Radu Oreian: ‘Microscripts and Melted Matters’
As I wandered through the pacific silence of Nosco Gallery, London, I came across the universe of Radu Oreian’s art – and ‘universe’ really is the proper word for it. His works are often massive both in scale and scope. The longer you look, the more you’ll find of the following: sea creatures, bodily fluids, thumb prints, flush plasma, veins and arteries, infinity in pointillism – even nostalgia for your childhood dreams.
‘Microscripts and Melted Matters’ represents a contemporary interpretation of the baroque and the divine grotesque, an impressive anthology of troubling, oneiric feeling; it is a travelogue relentlessly determined to dissect the physical experience of the artwork itself. In light of the October exhibition last year, I caught up with the artist.
What were your formative experiences as an artist? Was there a critical moment, something that happened – a person, a book you read or a film you watched – that left its mark on you in this way?
One of the first memories I have from my childhood is that of my parents’ library, out of which two art volumes especially fascinated me: a Masaccio and a Mantegna. In them were conglomerations of colourful characters and mythical worlds, of saints contorted in pain, explosions of narration and stories lost among the hundreds of grey books of the classic post-communist library. Even then I felt what impact an image could have.
I decided very late to apply to the Art and Design University of Cluj-Napoca. I studied at a high school with a science/maths-focused curriculum, and at the age of seventeen I had no idea which way to go. Then I was lucky enough to be immobilized in bed with my leg in a cast for a few weeks – and that’s how I started to draw.
Today, who or what influences your work?
It so happens that the last artwork finished for the London exposition, ‘Microscripts and Melted Matters’ in October (with Gallery Nosco in Soho), was inspired by Mantegna’s ‘Saint Sebastian’. I generally like to re-approach the big, classic themes, because we live in an era in which we have forgotten how to understand them. I’ve also been greatly influenced by Persian and Indian miniatures, Etruscan frescoes, Roman mosaics, pre-Christian banquet and ceremonial scenes. The question is: how do you recreate this amalgamation – [this] visual information – in a contemporary painting?
Beyond painting, what do you read, watch or consume culturally that inspires you? Films, books, movies, for example?
I prefer audiobooks because they leave my eyes and hands free for painting. In the series of ‘Vectorial’ works, in which the same gesture is repeated obsessively on the surface of the canvas, sounds or music distract my attention from the act of painting and, paradoxically, I become more present – I could say that the slumber of reason in the midst of the creative act gives birth to better things in my case.
Visually I’m fascinated by art’s intersection with history, literature, mysticism, and biology, even psychiatry. Archaic documents like the Magna Carta, Rosetta Stone or Babylonian tablets with cuneiform texts, as well as Robert Walser’s Micro-Scriptures (Walser was a 20th century writer hospitalized in an insane asylum), in which he coded an alphabet into a new visual form, these all were the inspirational basis for entire evenings of work.
What does it mean, from your point of view, to be a Romanian artist? Or a European artist? Or both?
What is ‘Romanian’ in my practice is I have kept the methodology, the technical and formal part of the Cluj School, where I studied. The conceptual side developed after I left in Romania; and living in Europe for the last eleven years, the intersection of the two worlds has brought me, I think, this status of a ‘Romanian-European’ artist. I travel a lot and today, socio-cultural-political identity is harder than ever to define, but the 24 years I lived in Romania and the constant visits that I make back to my country have established a set of values that I will always define myself with.
What do ‘method’ and ‘methodology’ mean to you? What would your ideal work conditions look like? Tell us about your technique.
I’d like to describe, briefly, the two directions of my practice, and then describe the work processes that they imply:
a) The figurative aspect is represented by the intersection of reality, or my life experiences, with a selective line of history; that which resonates with me. Through painting I feel a total liberty of reconstructing through pieces of history a new context, a new mythology, a window towards a world in which all associations are possible. For example, a recent drawing entitled ‘Self-Portrait as Eros in Pompeii’ appeared as the result of a ‘visionary exercise’ and is placed exactly at the intersection that I was referring to earlier: a personal journey through Italy and my fascination for Roman frescoes and mosaics.
The abstract works imply a more depersonalized work method and refer to a collective consciousness. Here, Carl Jung’s ‘Archetypes’, verses from the Upanishads, and Mircea Eliade’s writings, [particularly those] referring to the human condition’s need for identifying with a form of sacredness, take over the role of motivation. The process of work implies the repetition of a singularity that contains infinity within its structure. Thus, tens of thousands of dots, lines, miniscule but distinct gestures function as a mode of reflection upon the role of singularity ‘within the bigger picture’.
The joining, sometimes superimposition of the two methods, which are complete opposites (abstractly or figuratively speaking) on the same surface, creates for me an analogy through painting of the duality that characterises the human condition.
b) The present is always the best moment for work and ideal conditions don’t exist. Franz Marc produced his masterpiece in the trenches of WW1.
Tell us about your project inspired by the concept of Autism – ‘Archives from the Other Side’ – and the research you undertook for this work. What about this attracted, inspired, moved you?
I received from a friend some notebooks full of repetitive geometric forms, composed of completely abstract writing. She had them from a cousin of hers, Emil, a person with severe psychological disabilities, and knowing about my practice she thought it might interest me. I remember my initial reaction when I leafed through them; it was like discovering a treasure in an attic. The pages filled by Emil have are very emotionally charged and possess an incredible aesthetic sensibility; I studied in detail these monumental archives about ‘both everything and nothing’ and their poetry does not cease to intrigue me.
After a year I started to create an equivalent for every one of the pages in the notebooks: an oil painting of the same size filled with my repetitive texture (like a mirror of Emil’s geometry but a negative of his form) and at the end, this dialogue was presented under the name of ‘Archives from the Other Side’.
How do your projects influence each other? Do you believe in a ‘magnum opus’ or do you see each artwork as absolutely individual?
The works are universes in themselves and many times I find the answer to all my question in the pleasure of painting. Henry Miller said, ‘to paint is to love again’ and he was so right.
The medium has embedded in itself something that the rational mind cannot grasp. The dawn of each works hints the rise of the next but it has to find you working: in the end, the point is to enjoy the process and the countless hours of work, and when you do so, the projects will follow up naturally.
How and in what way do you feel you have developed as an artist as your career has progressed?
The big game-changer for me was the moment I realized I had to switch the focus from ‘wanting because I thought I deserved it’ to finding new resources within myself to take my work to another level. This change in consciousness can snap in a second but overall it is a slow-cooking process.
Each failed little step is incredibly precious in the long term, as long as the next day you’re back in your studio hungry for more and you’re willing to learn from your mistakes. It’s all a crazy journey where ‘every level is another devil’, but I am enjoying the ride.
Interview by Andreea Scridon.
Radu Oreian: ‘Microscripts and Melted Matters’ was on show at Gallery Nosco, London, September 30 – October 3.
To keep up with Radu’s work, follow him on Instagram.
To discover more content exclusive to our print and digital editions, subscribe here to receive a copy of The London Magazine to your door every two months, while also enjoying full access to our extensive digital archive of essays, literary journalism, fiction and poetry.