Interview with the Photographer Lucian Muntean, by Fabianni Belemuski & Eva Defeses

Tell me 3 characteristics that belong only to photography.

The spontaneity of photography – the possibility to obtain a complete work of art in a split second. It is due to this fact that photography has gained its place among the new artistic trends. Photography clearly has a documentary value which is far more superior to painting. Photography can render an image from reality and this can turn into evidence in a trial for instance, whereas the realism in painting cannot render it with such precision. Photography has become extremely accessible and easily obtained because of the development of the digital technology, but this also makes it more commonplace.

Lucian Muntean

Lucian Muntean

Black and white or colour?

I started with black and white but I have also worked in almost all my themes and projects in black and white and in colour (even if I didn’t exhibit the black and white ones so often because of technical reasons; lately, all agencies, newspapers and magazines publish their photographies almost exclusively in colour).

I always take with me a digital camera and also a film, black and white one. I decide which to use depending on the circumstances, some things I observe can be shown better in black and white or have a special graphical aspect, better for the monochromatic approach. Also, the atmosphere of a certain place can sometimes be rendered better in black an white. I “see” some shots directly in black and white, I know for certain that it is the best choice. One can draw the attention on the subject or on some symbolic elements by eliminating a messy chromatic aspect in favour of valuable grayish shades.

Fotografie de Lucian Muntean

Fotografie de Lucian Muntean

However, other times you may come across a rich chromatic atmosphere, brought out by a very good light, which almost “forces” you to use colour. This may also save you when you don’t have an obvious subject. One can appreciate a photography on a chromatic-base only.

You worked on numerous photo-reportages and projects, some of them about real circumstances (traditions such as the pig, the lamb, palinca, etc) cities, but others propose a distance from the real world (the dream, winter, window). Which is harder to render?

I have been working as a photo-reporter since 1997, so I have specialized in documentary photography and I have done many photo-reportages. I have learned that everyone has a story to tell. The challenge is to discover it, to know how to listen and how to render it. I initially  do some documentation work on the theme in question and I try to make some contacts. When I get on the field, the first and most important thing is to mingle with the people there. The secret I guess is to behave naturally. It is of utmost importance to win the trust of the one you have to work with.  It depends only on you whether the man will invite you inside his home or turn his back on you.

When it comes to personal projects I organize myself in such a way so that I have enough time. It is important not to hurry.  As soon as the interlocutor has accepted you , you can work freely and the “subject” can go on with his activity naturally.

I prefer to remain as discreet as possible and I also include in this the cameras I use. It is more comfortable for me to use a small camera that doesn’t arise curiosity.  You shouldn’t get in situations where the photographer is in the centre of the attention.

Fotografie de Lucian Muntean

Fotografie de Lucian Muntean

To digitally manipulate, retouch or not?

As I said, the photo reportage has a documentary characteristic, its job is to tell about what happened in that place. You shouldn’t intervene and manipulate things. Anyway, in a subjective way your own perception also gets transmitted. This is a basic principle for me. This is why I don’t retouch my photographies, I don’t crop them, replace them, I don’t change the light or the colours so that they should render as good as possible the atmosphere of the event.

When I work, I pay attention to the details, the composition, the chromatic aspect, the gestures of the characters. One is forced to pay attention to all these in a very short period of time, then you click, and that is it, anything else is painting. Of course, I also assume the inevitable mistakes.

You work covers many elements in the life of the village. What is it about these photo reportages that you find so appealing?

I prefer the social photo reportage, it is the one I feel most comfortable with. I have been working one  project called “Traditions during Transition” since 2000. Practically, I took the task of documenting the everyday life in a secluded mountain village in Apuseni, on the verge of the Romanian integration in the UE. I made frequent trips to Rogojel , where I made several series of photo reportages about the work in the fields, the distillation of the palinca,  the sacrifice of the Easter lamb or the Christmas pig.

I was interesting to see that in that village, that hadn’t experienced collectivization, they managed to keep unaltered the rhythm of life. But what couldn’t be changed by the war or by the communism is changing due to nowadays globalization. Since  2003 I have worked in team with 2 Frenchmen. Then, in 2007 we  presented the exhibition “Le Mond selon Rogojel” at the Multimedia Festival of Est-Ouest, France. In March 2008 – the exhibition “Traditions during transition at Rogojel” at the Matei Corvin House, Cluj, and  in may –  November 2008 at the Museum of Compared Art of Sangeorz Bai, Bistrita Nasaud.

The theme about the Christmas pig later evolved in a new project, “Long Live the Pig”, on which I worked together with the artists Maxim Dumitras and Cosmin Nasui. This project was exhibited in december 2008 at the Museum of the Romanian Peasant in Bucharest, and we were invited by  ICR Venice to exhibit it during the Vencie Bienale, in nov. 2009.

After the first month of your project “12 o’clock”, what did you feel when you saw all the photographies together, a small calendar of your own life?

I realized it was only the beginning… since I’ve decided to shoot one photo at the same time, daily, during a year. I think it is also an exercise of perseverance. It is right, I did have the real feeling of a personal calendar. I remembered many details, apart from that specific image of the day. It is interesting that I could be always in a different place, meeting different people.

