SHAPES, WORLD VIEWS
The characters I paint, my faceless figures, I wish for them to live and move in an independent world, whether I watch them or not, to exist outside of my narrative, of what I explicitly create or understand. This is why I wipe out the physical traits that would form a certain figure even when I use my face as a starting point. I like to build characters that create beyond the author - more akin to Austin or Tolstoy in their novels - outside the narrowness of my own personality or vision. I say narrowness in terms of intensity of focus on the power of my own persona, my experiences and my beliefs. I am not attempting to solve the problems of human life, the structures and the dynamics of human life: I love, I suffer. That has to do with living, or with the essence of humanity and the complexity and the contrast of feelings. Beneath all the emotions, what is there? As a starting point my own life is my stimulus because of its tangledness. I prioritise the expression of the self, but not following an “egotistical sublime” vision, a kind of High Romanticism which promotes the ego to the sublime. I look outwards at external emotions, I look in the round, on many different people that are complex by means of their effect upon me. It is not my intention to create an overwhelming public assertion of my identity nor to force someone along my road, to make them see what I see or feel. I wish for the public to forget me and the artworks to serve to mirror their own feelings that diverged from their personal world views, their thoughts and beliefs not mine.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIND EXPOSED
Creation happens before it happens. God is all that is and All That Is never began. Never ends. How do I find a title to name something that was already named? After I paint a series or create an object I have to find its title... and by undertaking to reconstruct the artwork in words, I sometimes find I break myself into a multitude of conflicting ideas. The other side of the mind is now exposed; the one that attempts to analyse and understand what the emotion itself created. I do not wish to introduce two different kinds of reality into the same artwork. And yet how different, I must ask myself, these realities are and how each is consistent with itself? Could they ever meet... or are just orbiting like multiverses in parallel existences?
I often write about my artworks in an attempt to understand where I have gone and I guess to bring something back with me of which I am aware and I can further use...
Finding a title sometimes takes more time than the artwork itself. Its simplicity is achieved with enormous effort. A different process and a different experience for me. Sometimes I feel that when the title finds me I can finally understand what I created...
Artist or not each of us creates worlds; we project our mental pictures outward and then we name them realities. We have the power of mastering and eliminating. We create images, facts... we create the mood, in a way unaware of details, but stressed by intense emotions. Some are emphasised, others subdued.
That is the moment to create for me... when I cease from searching out the minute aspect of my corporeal surroundings, of physical reality, to enjoy the story and experience the abstractness. When I forget about my feet touching the ground then I can paint.
When what I call reality becomes an illusion and all the rules are falling down than I can create.
As long as I have questions and no answers I’ll keep on painting.
LOVE TURNS COLOUR, PAIN TURNS PAPER
To write about my feelings is to double myself. Is to overlap my thoughts into another I. To fold words into images. To fold time into space.
I wrote my love letters and I was inside of them. I painted them and the paper became my skin, a rough absorbent epidermis. I was inside my painting and yet outside it; I was inside my hand and yet outside my body.
I burned my arm with the heat gun while trying to keep the paper unbuckled. I burned it once and I kept on adding marks on both arms. I felt the pain. I was inside my body and I could not go outside of it. I became my pain. I looked at my painting and I remembered the pain, the pain of forcing myself to live outside my new love. Trapped inside a marriage, a name, an identity that allowed me to make quick judgments and assumptions about who I was and could have become. The painting became my body, or was my body always the painting?
I went outside my studio. I stood inside my mind and I remembered of Louis Borges's "Circular Ruins". I copied three phrases down in my notebook "In the dreaming man's dream, the dreamed man awoke. [...] He walked toward the sheets of flame. They did not bite his flesh, they caressed him and flooded him without heat or combustion. With relief, with humiliation, with terror, he understood that he also was an illusion, that someone else was dreaming him." The pain was gone and I stood for a while with the same relief and humiliation as Borges's grey man teacher. Yet I was moved to wonder how we create realities and who the dreamer is? Are we more real than our creations? Who is the beholder of our memories that make thick smoke rings into the present moment?
How much truth is within a memory? I was in the bedroom-room sleeping. I was on the sofa watching a movie. I was in my studio writing on my paintings. Inside a room, outside my dreaming state. Outside my dreams inside my house. I try to understand it and in my notebook I write this down again: ‘I am the room, I am the painting and I am the inside and the outside. Dream state or waking state they both have a single observer.’
