Anca Stefanescu talks about her work with the curator Marta Grabowska for the Red Zenith Collective, 2020
How did your upbringing directed you to become an artist? Do you think we are born to be artists or that is something we learn over
Everything I’ve done prepared me for today... I don’t remember the point, the decision when I said I am going to be an artist, a painter... It was never a sudden discovery like a moment of revelation. I think it was rather a way of expressing myself and of relating with the world around me since my early childhood. I grew up pretty isolated and I played with what I could find around me... dirt, water, leaves, branches, I drew up with a stick in the dust... I moulded with dirt, I painted with cherries...
By the age of 7, I knew how to sew, embroider and knit. I knew how to create a stage from crap, how to make clothing for my dolls. I played building human figures from bread and transforming food into colours.
One moment of child clumsiness and the tomato stain on my favourite nightgown ruined it forever. Glum and joy in one moment. One item destroyed but what an amazing discovery.
I’ve learned that everything around us can be turned into an art image. No one taught me how to draw or why. It developed alongside my walking and my language. It seems I was learning and building skills but as I see it now it was more like building from scratch my future persona.
Traces of Elapsed Time, installation, flour and wood
Art is about the intuitive, about instincts it is the process through which I learned to feel with my brain. It has no rules other than
what inspiration dictates.
Through art making you make millions of decisions and you give birth to your identity as much as of a painting. All decisions within an artwork from every small nuance, proportion, composition, gesture... they must all co-create in harmony or in contrast and I think they are all just counterparts to the human emotions.
Tell me more about the specific space in the art world that you occupy? Do you identify with any of the art movements or genres?
At the core of my work is to understand who I am and how psyche influences matter. I am essentially human, not intellectual. I am personal, I do not always understand what I paint, and I rather play.
I work in series because my style fluctuates. I don’t think I have a style or that I belong to any particular art movement. I don’t care about classifications... All I care about is to express my emotional experiences. It takes me a lot of time to paint a series. In order for my artworks to appear fresh and simple I have to go thoroughly through a long process of sketching, one with lots and lots of versions.
Sometimes I feel ready to paint and all the sketches seem finished but just before the starting point I change them all into new ones. It feels to me as if I move from one energetic level to another. And it is not that I dislike the previous versions; it is just a feeling that tells me they are no longer in accord with my present emotionality.
I studied art from an early age therefore I am aware of the impossibility of considering my art as belonging to one particular style or movement.
It doesn’t fit in abstraction even though one can easily recognise the flatness of geometric abstraction and its lack of descriptive details allows a figurative decoding only partially. The human figures I had painted in the last years became more contours, and rarely can you identify physical elements inside these shapes.
Yet I can't paint vague abstractions, what I paint must be definite, specific. They are referrals to emotional situations, to emotional moments of my daily life. My life is not abstract, my daily range of experienced emotions is very present in my mind. Because I live pretty much in my mind I do what the inspiration dictates to me. I don’t really know how it comes but it always came to me. I guess anything can inspire me... a photograph, a poem.
Even if I am not always aware or remember the starting point of that precise inspirational moment.
Double Media, performance, Poznan, Poland, 1998
What are your biggest influences and inspirations?
I am an artist in search of identity and purpose. Everything inspires me but what unbridledly influenced how I think, act or look at the world are the writers I resonated with starting with novelists such as Albert Camus, Herman Hesse or Virginia Woolf, many poets including the Romanian Lucian Blaga and especially William Blake or the western philosophers Confucius, Plato and Ralph Waldo Emerson, to the New Age thinkers like Carl Jung or Rudolph Steiner... All the lectures that have been populating my life and helped me not to feel lonely, lost in my mind and separated from the world. They gave me access to a larger range of emotional experiences helping me to expand on the relationship between mind and spirit.
Sometimes I use to write myself, usually when I feel too detached and ungrounded, and I keep writing until the landscape of my imagination returns to me in waves of colour, until the unknown reality seems a bit more decipherable and less shadowed.
The challenge for me is to bring from my mind what my inspiration projects... in truth those images I can never truly reproduce in my art...they proved to be only starting points for what is gradually revealed through the art making process. An idea can easily turn into an object.