Do you like other art forms besides photography? Digital art?

I am a conservative fellow. During 1994-1995 I worked as a ceramist painter at the Porcelain fabric of Sighisoara. During that time I also had a painting studio and I have always been attracted by drawing and painting. But once I started my studies at the University of Cluj-.Napoca, I started with photography. After more than 10 years I began to paint again. I find inspiration in Chinese Calligraphy and in Japanese painting. The simplicity and spontaneity of these techniques resemble photography and somehow, the circle is closed.

You haven’t approach eroticism in your work. Do you think it is all said about it in photography?

Yes, you are right, I haven´t touched this theme. We all know eroticism catches the eye, draws attention, but there is also the risk that the viewer may admire exclusively the subject and completely  forget about the photography and the photographer. I guess I am selfish about this, but that’s what I think.

Lucian Muntean Website: http://www.lucianmuntean.ro/

Born on 1974, in Sighisoara, Romania, Lucian Muntean graduated the Faculty of Geology in 2001. Starting with 1997, he worked for local and national newspapers like Ziua, Ziarul de Cluj, Dilema Veche, Pro Sport, Gazeta Sporturilor and with press agencies Rompres, Mediafax, Hepta from Bucharest.

Since 2006, he has been working for ADEVARUL national newspaper from Bucharest.


His passion for photography expressed itself in many personal exhibitions, showing images from Romania and countries such as France, Italy, Hungary, Germany, Holland, Austria, Czech Republic, Spain, Greece, Tunisia and Zambia.

ERAN EISEN: Fashion, Art Humour Interview by EVA DEFESES

ERAN EISEN is a poet, artist, graphic designer, International model from Tel Aviv, Israel. As a model, he is best known for campaigns made for L’Oreal, El Corte Inglés, BMW, etc. In Israel, he founded an Image Consulting Company “Present You – Image & Branding Advisors”, that uses a personal, direct and unique approach in order to give each client tailor-made consulting in presentation, image and communication. This multifaceted Israeli published his first book of poems in 200º, “Between Us”, which tells in short and inspired verses his views on love and relations from a biographical point of view. The book is divided into 3 parts, each part referring to a different period of his life. He is currently working on a cultural project called “Positive Israel”, whose objective is to create a positive, realistic image of Israel, to facilitate the access to cultural and artistic aspects of nowadays Israel. www.eraneisen.com

Eran Eisen

Eran Eisen

Do you see fashion as a form of art?

Yes, I do. Dressing is a code of communication and as such it reflects our expression.

Can you describe from an artistic point of view the experience of haut-couture fashion shows? Many designers put together magnificent shows which go far beyond exhibiting nice clothes, light, music and special effects being carefully chosen to create surreal atmosphere that unites several art forms in a unique, breathtaking experience.

Haut-Couture is defined as the artistic side of fashion. It is where the designer is able to perform his real creativity with which he identifies himself. Putting on haut-couture clothes is a unique experience. Everything feels in place!! It has changed my perspective on clothes. It made me feel incredible inside, I’m wearing a statement.

What about Israeli fashion and designers?

Israel hardly has fashion because the climate does not allow it and since there is no demand for it on a daily basis… To say the truth I’m not familiar with young designers here. Personally I love Italian Design; Armani is my favourite because the classic design appeals to me the most.

How are fashion shows regarded in Israel and what are the possibilities for young designers to study and evolve?

There is one school of Fashion Designers in Israel and each year they present their final creations to the people in the industry. The shows are funny, creative, interesting and exciting (I did myself a few). It is very hard for young designers to develop here as the Israeli market is very small. In order to grow you must have a strong sponsor to support you financially and strategically. The only ones that succeeded to do so were wedding-gown designers or swimwear designers. In daily fashion I can only see one young designer that has made it: Yaron Menikovsky.

Do you think Israeli artists and writers are known in Europe, are there difficulties in getting on the worldwide stage?

I believe that every artist wants to exhibit his art beyond the borders of his country. Once you have created a work of art it does not belong to you any more, it has a life of its own. I don’t see any difficulty in being an Israeli artist and getting world recognition. There are some Israeli artists that broke the Israeli wall. Yaakov Aggam and Kadishman, painter and sculptor are known worldwide for many years. Efrayim Kishon, a writer was famous in Germany and Austria. Ron Arad is very successful with his chairs. Politically, there is always a chance that someone might make you problems for being Jewish or Israeli.

What about the art scene of Tel Aviv (exhibitions, art shows, museum, galleries, art magazines)? In a previous issue of Niram Art, we published an article about the Artist’s village Ein Hod, really a unique way of living and producing Art.

Israel has lots of artists. The stress we live creates the urge of expressing ourselves in all forms of art. Tel-Aviv is the centre of the activity for Art Galleries and I see, as time goes by, more and more galleries opening. Personally, I have learned that most artists have difficulties in promoting themselves (marketing) but it is essential to brand yourself as an artist as well if you want your art to be exposed and sold. I agree, Ein Hod is a special place, I have been there many times and it always seems to be expanding.