I went back to my painting. I looked and with the pain faded away I saw again the love. I felt it. I remember it. I became my memories, my painting, I became love. Once again inside once again outside. Outside time, outside space. Inside time inside space.
Always inside and always outside.
Now I am in the garden searching for my lover’s eyes. Now I feel in my nostrils the smell of strawberry fields and I am back in my grandmother’s garden. Past and present in a single moment. Inside the present and outside of it. Inside the past and yet outside it.
I painted my love wanting to exclude the pain. Painting the beginning of a new life, forgetting the ending of the last life. But I carried both of them within me.
After I paint I am hollowed out. I ask myself “Why do I feel empty?” It is important to recognise when I am experiencing emptiness to understand what I released through my art process.
I look at the painting and instead of an image I sense a container and I wish I could understand what is it a container for?
At the age of seventeen I was smuggled, by a friend who was studying medicine, in a hospital morgue where they were preparing bodies for anatomy lessons. I couldn't study or sketch. I touched the body, I lifted one layer of muscle after another up until the bone structure was revealed. I looked and I felt through my hands the cold flesh. It didn’t feel or look like an empty container, like a house for a soul no longer entrapped within a body. The smell of decay was covering the room yet without the skin stretched over his body he looked ageless. I felt inside this body, contained by his blue eyes yet I felt watched and dissected by someone else’s look.
What was contained within that body? What made it still alive in that silence and in the absence of a breath?
I went home that evening and my mother laid up the table and I saw on my plate a piece of steak. I couldn’t eat it. Though inert it felt alive. It looked like a part of the skinless man and I was still inside him, inside each atom that makes up the molecule; the molecule that makes up the cell; the cell that makes up the tissue. I was inside the cell, “the fundamental unit of life”, contained within the smallest portion of what we call without knowing what it is “the essence of life”.
Late in the evening I was just sad. I cried for the man. I cried myself to sleep and woke up still sad. I invented his life story. And then I changed it...again and again...until I fell in love with the man without skin. I could never paint him and yet sometimes I recognise him in the faceless humans that I paint.
Today knowing that I project and therefore create my own reality I stopped wondering who he was.
What is contained within a drop of paint, within W. Blake’s “grain of sand” within a molecule, a cell or an atom?
Is it the memory, the language, the “Universal Mind”, is it a container for all the ever contemplated thoughts?
Is there anything that can ever be excluded or omitted when we give birth to our creations? When love and pain unfold together is there a way to divide them and to depict just one of them? Can anything be left outside, uncontained, ruled out?
I burned my arm while I was stretching out the love to fit the paper and I saw the face of pain spreading over it, blending with my loving thoughts.
WORD TURNS LOVE, LETTERS
In my adolescence I had written a number of love letters. They were addressed to my future lover. I almost felt his presence. I was feeling lonely although surrounded by friends and family, books and painting colours... yet in a deep feeling of loneliness as if my true voice were not heard and the love inside could not echo.
In my childhood my relations were not towards people as much towards nature. Perhaps because I was growing in a village surrounded by nature. In nature's light I did not perceive the overwhelming side of my solitude. Grass, trees, birds, and sky... river... who were they, what were they, why did they have different names... What were their thoughts? Later on, sitting in Bucharest, in a concrete flat looking at nature through the window’s glass, like a gas lamp my light dimmed up in darkness. Melancholy were the poplars on my window... rustling in the wind or rain. Melancholy was the voice of my memories. I think one feels about in a state of loneliness and then one touches the hidden channels of communication. With years passing by I discovered melancholy dissipated as I was writing. I started to write more often just to dispel the sadness. I minded only the words' cadence to hypnotise myself from one state to another. I used to watch a word and then to find the variety of feelings the word symbolises. I observed how the significance of an emotion was lost once I had it enunciated. Even today once I’ve written down an emotion I no longer feel it.
I don’t really remember when I started to write my love letters. I remember loving to read poetry but not liking to write in rimes... searching beauty but also truth. I’ve learned to play with the language not to become a writer but to learn to live with myself and to enjoy my own silenced company. And then the letters. One can read these letters and then can live from them: they can light up the many probabilities one may create and meet one day.
I felt as if I were resonating through another space dimension when I was reading my words. I imagined someone was hearing me and was whispering back. Of course I wondered why sometimes written words were fading away my sad emotions and why the loving words seemed to multiply in vortices upward into the unseen atmosphere like dancing notes following patterns of swirling circles; vortexes of love.
