creative process.)
What I love about her Tirs is that she starts from Pollock’s action painting, which is so often regarded as very macho, and makes it seem rather feeble. Niki de Saint Phalle doesn’t dance around her canvases pouring out his emotions in a balanced fashion but rather takes aim at those paint containers and renders her works finished in a way that posits her as a powerful agent who has found a way to stand up to the violence in her life and the world around her.
In a future post I’ll look at her Nanas, voluptuous, colorful, and life-affirming, which she started creating in 1964 after her Tirs series.