You worked as a model for El Corte Ingles (among many others) in Spain. How would you describe the Spanish way of life and society as opposed to the Israeli?

There are some similarities between the Israeli and Spanish people. They are both very warm and “hugging” and family-oriented. The Spanish have more “style” in their daily behaviour. We are also both hot-blooded and can get angry easily. The “Siesta” part of the Spanish way of life should be adopted. On my first day in Madrid I took a taxi. The driver almost ran over a young boy with a scooter. He stopped the scoter in front of the Taxi, blocking us, took his helmet off and without any hesitation broke the driver`s window. Coming then from bombed Israel, made me feel like home.

From your numerous contacts with Europeans, do you think they have a pretty good idea about Israel or are they totally clueless?

Personally, I feel at home in Europe. I’ve been travelling for twenty years all over the world, always keeping my Israeli identity. I was constantly requested to tell people about Israel from my own perspective and felt it was my duty to do so. My feeling is that: either you are an open-minded person that can have a global view or you are not. Israel has been suffering from bad PR for 60 years. It is our own responsibility to change it. My personal commitment is to build a “Positive Image” of Israel. You can have a real idea about something only once you have experienced it. Europeans that come here love the vitality, the human warmth and the warm weather of Israel. The ones that haven’t been here are exposed to the Israel that is shown in the news or TV programs or other sources of information and they are individually building their own Image of Israel in their heads.

What is the funniest or strangest thing that someone asked you about Israel?

Someone asked me once if we travelled by camels here. That was funny for me. And here is a symbolic joke: The teacher entered the class in the USA and told the kids she had a question of a 100$ prize for them: “Who was the most important person in Human History??” The first to answer was Joe: “George W. Bush my teacher”. The teacher said very nice Joe, really important person but not the most important. The second to answer was Jenny: “Napoleon Bonaparte” my teacher. The teacher said, yes he was very important, Jenny, but not the most. The third to be answered was Mike: “Alexander Mukdon” he screamed. The teacher said you are right Mike he was important but not the most. Than Moishale raised his hand and said: “It was Jesus Christ” my teacher. The teacher said Moishale you are right and you have won the 100$. But Moishale, I must ask you something, you are Jewish, so how can you say Jesus Christ was the most important person in Human History. Moishale smiled and answer her: My teacher, in my heart I know it is Moses, but business is business!!

Dear Eran, thanks a lot for your patience.

Eva Defeses on: MOVEMENT FOR CONTEMPORARY ART MAC – LISBON

A Cultural Institution Dedicated to Promoting Contemporary Art in Portugal and Beyond

Lisbon, Portugal – 14 Years’ Ago

A University Mathematics Professor with a taste for Fine Arts had the dream of creating a unique institution of artistic and cultural exchange: an art gallery, a movement, a place of gathering for artists, a school for the younger ones, a house of Portuguese Culture, a vibrant institution based on passion and action, meant to shake off the nostalgic drowsiness that still reigns over the land of the Fado. The name was chosen: The Movement for Contemporary Art. Like his fellow Portuguese conquistadors of the golden times of the Portuguese Discoveries, Álvaro Manuel Lobato de Faria Gomes (born on Nov. 30, 1943 in Castelo Branco, Portugal), set on the quest of discovering new artistic horizons and on raising higher than the blue skies of Lisbon the red and green of the Lusitanian flag.

Alvaro Lobato de Faria, MAC

Alvaro Lobato de Faria, MAC

Lisbon, Portugal – Nowadays

Spain, Finland, France, Brazil, Colombia, Germany, Belgium, United States, Italy, Argentina, Cape Green, Guinea-Bissau… far-away countries, different cultures united in so many artistic events, cultural activities, exchanges…a dynamic force that is today, after 14 years, MAC.

On the day that the Movement for Contemporary Art celebrated 14 years of
activity, Niram Art Magazine talked to the founder, Mr. Álvaro Lobato de Faria about MAC’s spreading out beyond Portuguese soil and to the 2 newest members of his team, Mrs. Joana Paiva Gomes and the sculptress Andreia Pereira.

Mr. Álvaro Lobato de Faria, MAC has become known in Portugal as a cultural institution dedicated to promoting Portuguese arts in Portugal and in Portuguese-speaking countries. What are MAC’s main objectives outside Portugal?

Mr. Álvaro Lobato de Faria: I say many times that painters are like writers, they paint written images. Therefore, as a Portuguese I believe it is my duty to give support to Portuguese artists and to expand our art and our culture in the Portuguese–speaking countries. In partnership with The Society of the Portuguese Language we have undertaken many activities uniting the speaking word to the painted image, writers and artists, in all those countries where they speak Portuguese or where Portuguese is taught in the Universities. Outside this Portuguese- speaking territory, we collaborate with cultural institutions in Denmark, Finland, Belgium, France, New Zeeland, United States, where I have been often invited to give lectures in universities and cultural institutions. Of course, our main preference are the Portuguese-speaking countries, we have had many events and collaborations with all of them, especially Brazil.