But the same idea when I am painting an image implies a different phenomenon, a longer and more intuitive one.
Is your art a kind of a conversation with other artists, philosophers etc. - for example in ways you reference certain styles, philosophical thoughts etc.?
Having studied art from an early age I am aware of the impossibility of considering my art as belonging to one particular style or movement.
I know it doesn’t fit in abstraction even though one can easily recognise the flatness of geometric abstraction and its lack of descriptive details allows a figurative decoding only partially.
The human figures I had painted in the past years became more contours, and rarely you can identify physical elements inside these shapes.
I believe starting with Wassily Kandinsky’s art and spirituality, who perceived the identification of art as a form of consciousness and understood colour’s power of influencing the soul and continuing with Jackson Pollock’s art as an expression of the energy in motion, I believe many aspects of abstraction across the century can be reminded to some extent in my work.
Yet I do not consider myself an abstract artist. I am not concerned with my style nor do I intend to let it lead me though time. To me geometric abstraction represents the spiritual meaning behind patterns and symbols.
From the Platonic Solids that form the basis for every design in the universe, the Golden Ratio sometimes called the Divine Proportion, to the sacred spiral of Fibonacci’s sequence, ingrained in everything from the human body, the spiral arrangement of leaves to a snail shell...all theoreticized on the language of numbers and perfect shapes that form the fundamental templates for life.
Abstract Expressionism came from a group of artists committed to a form of art born out of intense emotion...and this for me equals what I call excitement as a synonym for inspiration of being in the flow.
In the unpredictable stroke of a brush, I sense the rush of alignment with my most profound emotions, I feel the energy that moves me and All That Is alongside me, the energy that connects everyone with everyone, everything with everything.
Abstract Expressionism came from a group of artists committed to a form of art born out of intense emotion...and this for me equals what I call excitement as a synonym for inspiration of being in the flow. In the mark making or the unpredictable, uncontrolled stroke of a brush, I sense the rush of alignment with my most profound emotions, I feel the energy that moves me and All That Is alongside me, the energy that connects everyone with everyone, everything with everything.
Double Media, performance, Poznan, Poland, 1998
You told me you were a performer, you also write poetry, how does this inform your paintings and vice versa?
I was never the kind of a slow artist... I always wanted to finish an artwork rapidly. You know seeing the results quickly but oddly enough I’d never developed a style that allowed me this experience in painting. The images in my head can’t be expressed rapidly. I often stopped painting, and for some stops were very long.
I stopped searching for something new and I don’t mean originality... but more of a new experience.
Through my performances I experienced direct emotional communication. Performance allows the expression of the purest emotion with no rehearsal no control and allows you as an artist a direct connection with the public. I guess I needed this kind of direct and immediate connection… and of course you can discover and learn a lot about yourself during a performance. I remember one time after a performance that took place in Poznan, Poland during an art festival, in 1994 I think, the many hours I needed to recover... to be able to speak and walk again. I remember the erratic pulse of my heart... the reactions of the audience... Never before have I been so aware of how different emotions can overlap creating such an overwhelming feeling. I’ve been in touch with my anxiety or the fear of disclosing the most intimate events of my life, in touch with the need for sharing or my lack of need in keeping something intimate and private just for myself. Every event, every action brought up new questions and in a way a deeper need of understanding who I AM.
I like painting because it disconnects me from the physical world...while keeping me focused in physical action and this long procedure of finishing an artwork allows me to blend both mind thinking and mind feeling as well as thinking and feeling with my senses. I’ve learned through my process that art is not about an idea outside the mind, that the canvas is not a finite support, or background, a backdrop, it is not alone, an isolated object. Each time I stop from painting and I am creating an object is like using the insights painting process offered me to give myself the time to absorb and to change perspective and start anew. I also like to write. I always liked and needed to release my thoughts in this way.
But it was always harder to make my writings public. In a painting the message is somehow encrypted, emotions are contained but not directly revealed. Writing to me is more direct and perhaps this why how I wrote is another way of encrypting emotions.
Many times they are my inspiration sources.
