Experts’ comments

Michael Cross and Jorg Fechter, Arthaus Gallery, Dallas, TX 1994

His exploration of the work of Klee, Soulages and Pollock eventually led him to pure geometric abstractions. His paintings reveal extremely strong expression as he developed new techniques for his oil paintings and pencil drawings.

Dumitru Vonica’s drawings of the 70s have a striking linkage to the abstraction being produced by the Russian artist Malevich after 1917, following the Russian revolution. The work of Dr. Vonica is more intricate and has more pictorial depth than the Suprematism of the Russian Constructivists, In the mid 20s, Malevich used a series of chart-like posters to illustrate his theory that there is a similarity between microscopic bacteria and the ability of “infectious” agents in the art world to bring about radical change. Whether by intuition of by intent, Dr. Vonica took the Cubistic and Constructivist tools of the art history in Eastern Europe and advanced their use to suit his own time, personality and experience. Dumitru Vonica is now seen as an important modern day link to the work produced in the 1920s and 1930s, which until now has largely been thought of as abandoned by its creators such as Malevich, Braques and Picasso.

Virgil Ciomos, Philosopher, Phenomenologist

Painting as a bright wound

Dumitru Vonica was and remains a pioneer in the artistic Romania of the “60s. Not because he intended to connect – formally – to an already established Western current, but because to paint something that cannot have a figure had become, in his case, a certain manner of answering the call of origins. The origin of figurative cannot be placed under the sign of the figurative. To paint in spite of these the un-figurative means, therefore, not only the specific way to confer a “place” to the Origin itself, but, above all, the event itself through which the act of origin takes, in fact, place.

The double meaning of this collocation – “to take place” – covers not only space but also time; more accurately, the spatial dimension of the image, as well as the temporal dimension of image creation. In this way, the space-generation of the initial non-figurative becomes the effect of an event, which coincides – partially – with the act of artistic creation. Why (only) partial? Because the Origin can only be observed after the event, like some non-figurative, in-colored ur-trace remain on the canvas of the artist. The dominant feeling in Dumitru Vonica’s painting is one of proximity, of imminence of the primordial moment of apparition, from light, of the work, its simple shading. This is why, for our artist, not only is the distance separating us from the unimaginable Origin converted in the nonfigurative character of his painting, but this distance itself appears in a few paintings through a rip in the primordial light, the one before any color and any image.

About the two creative phases in the work of Dumitru Vonica:

The first one, between 1965 and 1975, seems to be dedicated to the – almost ascetic – experiment of image deconstruction, in and through painting. A deconstruction with true philosophical attributes, for Heidegger already proposed the term, now classic in phenomenology, of “deconstruction”. It’s as if the painter would take apart the all the imaginary activity, a procedure that clasically belongs to an analysis. This is otherwise a procedure shared with Medicine: blood analysis, for instance, involves a separation of its components. Nevertheless, the meaning of Dumitru Vonica’s analysis is not reduced to its purely horizontal dimension, which would limit it to a simple decomposition of what has already been actualized. This analysis implies an “elevation” to the condition of possibility of the painting, meaning to its point of origin.

For Lacan, such an “analysis”, aiming for the “anabatic” acquisition of our own hidden Origin, bears the name of assumption and can be connected to the ascension of the Virgin Mary, with the whole body, and, therefore, with image. In this complex and profound context, Dumitru Vonica’s painting simultaneously proposes two things: the analytical anticipation of the first Light, which, just like in Klee, appears in this creative period as spots, or points of light designed to almost pierce the material of the painting, true wounds of light around which is organized the destruction of images, as many in-color and un-figurative traces of the Origin itself; and the anticipation of a reverse pictorial move, catabatic – which is, descending – once the Origin itself would have been assumed as source of authentic art.

This last moment corresponds to the second and last of Dumitru Vonica’s creative periods, which could be called “abstract” or “non-figurative. Not because, once the image has been decomposed, the painter would have decided to limit himself, analytically, to the recomposition of its non-figurative elements, abstracted from any determined con-figuration. The abstract character of this period does not presume abstracting and recombining the fragments of one and the same image. On the contrary, it aims at a superior pictorial level, anterior to any figuration, situated in the temporal and spatial vicinity of the Origin itself. The first light appears now as an explosion occurring in the very condensation points specific to some non-figurative primordial elements, true “divine differentials” which precede any con-figuration. When “untwilighted “ light does not pierce effectively, and, at the same time, centers the painting, it purely and simply enlightens it, like a layer of “remnant” paint coat, even more primary. Hence the impression of stained glass produced by some of Dumitru Vonica’s paintings. Therefore, his “multilayer” technique does not concern solely a simple spatial architecture, but especially a temporal archeo-logy, pictorial pendant of the Word – Logos – from Beginnings – Arche -, “Light from light”.

How much pain can be contained in this asceticism of figurative deconstruction until one reaches the sobriety of non-figurative reconstitution! How much luminous tearing until one reaches to its shading, to its simple – soothing – trace on paper! We understand the obsession of the artist for the chiaroscuro and his adoration for Rembrandt. If in his first attempts he tried to understand and appropriate, in an alternative way, what is light, and how do all shades derive from it, the paintings of the last period point to an almost alchemical simultaneity of the two contrary principles. Light no longer produces “wholes” in figurative; she enlightens – internally – its own shadows. All these might have a connection with the symptom or the artist, this time understood as “simple” human subject: pictorial chiaroscuro can, indeed, say something about the coincidence between mania and depression, suppressed and overcome in and through the sobriety of the artist himself.