As a dynamic artistic space MAC is also dedicating to discovering and promot- ing young talents and is involved in many pedagogical activities.

Mr. Álvaro Lobato de Faria: Yes, we are, but unfortunately I find that there is great lack of interest in the young students of Fine Arts in Portugal. I am always on the look for new talents and I speak to the people of the Faculty of Fine Arts often on this subject but the answer is the same: there is no enthusiasm, no interest. For instance, the sculptor Joao Duarte, a man of great initiatives, has tried to put together several activities within the Faculty but the students are not interested in anything. The Portuguese society is in a very negative phase right now.

This year, MAC counts with the help of two new members, Mrs. Joana Paiva Gomes has been appointed vice-president, following in her father’s footsteps with pride.

What are the projects that you are involved in within Mac and what does MAC mean for you?

Mrs. Joana Paiva Gomes: I have practically grown up within MAC, I have been involved in its activities since my teenage years but I have become an actual part of the team last year. I am not specialized in Fine Arts but the close contact with my father’s activities has sprouted within me the taste for arts and an artistic awareness. As I have pedagogical studies, the main objective of my work here is to turn more dynamic the pedagogical area of MAC, in order to develop the artistic sensibility in young people, to elaborate new strategies and to establish new contacts with cultural institutions in order to collaborate on the divulgation of arts and culture.

A young sculptress, Andreia Pereira, is MAC´s newest collaborator, bringing in all her flair and enthusiasm.


Mrs. Andreia Pereira, what is it that has drawn you to MAC?

Mrs. Andreia Pereira: As a student at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Lisbon, I started working at MAC as part of the academic curriculum and my initial duties were attending the public, helping to organize some events. However, Mr. Alvaro de Faria has gradually given me more autonomy and now I am engaged in all sorts of activities, mainly organization of events.


I was talking to Mr. Álvaro Lobato de Faria about MAC’s objective of expanding within the Portuguese-speaking countries…

Mrs. Andreia Pereira: Yes, indeed, this is the main objective of MAC. You see, MAC is much more than a commercial space, it is a cultural space determined to promote Portuguese well- established artists and to continuously search and offer support to new talents, to help promoting their art in the Portuguese-speaking countries and also to promote artists from the Portuguese-speaking countries in Portugal. Also, it constantly fights for the internationalization of arts.


You mean by collaborations and divulgation of artists in other countries?

Mrs. Andreia Pereira: Yes, of course, as I said, internationaliza- tion is one of the main objectives of MAC. We have ongoing projects in United States, New Zeeland and we are developing relations with European partners as well. Let’s say the world is our limit.

What can we expect from MAC next year?

Mrs. Andreia Pereira: Well, we have some surprises in store for you but it is too early to reveal them. Basically, we are planning a more diverse agenda. As we have 2 locations we have decided to dedicate one of them to more traditional artistic activities and to make the second one more dynamic, to make room for “alternative” artistic ways of expression.

Madrid, August 2008

“The world is our limit” said Mrs. Andreia Pereira and I
can`t seem to get her words out of my head.

Somehow I feel that in the city of the seven hills, looking down on the flowing of the blue river Tagus into the Ocean, in Europe’s most Western point, gazing in the strong light of the endless Portuguese sky, these words have probably been said before. And in times gone by, there must have been these words that gave the strength to the sailors of the caravels when they departed in search of the unknown.

Heroes of the sea, adventurers of the impossible, dreamers of the undreamable…

I have found out that your immortal heart still beats in Lisbon…

INTERVIEW WITH RAZVAN MAZILU by Eva Defeses

“ I strongly believe in the versatility of the artist, it is a “must” in contemporary art “

Razvan Mazilu, foto by Egyed Ufo Zoltan

Razvan Mazilu, foto by Egyed Ufo Zoltan

Eva Defeses: Although many critics have particularly underlined the perfect union between dance and theatre in the show Dorian Gray, if we take as a starting point the words of the director Dra- gos Galgotiu, who mentioned in an interview the connection between the world created by the fusion of these two art forms with the “visions of Caspar David Friedrich, the painter of philosophers”, we cannot help but noticing a way of construction similar to the act of painting. It is more than a simple logical deduction generated by the title of Oscar Wilde’s novel, your dancing moves on stage appear, when taken one by one, drawing studies, put to- gether by rhythm. Did painting play a part when you created the choreography for the show based upon the novel ”The Picture of Dorian Gray”, at the Odeon Theatre in Bucharest?

Razvan Mazilu: It is a very interesting question. I would like to say that painting is another passion of mine; maybe if I had not embraced the dancing, I would have painted. In a show like Dorian Gray, the pictorial side plays an important part, because it materializes on stage the epoch evoked by Oscar Wilde’s novel, as defined by the obsession for beauty, by the superiority of art over life itself. From this point of view, it was of utmost importance that all the elements of this show – from scenography and costumes to the harmony and gracefulness of the moves – should have a common element: an exacerbated aestheticism – taken to the extreme, I would say.