As in the series “On the Language of Love”. I painted the series two years after I had written the poem. Sometimes I just have emotions that I cannot experience or express in my life. They are just not available to me. This is my latest series “A Woman’s Secret Heart”. I am not a mother. I am a woman who had been married, divorced, remarried had dogs have dogs who has been through abortions, and miscarriages and still born experiences. A woman with feelings and desires towards motherhood. The love for a child is an experience you can feel even if you are not a mother in the direct sense of the word. Through this series of paintings I created an identity and I experienced the feeling of a pregnancy. Perhaps not the morning sickness, but the love, the dialogs the dreams, the promises... and I’ve written a lot. The series has not come to its ending but in this case I will not paint more than 9 artworks.
Perhaps for the viewer it is interesting to know all these kinds of details... But I don’t think they are truly relevant.
Note books, 2008
How important is the viewer?
For me it is more important how the viewer uses the painting experiencing a personal emotion that is not related to my own but was set in motion by my own by its presence inserted by me in that picture. I feel I leave a part of me in every image I create.
This thought gives me comfort when I feel so drained and tired after the painting process.
I like the painting process because no matter how much you prepare an artwork though sketches the result is always something that feels not belonging to you.
You feel you could never reiterate the same moment that triggers a certain gesture.
I’ve always felt that what I created through a painting every gesture was not something that came from me, as if it was part of something bigger than my understanding, something that I am putting down at a smaller scale, smaller gesture. I like the feeling of being a stranger in front of my paintings , brings me closer to the viewer makes me wonder and brings a different kind of emotion.
All I care is to create an emotional experience for the viewer. I often feel a part of me is enclosed in my art. And that is the best part of me. My purest emotions. The sublime, the miraculous… the freedom.
Where did your interest in colours and geometry come from? Do you think abstract art can convey emotions, talk about important issues?
What absorbs me in is the psyche response or reaction to the vibration of each colour and it doesn’t mean I am cognisant of colour’s power just that I am aware of it.
I do not have to intellectually know and prove what is real, sometimes it is enough to feel the connection between the colour and the human body.
I guess this is why I keep human representation in my works.
Is your art reactionary? Does it serve as a way of recording every day, issues, moment, or as a healing method?
I am trying to build an image that is solid and physical, an image that only refers to reality, flattens out, compresses and concentrates the reality but an image that allows you to go somewhere else with it.
The images I create surprise me in many ways and they make me wonder and think about this demanding of an artist to explain their works.
In fairness there are so many intuitive processes involved thus I cannot pretend I fully understand what I am creating. Sometimes I do but sometimes it takes me a while to translate them into ideas and talk about them.
“What can be shown, cannot be said.” according to Wittgenstein and I don’t know if this is an absolute truth, or just a point of view but many times, at least for a while it is true to me...
Now I am thinking that maybe because of the emotional tones that are captured and as long as you do not acquiesce your emotional experiences you can express them but you cannot talk about them.
For me the subconscious is the meeting place between the inner and the outer ego. The inner ego understands and operates with realities that are not perceivable through any physical senses while the outer one employs only what it’s corporeal.
I think creation takes place in this particular meeting room, we call it subconscious, and it feels like an intuitive process. I take it for granted that my conscious personality needs time to interpret such knowledge, and needs time to tear down the camouflaging wall built up by my outer ego.
I had been married once before and when I decided to leave the man I knew and loved since childhood I couldn’t explain it... it took me years to understand why.
When there is no longer a division between the inner, intuitive self and the earthly ego their knowledge can merge and we can better understand our impetuses.
All that we call subconscious may surface if we allow it and we can benefit by becoming aware of our true self, expressing our best version in the most pleasant way.
I never anticipate the viewer's emotional response nor try to control it in any way. But I like to believe that all the details and colours either vibrated or flattened that give the identity of an artwork will echo somehow... and will create an emotional response. Conflict or harmony within the viewer... I cannot focus on something that it cannot be my decision or in my control. I am responsible for myself and responsible to the others through my actions.
I feel art creates mirrors and many times I see what reflects back to me, but what reflects to the viewer remains a mystery and a surprise to me. Something I always love to discover.
A Woman's Secret Heart, 2021
Do you think there is such a thing as 'understanding' art? Members of the audience would often say they don't understand
art. Do you think that understanding is a necessary outcome of the act of communing with art?
No one can teach you how to be an artist and no one can teach you how to interpret art.