The anxiety seemed unreal and easily recognised in its illusion while love appeared more concrete and material even through the musically of ordinary words. This question has long been on my conscience. Me to write of anxiety and to escape its mirage successfully vanquished on the mind, then to write of romantic love and yet not have had loved this way and watch how its intensity grows.
My reality appears to me now with hindsight as the result of a hallucination, as no more than a moving picture shown by my senses.
As if even though I perceive my existence through my senses and I believe in the truthfulness of their sensations... it seems as if some of the emotions were less real than others.
I keep my eyes shut and I ask questions: I feel different answers; after all the feelings provide my moment to moment experience of life.
I often think of feelings as things to work through or deal with, almost forgetting that feelings were meant to be a measure instrument to help us maintain our emotional equilibrium. Who can fairly say in the context of corporeal life which emotions are the entranced ones and which are thought systems or mind-sets that create realities in the same way a film projects an image on a movie screen. When we understand our mind-sets we subdue the conflicts and we can perceive the option we have.
In my letters I described circles of creation and life; in the center of my circle I placed another human being, another soul.
I saw myself orbiting around the one that would return my love and I believed it was real. I made no distinction between fiction and reality.
When I first fell in love I thought it was him. I fall in love over and over again. Each time I thought it was him. I married my early 20s with the same sense of recognition. Now when I’m writing I know why I left him 20 years later without giving a reason. I recognised it was not him.
I WISHED TO BE A LOVER
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with Us, and the Word was Us.
Love approached me when I was less thinking of it... or so I thought... and my life was torn asunder before I knew it in a single day, in a single moment with a single glance. The veil I had drawn over my thoughts came off with words. We melt into each other with written messages, with words hidden into secret letters. I didn’t wish to be a poet; I wished to be a lover. The flow of the language with words and words in phrases let my passion unfurl while I was rising up higher forgetting who I was. But words are meaningless unless they reinforce what was already felt.
Love wants to join love like water wants to join water. New lovers attract each other, drawn together by some unexplainable pull as if magnets. It is not desire, it is not the sparkling fire of a physical attachment; they wish to dive into the unknown to become empty of thoughts, empty of memories, empty of past and future, letting love flood free every cell and every atom.
Lovers see the ideal in their beloved. They often alter details as they go on, but never depart from the main lines. “Seek for me my darling and find me in another life where I’ll be free to love you as I now long to...” I wrote to him.
From where is the feeling, when married, that we are not at liberty to give the love we feel as if we were not belonging anymore to ourselves? It took me many words to crack asunder restrictions that wrinkle and contract, beliefs of moral code or responsibility and commitment... It took me many phrases in order to undo the error of believing I was not free to love, the error of believing that I was still the one that decided to marry in her twenties.
I never wished to be a wife; I wished to be a lover. The more time I spent with my feelings the more they grew, extending stems or branches, enclosed within my heart... and my heart was dispersing words like seeds... gliding or spinning through the air, shaped to float as letters. Love letters... to whom addressed? To my lover? To myself? What was I seeking out that was not any longer inside the woman who was living side by side with the man once friend and husband? When do we cease to be lovers in our marriages? If I were to observe my words I would have known. Some words were missing, some were seldom used as if I was becoming a stranger to my own language. I was tired of missing words. Tired of unarticulated broken feelings. Tired of confusion. I was yearning for the beginning of the story, the moment when there are just a few lines drawn upon white-sheets of paper. That moment, when we are learning words, inventing language... I longed for that silence where I could feel the shadows of two new selves growing together ... and without clearly seeing the form of their becoming, knowing they were growing into one.
WIFE AND LOVER, FRIEND AND FOE
Lovers only live in each other’s hearts. Shut their eyes to the world and in their tenderness they wouldn’t hear of someone else’s crying. The silence speaks and calls their names in heart beats and in the cadence of their breath.
My world had died one morning and the same day the sun rose higher. I remember falling in love with Cristian while still being married. I remember the lies and the truth of my words as well as the pain and the sorrow. I remember the remorse and the oblivion.... yearning for the touch of my lover while wishing to escape the hands that I once loved more than the world itself. Confusion were the clouds passing by the window of my home, abandon were the same clouds viewed through hotel rooms and later on the single room apartment where I was secretly meeting up with my lover. Presence and absence... wife and lover... friend and foe. I watched my husband mourning me as if I’d died and something had, the couple we had created jointly. I watched our love become estranged while the walls of my mind were running down shattered by the violence of my emotion.