Eva Defeses: Shows in night clubs (Sell me!), sacred music (Block Bach), Argentine Tango (Un Tango Más), Shakespeare (a one-man dance show, impersonating four major Shakespearean characters in a one-hour performance), etc. are only a few of your projects which at first glance seem contradictory, comprising a great vari- ety of themes and styles. Yet your dancing puts them all together gracefully. What is the style that mostly attracts you?

Razvan Mazilu: At 14 years’ old, I discovered the contemporary dance. I didn’t know anything about it, but I had the revelation of the fact that I would perform contemporary dance and not classical ballet. I have chosen contemporary dance not because I couldn’t face up the demands of the classical ballet as many dancers do today. To me, dancing, as I understand it, is really an existential need, it is the way I express myself best. I like to experiment many genres, from contemporary to cabaret, to theatre-dance. I love the musicals, and I want to direct such shows. So, I would rather define my style as eclectic.

Eva Defeses: What does the theatre bring into this? Is there some- thing that cannot be expressed by dance and the theatre supplies it?

Razvan Mazilu: The very way that I dance is marked by theatricality; I tend to run away from the abstract. Moreover, I strongly believe in the versatility of the artist, it is a “must” in contemporary art. I became a director – choreographer at a very early age … at
20. Maybe it happened this way out of lack of self-conscience, or out of the strong need to demonstrate that I had something to say. Surely, at first, people look at you like you were a curiosity of nature, a freak; there is the prejudice that dancing is something frivolous, so how could I, a mere dancer, put together shows of theatre – dance? I held one man shows, but I also collaborated with important directors, whenever I received attractive proposals. I adore alternating between being a dancer and a creator of shows, and it seems to be very provocative to me.

Eva Defeses: Is there a book that has left a mark on you and which you would like to put on stage?

Razvan Mazilu: I would like to put together a show based on Death in Venice for instance, as it is a novel on the condition of the artist, about the quest for an ideal, at all costs…

Eva Defeses: You have been dancing since 3 years’ old. Who is the person who mostly stood by you on your journey on this “path” (as I know you don’t like the word “career”)?

Razvan Mazilu: It gives me a great deal of pleasure to underline whenever someone asks me this question, the important support I have received from my family, who knew how to cultivate, in an era that seemed completely fade, lacking perspectives of any kind, feelings such as beauty and sensibility. My parents and my sister understood my calling and helped me a lot. It is so important to be understood, to have someone there for you.

Eva Defeses: What is your relation with the actors you work with? Do you influence each other? For instance, in 1995, when you worked with Maia Morgenstern in “The Lady of the Camelias” you have managed to turn this working experience into a beautiful, lasting friendship…(This was the first dance-theatre show, ever produced in Romania)

Razvan Mazilu: My stage partners, actors or dancers, are of extreme importance to the show. I need to work with artists who complement me, whom I can communicate perfectly with, on stage, above any words. This happened with Maia, and I really managed to work greatly with her. Moreover, my encounter with her granted me cour- age. I was a student, at the beginning of the journey; she was already a famous actress. The fact that she put so much trust in me, that she took a great risk by joining me in “different” kind of shows, which had never been made before, meant so much to me. I would like to thank her again for that.

Eva Defeses: You have stated that you cannot dissociate Mazilu – the artist from Mazilu – the man. What has drawn you to Oscar Wilde’s character, so that we may know something more about the man, without forgetting the artist?

Razvan Mazilu: I grew up in a block of flats, in a neighbourhood of Bucharest, during communism. I had a happy childhood thanks to my family, but we all know what sad times those were. Don’t you think that dandyism, as represented by Dorian Gray, can turn into a landmark for a teenager yearning to live in another world, among beautiful things and experiencing special moments? I read The Portrait of Dorian Gray and it impressed me, than Craii de Curtea-Veche by Mateiu Caragiale. All these readings helped me escape from the daily reality, encouraged me to dream beautiful dreams. And I was hoping, in secret, to embody the character of Dorian Gray, on stage, a dream which actually fulfilled itself, almost 4 years ago.

Eva Defeses: Do you find yourself seduced more often by characters similar to yourself, or, on the contrary, is it more fascinating to in- terpret a character that you have nothing in common with?

Razvan Mazilu: I am crazy about constructing characters; it is as simple as that. The more difficult they are, the more provocative it is. Generally speaking, each character gives me the opportunity of discovering and re-discovering myself, of finding unexploited resources. To embody a character, to bring his destiny onto stage, to live through that character experiences that I don’t usually have in my daily life – this is what fascinates me.

Eva Defeses: What are your thoughts when you stand in front of the applauding audience for minutes and the public won’t let you go?

Razvan Mazilu: It is a very strange feeling, a feeling of grace, I’d say; I can’t say that I think at something in particular. I just enjoy the feeling that the audience and I communicate with each other, that we share a connection.

Eva Defeses: What question would you mostly like to be asked and nobody has asked it yet in an interview?

Razvan Mazilu: Difficult question. Maybe it’s precisely this question… But I am still looking forward to be surprised, with each interview. For instance, nobody has ever asked me: “Have you ever danced in a dream?” The answer would be: “Yes. Many times. Sometimes, I have the feeling I have never woken up.”