Art is an emotional experience.
I wonder if there is anything else in a human being other than an emotional experience.
Who can teach emotion? Is it ever an emotion learned?
We laugh, we cry, we smile, we frown, we love, we hate, we accept, we judge, we blame, we understand. They are all emotions.
My grandmother was a woman like many great women before her who was denied the right to learn.
But even so, as a child being raised by her I watched her listening to Tennessee Williams plays at the radio, concerts of piano, or opera recordings alongside with traditional music...
A woman who could barely know how to write her... a woman from a village who needed no one to explain her a play or a character in a play or to teach her how to feel music.
Education is not the main criteria for feeling emotions for experiencing beauty...
I understand the belief one may hold that a certain artwork may appear indecipherable but this can only happen when the viewer focuses on what the artist wanted to express instead of observing his or her own emotions brought up by the artwork.
An artwork speaks to everyone differently. All one needs to do is to believe in the innate abilities of translating what is only a camouflaged message to oneself... and who delivered the message is not important at all, but the emotion hidden in the message is. This is what I am interested in: in creating a stage where one can have a meeting with oneself.
Being curious about the artist’s point of view is one idea and some telepathic messages being perceived perhaps but ignoring your own emotional messages is quite a different one.
And everyone should grant themselves the inborn ability of a unique valid point of view, a unique interpretation that can only add more to a certain piece of art.
I remember when I created my object” My Probable Self” and a woman I was corresponding with online, a woman that couldn’t walk or speak for almost 20 years wrote me on Instagram messenger one day saying: “You know Anca I’ve been deliberately staying away from your page for a bit. Your last art set with the mannequin/ mummy set off disturbing emotions and memories (art is supposed to make you feel something- this I didn’t expect.) It’s all good. I need to sit with my emotions. I’m trying to stay away from the memories. Perhaps it’s time I feel them knowing they are past.”
That mannequin represents me. While putting masking tape on the mannequin I named “Kamalatmika, My Probable Self” I felt bandaging a real body, dressing in paint various portions of myself, healing wounds with every trace of colour.
She felt beyond my words or my explanations the emotionality enclosed in the object.
It is a different experience talking about the creative processes that come intuitively and give identity to an artwork. I can say that what is challenging for me in a painting is the way I have to interrupt a gesture.
If you look at some paintings from the “Homo Deus” series or from other series in fact you can see gestures that are abstract expressionist but unlike this specific style I have to interrupt the gesture keeping it inside a specific form or outside of it. I don’t like the background to interact with the figures and for me it is as if I am blending many realities into one... like the multiverses that coexist. Or like the past and future that coalesce into the moment despite the perception of a linear time.
I move from one point to another and it is more like a momentum that starts building up during the sketching process and is prolonging during one series until I feel that I consumed somehow all the emotionality related to that series. I am an intuitive painter. I think this is why I paint in series with the understanding that no emotion can outlive its purpose and I only stop when I can no longer paint another single painting from that series.
Kamalatmika, My Probable Self, 2020
I still wonder why painters must explain their art. Music creates emotions and people don’t need explanations. Painting is the same. It
is emotion in its purest form just like the music is.
I am painting my emotions, the states of my existence. I am painting what is in my mind. All my emotions are in my mind.
The viewer that looks at one of my paintings and feels emotion is because it resonates with what was already present in his mind. You look at one painting in a museum and then you leave and while remembering you feel the same emotion in the absence of the physical painting. And it is because the beauty is not in the painting, the beauty is in your mind is in your soul it’s not you not outside is within you.
Anca F. Stefanescu interviewed by the Burnt Orange City, 2020
Anca F. Stefanescu interviewed by the Burnt Orange City, 2020
Artist Anca Francesca Stefanescu interweaves the organic painting techniques of figurative art with digital
geometric creations of abstract expressionism to depict the contrasts and polarities that exist in life. In her exploration of inner
and outer realities, Anca invites the viewer to become a participator in the piece through their own perception. She shares how a
tragic life event gave way to a peaceful acceptance of nature’s life cycle and led her to embrace oneness with herself. Anca also
speaks of how the pandemic’s “pause” on normality provides an opportunity for humanity to redefine itself and to change paradigms that
are no longer working.