He is not the only human subject to have tried, even unconsciously, to recreate the inner unity through art. Joyce’s case is the better known, analyzed by Lacan in an entire seminar. Other names, equally illustrious, could be added, but I will only mention Hölderlin and Artaud. The larger the tear between the opposites of our soul, the more extraordinary is its power to create, true power of transfiguration. Non-figurative if only the secondary way the trans-figuration is perceived in figurative scale. Dumitru Vonica exposed himself to this danger, and his work is proof of the creative power resulting from this exposure. There where peril lies, so does salvation.

Opening speech at the Dumitru Vonica show, Cluj-Napoca, 2011. Quoted from Tribuna, 217, 16-30 September 2011)

Vasile Radu

Art critic, art historian, essayist, art gallery owner

In 1924, when Dumitru Vonica was born in Cluj (Transylvania), the German Kurt Schwitters had just patented the collage, a new technique based on the incongruous juxtaposition of heterogeneous fragments taken over from reality, replacing the paint and the brush, the painter’s traditional tools, with the knife and the glue, and the easel with the working board. In the same period, in Köln, Max Ernst invents the frottage, copying on the white sheet of paper different textures with the help of the lead from a lead pencil. All this while in Paris Henry Matisse was using découpages, shapes cut out with the scissors, vividly colored in gouache, then pinned on a white support, which acts as a background for the work of art.

In a full epoch of socialist realism, the painter Dumitru Vonica, refusing the official direction of art, takes over these techniques, fuses them, obtaining an original technique by using stencils cut out of cardboard which he imprints on a colored support by superposition and tamponing with a tool made of sponge or gauze, something like the scrapers used by Pierre Soulages. This leads the artist to approach an abstract artistic theme in compositions obtained by the successive imprinting, in an intuitive-random manner, of these cut-out and superposed patterns.

The relative automatism of the procedure consists of his refusal to load the artistic expression with a specific theme content, as was required by the academic precepts and those of the socialist realism which sprang out of them. It was a refusal of his art to substitute itself to a behavior of propagandistic expression.

The artist – who refused any political enlistment – strove to continue the organic connection with Western art, exploring and using novelties in pictorial language, which he discovered by studying the artistic vanguard of the interbelic years. Moreover, by refusing socialist realism, Dumitru Vonica formulated a poetics of his art by appealing to the aesthetic theory of Nicolai Hartmann, who discusses the successive layers of a work of art, and their instantaneous, whole and homogeneous reception. He was convinced that through this method he could set himself against the aesthetic theories of social origin starting from Cernâşevski to Georg Lukacs, preferring the ideas of pure form and autonomous development of the work of art, as formulated from Kant to Hartmann. Due to these reasons, the artist lived in isolation in his own country, he had sporadic exhibitions, but he worked fiercely, leaving behind large works of art in drawing and paint, pieces which impose themselves only now by their striking originality.

Forward to the catalogue for the Dumitru Vonica exhibition, Cluj, 2011.

Nicolae Steinhardt

Writer, essayist, art critic, monk

I could not have said you were self-taught. Your paintings, drawings, graphics have plenty of elegance, strength, and geometry. These are rather related to science, refinement and even subtlety – products of method and knowledge – than the enthusiasm of lack of schooling. The lines of force, black, energetic, sovereign, prove an expert craft, somewhat reminiscent of Valery’s masteries and edges with words.

I see plenty of color, and riches of light, as if some of the striving and passion for life of the physician passed into your paintings.

Allow me to tell you what your decorated, sumptuous, elegant, subtle, but also powerful, virile, non-mannerist art evokes in me. I remember rehearsals of Toscanini’s orchestra that I had the occasion to attend. Before directing a piece by Debussy, he would take his handkerchief from the chest pocket of his coat, a white, untouched, a little perfumed, I guess, handkerchief; he would wave it in front of the orchestra and say: “This is how Debussy should be played. Debussy is silk, thinness, decoration for an opulent house, but don’t forget that under the silk and linen is hidden a sinewy, mighty, energetic man”. Isn’t this one of the possible definitions of art? I find it perfectly applied to your paintings: power dissimulated in elegance and splendor.

Talking to the painter Dumitru Vonica, in “The Danger of Confession”, Dacia Ed., Cluj, 1993. Translated from Romanian by AV.

Ioan Muslea

Poet and writer

I shall try to recall the figure of Dumitru Vonica, important abstract painter, creator of an impressive work, still almost confidential in his native Romania, although some of his paintings are in collections in France, Germany, US, or Canada.

An M.D. by trade, Dumitru Vonica was self-taught, of the family of Tuculescu and Bernea, haunted/possessed by a similarly consuming passion and flame. I hope these reproductions and texts will be the occasion to confront the world of today with the audacities and searches of a great painter who hit the wall of censorship, of absurd, obtuse limitations of the “golden era” of Communism that many who read this would not have lived, while others tend to forget.

Foreword in Tribuna, 217, 16-30 September 2011. Translated from Romanian by AV.


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