Eva Defeses: Dear Mr. Mazilu, it has been a pleasure and an hon- our to talk to you. Thank you for your time.

NIRAM ART wishes to thank Mr. Razvan Mazilu and Mrs. Toni Cojanu for their time and support and for providing the photographies that beautifully illustrate these pages.

Interview with the artist Florin Firimita by Eva Defeses

By Florin Firimita

By Florin Firimita

E.D. What is your view on the artist-gallerist relation nowadays? Do you think that the role of the gallery has changed?

F.F. The art world is global today. There are no more regional markets. It is hard to find a gallery that would support you the way, let’s say, galleries used to support and promote the Impressionists, the American Pop artists, or the Abstract Expressionists. There aren’t any Kahnweil- ers or Durant-Ruels out there anymore. It took me five years to build what I thought it was a decent body of work, and obtain my first gallery representation. Since then, I dealt with good galleries and not-so good galleries. Right now, I am represented by two excellent galleries, Las- cano in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and White Space in New Haven, Connecticut. It is a business relationship, of course, yet, it must be so much more than that. If all a gallery does is display your work, that’s not enough. If a gallery tells you what or how to work, that’s also a sign that you must pack up your bags. There are a lot of talented gallerists out there, and many are willing to go the extra mile and sus- tain and nurture a relationship with the artist, allow him/ her to grow without the pressures of the marketplace. I have been visiting galleries in New YorkCity at least once a month for the past seventeen years, often with my students. Especially in the large, well-established spaces, I have rarely encountered anyone willing to talk about the artists they represent. Those places give me a funeral-home feeling. If it is a turn- off for me, as an artist, imagine the person who walks in there for the first time. Some of the best art out there is not shown in the big galler- ies, but rather in small, alternative spaces, away from the centre. A lot of interesting stuff happens in those smaller galleries, they are con- stantly reaching the public, bridging that gap left by the absence of genuine critics. A good gallery is not just a place that sells, it must be a friendly link between art and the public.

E.D. You are a European artist living and working in the USA. What are the main differences between the dynamics of the 2 great world art markets? Do they work differently; do they have different objectives or art values?

By Florin Firimita

By Florin Firimita

F.F. Here, in the U.S., the artist has always been looked at as an “outsider.” Every “true” American artist seems to embody that lone-cowboy-walks-into-a-bar type of attitude. Warhol did it, and so did Jackson Pollock. What I mean by this is that artists have traditionally been scrutinized in the American culture. They are suspicious trouble-makers in a pragmatic culture, where most of the time, money and fame matter more than the culture. There is a lot of bluffing in the process, but also, there are enormous opportunities. There is a huge amount of money spent on art in here, mainly by private collectors. Galleries open and close all the time. It is very exciting. There are thousands of them just in New York City. But in the United States, you are pretty much on your own. Unfortunately, we have no public intellectuals, nor a cultural dialogue in the media. It is like going into a restaurant and being offered everything to eat. The government rarely sponsors the visual arts. The art critics don’t really exist, or nobody cares about them. I don’t remember ever seeing a visual artist on an American talk show. I have never read a negative art review in years. No one has the guts to say that the emperor has no clothes. In this context, the art market is a playground with volatile boundaries. Some artists are being offered retrospectives when they are in their 30’s. Then, no one hears from most of them ever again. It is all part of the dynamics of this culture. The temptation of the money is always here, but in time, it will all sort out.

In terms of art values, I am not even sure if there is a difference anymore between culture and entertainment in the United States. “Kitsch,” (from Donald Trump to hip-hop), so prevalent in our culture, is still a term that Americans cannot identify. Europe still values its culture apart from entertainment, and cherishes the humanistic essence of its culture. Modern Europe has been always supporting the arts because it has recognized that the arts are at the core of Western civilization, and that there would be no civilization without art. Europe practices a “soft” capitalism in which the state recognizes that it cannot function without the arts. It has realized that a mature dialogue between its “tribes” based solely on economic parameters is not enough. This is not the case in the U.S. By contrast, we make aesthetic judgements with our pocket calculators near by. We judge movies based on how much money they make at the box office, not by how they move us.

E.D. How should a young artist in a foreign country try to promote himself, can you identify several steps in order to construct from zero a successful career?

F.F. When looking for a definition of the word ‘exile,’ the one that I could somehow relate to was the Latin term exilio, which means “spring forth.” All artists are exiles. All artists need to know how to spring forth, how to market their art. The time when artists where “discovered” is long gone. It is, of course, time consuming: you have to focus on two parallel aspects of your career: the work itself (recognizing when the work has matured), and how to promote it. Work comes first, and what I mean by that is that you need to have a coherent body of work that truly represents you. Then you should get involved. You should be working all the time, and first try showing in smaller, not-for profit spaces like restaurants, public spaces and libraries, small galleries, belong to art organizations, and constantly, constantly make connetions and send portfolios out. All that is a job by itself; it requires money, talent, and time. A good friend and fellow artist, Stewart Wilson, has recently organized a “salon” type of show in his gallery, Artwell. He called for artists and invited about 50 galleries from three states to view the works and select artists for representation. It was a huge success in facilitating new relationships between artists and gallerists. About ten years ago I took my portfolio to a gallery in New York City, to a well-known gallery owner. We talked for about five hours, then he said to me: “You’re
an intelligent young man, but your art is wallpaper. There isn’t a trace of you in it. These paintings could be painted by anybody.” He also paraphrased Andy Warhol, by saying that artists are always in danger of repeating themselves. (Warhol called it “making cakes.”) I left offended, thinking that he didn’t understand me, and that he was incapable of appreciating my art. Today, of course, I know that he was right. You have to know when you are ready. Your art has to be ready. Timing and matur- ity are important in promoting your art.