"But vulnerability means being open to all emotions. It is the willingness to be all that you are, no matter what reality reflects back at you."
Ken Moody and Robert Sherman IX, 2020
I like how you interweave figurative painting with abstract expressionism and geometric abstraction, talk us through the main
behind your work?
I don’t paint reality as it is collectively perceived, I paint my inner reality with my back to what the eye can see. Everything I focus on becomes a journey through time, a deep tension between physical reality which rises towards the corporeal form and the inner reality, and an upheaval of perceptions seen as the divine, part of the expanded consciousness.
I use references to the real world, particularly using the human figure as a mirror to discreetly guide the communication that will take place between my creation and the spectator. Abstract shapes or gestural marks are not an attempt to represent the external reality nor its effect; they are for me symbols of the inner world; the world of dreams, ideas, thoughts from where the entire creation springs.
Your work explores a number of contrasts in the form of masculine and feminine; restraint and flow; what do these contrasts mean for you?
In my childhood and adolescence I found it hard to differentiate myself from nature’s elements. I was one with many things; the sea, a tree, a bird, even the rain or the thunder, in a mystic feeling of oneness.
The short book I wrote, entitled “Who Am I?” is evocative by its very own title. It was a personal quest of self-discovery, blending pages from my journals with a process of identifying the beliefs I had and how they had become active. I felt my entire life oscillating between opposite feelings as if no emotion was possible to be experienced without its counterpart. I was sad inside and yet ecstatic with each meeting and discovery, I felt strong and yet fragile. As a child I perceived myself as an adult and as an adult I sometimes see myself as a girl instead of a woman. I feel feminine but also masculine, and many times in my sleeping dreams I move in the shape of a man.
Today I see the human condition as being made up of opposites occurring simultaneously. The thinking mechanisms cannot figure out the coincidence between the absolute maximum and the absolute minimum. For me the opposites form what we call unity or rather, unity in diversity. It is accepting that we consist of polarities and this can only lead to the opportunity of making choices. As a woman I have characteristics associated with the male personality exactly as a male has female characteristics. We are all intuitive, creative and gentle and at the same time we can be aggressive and fearless. I have learnt to validate my emotions through an expansive understanding rather than a contracted one that invalidates through judgment. The contrast of restraint and flow implies the degree of releasing control to allow life to validate it as the privilege of creativity.
"I am more interested in creating mirrors that give space to other reflections through individual perception and interpretation; for me it is a process of co-creation."
This contrast also appears in how you combine organic painting techniques with digitally-led computer mark-making. What does their relationship represent? And when did you start combining the two?
The process of exploring contrasts is part of an integrative process. I use all the elements that I feel can assist in creating an emotional experience for the viewer.
As a computer effects artist, I can create brushes, combine colours or even draw straight lines and perfect geometric shapes far faster than using real tools and pigments, which allows me to increase the experience of flow in creativity, change and transformation. I seek the result that could be deployed by human personality. It represents the organised mind in the absence of the Ego. It is allusive to the yogic Sacred Geometry idea where geometrical patterns are handed unto us directly from God for our harmony and interconnectivity with all things. The organic part of the painting is my physical participation where marks and gestures hold the energetic emotion of the human being.
Auguries of Innocence, 20170
Tell us about your series of works ‘Auguries of Innocence’
I think every artist consciously or unconsciously, creates and recreates himself or herself to portray fragments of his, her own personality.
I started painting ‘Auguries of Innocence’ while I was pregnant after years of wanting a baby. It was created in a different way; a blending of real and surreal. It took me some months to get it done but after I had finished it, the baby’s heart stopped beating. In a way, I could feel this outcome approaching while painting it. The woman's arms that were holding the depicted baby were hanging without offering support. It may seem like a coincidence but I do not believe in accidents or chance. I believe that we are sending ourselves messages with every opportunity.
The painting that was planned as a celebration of life suddenly changed its meaning to me. The first title was inspired by William Blake’s poem “Auguries of Innocence“ that symbolised the idea that the natural world is in a state of constant cycle; continuously being reborn and remade, and the innocence of man is forgotten and ignored as man moves forward in time. After the stilborn experience I changed the title to “I will wait for you“ as a reflection of my decision not to give up on my dreams. I symbolically locked the painting up, as a reminder to accept and value all of my creations; pleasant or unpleasant, painful or joyful – they are all part of the constant cycle of life. Each time I look at it I derive a different meaning and this is perhaps the reason for creating this series.
