Drawing the paint to reveal the pattern: about Mircea Suciu’s seriousness

April 29, 2011

The Romanian artist Mircea Suciu has proven during the last years to be an artist able to joggle with several artistic media, engaging them with equal interest and inquisitiveness, from painting to drawing, from installation to what one might call staged photography. However, the artist is still largely perceived, rightfully or not, mainly as painter, and it is precisely the topic of painting itself, namely of its condition as artistic medium and of its translatability, that he obliquely tackles in his show at Laika Gallery in Cluj, titled Full Moon.
The exhibition consists of seven rather large sized drawings in charcoal on paper, one of the most classical forms of graphic art. However, the surfaces of the works possess more painterly than graphic qualities: the blacks and whites and all the grays in between look fluid like paint, they induce in a remarkably realistic manner the illusion, albeit not immediately perceivable for a hurried gaze, of an unctuous surface specific to oil painting. It is as if paintings would have been kind of near-IR photographed, yet not in order to help a process of restoration, but with the ambitious and maybe even utopian purpose of revealing something deeper, acutely meaningful, about their inner existence and essential structure. The colour is expelled from these works only to come back with a vengeance, using drawing as a disguise, as a sort of subversive excuse and also as a challenge addressed to the viewer.
Thus, the substance on the paper performs a double exercise in mimesis. On one hand, the images are recognizable as figurative scenery, they are images of the world in the most immediate meaning of the syntagm. On the other hand, one medium mimics, or rather translates another and by doing this it questions and re-evaluates it. One must not understand from these that Suciu’s drawings are merely vane technical show-offs. Rather, they are the result of an acutely sincere endeavour of an artist fiercely aware of the problematic character of a traditional medium in the context of contemporary art, a medium which is nevertheless considered by the artist to remain relevant in the highest degree. From this standpoint, the whole exhibition appears as a difficult, yet successful and visually arresting attempt to confront and exorcise the inner demon of doubt that haunts a truly inquisitive and dramatically serious artist.
The images themselves are at the same time strongly metaphorical and open to the realm of the narrative, they are apparently easy legible, yet actually subtle. They equally offer the viewer the possibility of looking at them, getting the obvious metaphorical point, be pleased and move on and that of taking the time to scrutinize them and to use them as starting point for building several alternative narratives of her or his own. Thus, Suciu’s drawings possess the remarkable quality of being demanding and semantically reach, on one hand and apparently unproblematic, on the other hand. Confronted with this paradox, ultimately, the spectator has the choice: the works’ substantial and diverse potential is always within reach, but the viewer’s patience and reflexivity are required in order for that potential to be fully grasped.
The “dress code”, so to speak, is of crucial importance for understanding Suciu’s metaphors and intentions. The uniform or the standardized clothing, which are almost omnipresent in the works displayed at Laika Gallery, unavoidably make one think of discipline and of institutions. In the visual universe that Mircea Suciu has built up in Full Moon, it seems like they are viewed as the most important items circumscribing and regulating the world. The standardized characters he depicts don’t seem to feel handicapped by their regimentation and they do not act as they would feel oppressed by their somewhat rigidly fixed condition. They are acting rather naturally, fulfilling their social tasks and roles with a certain detachment and making the social order they epitomize look like it would be the natural order under which human beings function.
Indeed, although the images on which the drawings are based upon all belong to a time span of less than seventy years (from the beginning of the 20th century until the late sixties), there is something timeless about Mircea Suciu’s works. There is also a conscious refuse of, lets say, geopolitical specificity in his black, white and gray charcoal paintings. As a result of the two above mentioned features, the viewer can imagine most of the depicted scenes taking place just as plausibly in the American early forties, in the Nazi Germany, in communist Romania just after the Stalinist period or even in colonial Algeria. Thus, for an attentive eye, the works appear to boldly strive for universality. Their real, encompassing topic is human behaviour and the human tendency to perpetuate patterns of behaviour in various epochs and geopolitical circumstances. And although the images are somewhat cool and aloof, there still is something mildly, yet irritatingly and genuinely menacing about them. One of the most impressive qualities of these works is precisely that: although they strive for universality with a good chance of reaching it, they are also subtle, yet ominous reminders of the bitter truth that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it, with mostly tragic consequences.
Yet, there is hope. This is made perfectly legible by the most out of place looking work in the show, namely 1902 – 1968. The drawing appropriates the famous image of the anthropomorphic and unfriendly, kind of murky looking Moon in George Melies’ movie, A Trip to the Moon from 1902. Mircea Suciu’s drawing is the expression of its belief in the genuine and maybe salutary power of imagination to generate real change in the world and to motivate people’s actions. And indeed, if Neil Armstrong was at all right when he famously proclaimed that his first step on the Moon was a giant leap for mankind, he was right because his legendary step proved that mankind is able to pursue its most benign and even lyrical fantasies at least as stubbornly as it follows its most dark and destructive dreams.

The present text was previously published by Bogdan Iacob in the small catalogue of Mircea Suciu’s Full Moon solo exhibition at Laika Gallery in Cluj.

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