By Florin Firimita

By Florin Firimita

E.D. A Romanian artist who has become a success story in the USA once said that it is easier in America for anyone with a little talent to succeed. Do you agree with this line of ideas, in comparison to Europe, of course?

F.F. Succeed, but for how long? Talent, success, the United States, they all sound wonderful together. In Andy Warhol’s blender, it is the perfect 15-minute-of-fame melange. Talent is not enough to be successful. To me, talent is not only a gift, an accident, talent is a duty. It is also only a very small part of what it takes to succeed in today’s art world. And of course, America is such an extraordinary, dynamic and tolerant place, that plenty of people with no talent are allowed to become famous! These are the perils of democracy! Not that all artists are equally good, but that all artists have an equal chance to show their work. There will always be the swift stuntmen of art, the one-timers, the elevator music musicians, the kings and queens of kitsch, marching along with the profound voices of our time. It is very colourful to watch. And here, in a country where everything is aimed at being successful, we love to display our clowns in specimen jars; we recycle our fakes and turn them into accessible moral tales. Look at the cases of Anna-Nicole Smith or Paris Hilton. There is always a tendency to de-mystify profound art, to dilute everything and bring it to the consumer’s level. Subconsciously, we are afraid of what a Beethoven symphony might arise in us, so we turn it into elevator music. In this light, making art is opposite to the art world. You have two contrasting aspects: being in your studio, away from the world, is probably one of the last bastions of privacy. There is a certain vulnerability in being in the studio, dealing with your art, it is something sacred if you wish. But then, you have to show your work. Sharing that intimate experience by leaving the comfort of your studio and getting out there, attending openings, contacting galleries and museums, etc., is a totally different game. It is like a monk spending his evenings in discotheques. On top of that, what you are dealing with as an artist is this constant chase between skills and content. You think you have things to say, but you don’t know how, or your technical skills are great, but your content is barren. When the two agree, something magical hap- pens, and then you could finally talk about making art. Bottom line is: do you have anything to say? Are you able to transfer a private, personal experience, into a universal truth? Beethoven did it. Pessoa did it. Van Gogh did it. The guy who com- poses music for TV car commercials doesn’t. I am not saying that his skills don’t have a place and function in the daily mechanism of our lives, but “true” talent always elicits what I call the “WOW!” effect: you are so deeply affected by a
poem, a film, a story, a painting, or a photograph, that it stops you in your tracks, it takes your breath away, it brings you back, it moves you, it stays with you. It doesn’t happen every day, but when it does, you know it. It’s like falling in love. Success means being true to yourself, and being fortunate enough to be able to share that
with the world. Sooner or later, anything less than that is bound to get flushed down
the drain of oblivion.

E.D. How do American galleries and art collectors view contemporary European art? Do they want to promote European artists?

F.F. I think there is a huge enthusiasm for new, contemporary European at in the United States. Americans are fascinated by Europe the way Europeans are fascinated by the U.S. Europe has always been the mother-ship, and American artists love looking back at “old” Europe, ever since Duchamp, de Kooning, Mondrian, Arshile Gorky, and so many other artists landed in here. There are always quality European artists showing here. I am personally very fond of Pierre-Marie Brisson’s work, discovered through a show in New York a few years ago.

E.D. How do you actually work your paintings, the materials and the technique you use are very interesting.

By Florin Firimita

By Florin Firimita

F.F. One of the most important epiphanies of my artistic development was an encounter with the work of Pablo Picasso in a retrospective at the Mu- seum of Modern Art in New York City in 1996. Through Picasso I have learned that art has nothing to do with mimicking nature, but rather restruc- turing it based on personal observations. He taught me that the world is a puzzle, a collage, and that we all re-arrange reality based on our own ex- periences. If left undisturbed, the proverbial mirror facing reality would be just that: a pale reflection of a commonly accepted truth. My approach to image-making has a lot to do with rejecting the formulaic, overtly- simplistic communist aesthetic under which I grew up. I love complexity, symbols and labyrinths. I look at everything. I am trying to be aware. I think that artists are people who are aware. As an artist, I am a collector, a collector of information, feelings, scents, sounds, and colours. I try to re-organize reality, channel it, and re-transmit it. I always work on several pieces at the time. I used to work on canvas, but now, most of the pieces are on wood or masonite. It takes sometimes up to six months to finish one. I love the process, the making of art. There are a lot of layers, a lot of re- working the surface. I use everything I find in the studio: paint, charcoal, photos, markers, inks, coloured pencils, etc.