What messages and emotions do you hope to evoke within the viewer?
I do not intend to complete the experience for the viewer, but to intermediate it. I am more interested in creating mirrors that give space to other reflections through individual perception and interpretation; for me it is a process of co-creation. The viewer is equally creative through his own participation.
Each person is a unique facet of the whole, with distinctive characteristics and points of view. An artwork that is completed and rewarding for me must hold the possibility of allowing as many interpretations and personal reflections as possible. This is what I thrive to achieve.
Immoderatus, Homo Deus, 2020
Walk us through your creative process. Do you have any art rituals?
The whole point of being a human, I think, is to learn about yourself, to disembody and bring yourself into a state that is barely perceptible by the senses or by the mind. Through art, this is how I learn about who I am; this is me meeting with myself. I don’t have rituals, I respond to my moment to moment excitement with the best of my ability. At times I confuse excitement with anxiety, so I end up overworking myself and depriving my body of food or sleep.
I don’t paint if I feel unbalanced or if I am acting from negative beliefs. I prefer to write or to sit down with these emotions in order to understand and accept them as neutral, as my daily working material.
I do not wish to infuse my works with feelings that limit me since I do not wish to extend disempowering feelings to another being. I don’t want to control the experience of someone else who interacts with my artwork but I wish it to be an extensive one. "The world is on “pause” and I feel there is an enormous opportunity right now in this silence for all humanity to redefine itself"
How does art and creativity affect your overall well-being? And how do you feel when you create?
The painting is less important than the life that one is leading, yet I cannot have a life without it. I carry many invisible scars on my body, but art is a healing process, for the artist and for the viewer. It is the expression of who I know myself to be and my inborn mode to propound my emotions and beliefs.
In my memories I don’t remember my first steps or my first spoken words but I remember painting with dirt on my fingers and building structures from natural fragments. I remember my first set of water colours better than my first painting lesson at art school. I remember years of depression while trying to make a living when I stopped expressing myself as an artist. Even if I couldn’t exhibit my creations, I never stoped creating as I could never stop breathing.
We are currently in the midst of a global pandemic, how has this time influenced your art and your outlook on life? And what do you think we can take from it as a society.
I have felt vulnerable but this experience has given me the opportunity to look at this feeling from a different perspective. I used to think vulnerability meant weakness and exposure, and consequently, an openness to what we label as negativity. But vulnerability means being open to all emotions. It is the willingness to be who you are, no matter what the reality reflects back to you. Therefore, I allowed myself to meet and face my shadows and in these shadows I found an increased love for life, which led to seeing the colours of my paintings vibrating more.
To me, nothing threatens the body more than despair, sadness or depression. Our imagination, thoughts and feelings followed by actions mould the reality we perceive. In silence we can dream and envision the world we want to see it. The world is on “pause” and I feel there is an enormous opportunity right now in this silence for all humanity to redefine itself, to change paradigms that work no more. In my vision during this “pause” the world is reimagined.
What are your hopes and dreams as an artist?
I believe we cannot perceive what it is not already contained within us. Every emotion one may feel traces back to a thought; a belief that was formed prior to the feeling and reinforced through repeated experiences. The basic principle that directs my existence is that we all form our own reality. Everything is contained by each personality and everything is a meeting with the self. In a way my paintings are painted by everyone who stops and looks at them and derives a meaning from this experience. Art creates emotions and experiences that can be used to reconnect us with the deepest levels of our being and gives us the opportunity to redefine and recreate the personality according to who we prefer to be.
What have you got coming up that we can look out for?
I’m currently writing a book, “Coincidence of Opposites”; an allusion to the main concept I work with. It is a process of describing what I refer to as ‘probable selves’, and of accepting and integrating the various portions of my personality into one connected whole. There are multiple invisible layers within the body and the uppermost layer that I see is the present physical form. I am interested in the invisible layers interconnecting and cooperating; the intimations of inner unity and oneness.