E.D. Do you want your paintings to transmit an idea, a feeling? Does your art has a message?

F.F. All artists are messengers of ideas and feelings; we are pointing the flashlight at what we feel is worth sharing with the world at large. We could go out in the middle of the street and shout at the passers-by, but instead, we go to our studios. We do it peacefully. No artist has ever been a suicide bomber. Duke Ellington once said that “music is what happens between notes.” I like to see my work as that magic space between the viewer and the object in front of his/her eyes. I don’t look for a message when I start, and I am not trying to impose a message on the viewer. We don’t have control over what a work of art says. That’s the beauty of it. I also believe that a true, lasting, work of art is continuously open for inter- pretation. That’s why we have Proust, or Borges, or Gaudí. Good art never ends. Borges talks somewhere about the fact that everything given to us is a tool. Maybe it was my early exposure to literature, music, theater, film, that made me explore and decode the complexities of the world around me. I needed a language. Within this reality, I became interested in what Joseph Campbell called “mystery,” which is the secret, invisible essence of things, underlying everything. As scientists have been searching for years for the ultimate “theory of everything,” with every work of art created, artists have been doing exactly the same. In this context, in my art, everything is cycli- cal rather than linear. I believe in the existence of parallel universes. In this context, everything becomes valuable, everything has potential, everything is the source as well the recipient. I love to sneak behind viewers at shows were I am not known, and listen to what they have to say about my pieces

It is always rewarding to see your work through other people’s eyes. I also pay attention to what my students see in my work. At a recent opening of one of my shows, a friend of mine started crying in front of one of the pieces. I was puzzled by it. In a world flooded with images, we don’t react this way to visual art anymore. And partially because of that, her tears were one of the most profound compliment I have ever received about my work.

E.D. Can you include your art in a current?

F.F. “Isms” are prison-words. I am not a fan of “isms.” I am influenced by everything that brought me here, to this day. I am constantly looking, con- stantly changing. My style ten years ago is radically different to my style today. During the 1970’s, while I was growing up in Romania, my life was marked by several powerful and formative events: the discovery, at the early age of ten, of my own and others’ mortality, writing a personal journal as a form of confession, the discovery of books and movies, and making art. My father died in 1982, when I was sixteen. Back then, I loved Cezanne, Pallady and Van Gogh. The next year, when I was about to graduate from high school, my mother died, too. I was an only child. Between dealing with the hardships of growing up alone and the pressures of living in a police state, I found shelter in art. For many years after that defining point, art had replaced almost everything in my life—my friends, my mentors, and the idea of home. I attended hundreds of classical con- certs, ballets, and plays. I read thousands of books, from the classics to contemporary authors. I even read my way through the mazes of Greek philosophy and existentialism. I was an impressionist and later, a fauve painter. At 17, I discovered the films of Antonioni, Fellini, Bergman, and Andrei Tarkovsky. Art repeatedly saved my life by keeping me sane. In a way, it is still “saving” my life today. Back then, I did not hope that art would give me immediate answers or solace; I was too young for that. I had found refuge in art because I was angry, and I felt abandoned. Art became the best vehicle for preserving my memories, and for making sense. Art was an attempt at dealing with life. The closeness of art gave me the illu- sion that I could create and inhabit a different world. Art became a vehicle for escape. I still like to escape, “isms” included.

E.D. What are your favourite painters and who (if it is the case) inspired you mostly?

F.F. My parents are among the most important influences in my art. Although their contribution to the history of art is insignificant, their influence on my artistic development is not. First, my mother. Unfortunately, I do not have any of her work, or any references to it, except for my memory. She dreamt of becoming a fashion designer,
but she ended up being a seamstress. I spent my childhood among colourful fabrics and dress mannequins. I remember her sketching all the time. Because of the political changes in Romania in the 1940’s, when we were invaded by the Russians, my mother never realized her dreams. Like her life, her sketches remained unfinished. But how could I forget that she bought me my first set of watercolour paints? My father, an amateur photographer, allowed me in his darkroom from the time I was six years old. Five years later, he gave me one his expensive cameras. He was also making for a while some strange, quite tacky reliquary pieces out of paper pulp mixed with saw dust that he learned how to make in prison, I believe. I see the echo of that technique in my current assemblages. I owe him the fact that today, photography and assemblage has
become an important part of my visual explorations.

When I immigrated to the United States in 1990, I faced the challenge of adapting to my new environment, and, in the process, gradually, I began to be influenced by it. I started visiting art museums and galleries. I also started reading art magazines, art criticism, and artist biographies. It took me several years to discover major affinities with several artists like Picasso, Duchamp, Robert Rauschenberg, R.B.Kitaj, Jim Dine, and David Salle. During the past several years, they have opened new artistic doors for me, and they have left their mark on my subject matter and my technical and stylistic approaches to art-making.

E.D. Dear Florin, thank you very much for your time and we would really like to hope for a Florin Ion Firimita exhibition on the Old Continent soon.