The landscape of human emotions is constantly changing, but what we desire, more than sunny weather, is not to be strangers, at least not to ourselves.
Have I understood life around me better? Have I reinforced my insight from love and from estrangement... from these opposed feelings?
How can we live with love and in the absence of love simultaneously? I still don’t know... but what I do know is that you cannot kill a sentiment as you cannot kill an idea once it has grown sprouts into your mind.
HEART TURNS FIRE, LOVE TO COME
In the spring of 2014 I was sitting at the front desk of an acupuncture medical office with my best friend scheduling sessions with the doctor’s assistant. I had been feeling tired and drained for quite some time and my friend happened to have an appointment that day. She offered to take me with her and I accepted. It took me less than a second to fall in love when a tall man, in his forties, with silvery hair entered the room.
Our eyes met; we gazed at each other less than a few moments and nothing was ever the same again. Everything I knew about myself changed its meaning, everything that once was sane and secure became unsound and shaky. Yet every new thought became a substantial matter, I could almost touch and taste.
I felt I had opened a window into the sea. It was something very definite, very real and yet tasted like the infinite.
Yet I cannot pretend that I knew until later on what had happened to me that moment.
I went home and my house had a different smell, my smile had a different shape and my husband had different eyes.
I felt I had opened a window into my grave. I wanted all back, all that I knew about myself, all that I created with the man I had been knowing and loving since I was a child.
How does one fight with feelings? Who is the one that we expect to win from such a battle? Whom are we putting up the fight with? Who is the one that holds the “old” feelings and who is the one with the “new” ones? I went into the battle with myself lacking the understanding of whom I was antagonising with. How can you kill a thought or a feeling? When the sea inside is flowing out... when a moment changes into the paddle of a life?
It was a triweekly acupuncture treatment so we met three times a week. We exchanged a few words among somnolent people and traditional Chinese music playing folding in the background. Just stolen looks and timid smiles in surprise.
I was lying down on a white bed staring at the white wall with my mind looping into blankness, and through the colourless field of my mind two grey shadows were dancing. Such monochromatic a landscape of bodies getting together, merging into one and then breaking up dispersed into the bleached screen of my imagination. Were those our own shadows uniting and dissolving...? Was I looking at the picture was I about to paint? Was I looking at the photographs my lover was to take a few years later with his heart still full of my being? Was I even one of the shadows? Minutes and minutes into the unpigmented stage interrupted only by a glance at him from time to time.
The room was a small one, enough to place two single beds on both sides and a chair in the middle. I was lying in bed like a voodoo doll, my body partially covered in fine needles; he was sitting on the chair. He used to enter the room, take his shirt off, hang it on the coat stand and occupy the chair.
A half-naked body facing the single window of the room. One foot close to me; one foot was the length of a glance to meet my eyes.
I was ashamed to look at him, although I used to be more wild than prudish. Never before had I felt so bashful of my naked body or human flesh yet at that moment I stood aware equating nudity with intimacy for the first time in my life.
I had been studying art from the age of twelve and then I moved to Art University: I was more than acquainted with nudity, drawing after naked models and posing myself for my colleagues when we were doing extra study and we couldn’t afford to pay for models...
After graduation I acted as a performer using my body to serve an idea.
I grew up exposing all my intimacy unequivocally believing that an artist cannot have a private life or any idea that can be left unexposed, unshared.
Yet in his presence I felt to wrap my body inside my thoughts. I felt reluctant to be remarked as if I were unready to reveal my feelings or afraid my thoughts could find a way to echo into his own, overlapping his inner sounds.
Sometimes we think that we are not aware of the changed direction of our feelings, only perhaps of their modified cadence. Now I know it is not true. It is not even about the capacity to acquiesce to a situation or condition. It is the inner judge of so many thoughts and beliefs alongside the rational mind that creates definitions of who we are like safety instruction panels. Two joined masters that shout so loudly that you can hardly breathe.
But who can oppose a burning heart? What mind can understand the fire that can be only felt? How can one put out an invisible fire?
The voices in my head were arduously yelling at me, forcing me to free in tiny portions until it became a flood, an overflow of what I did not understand.
MARKS UPON MIND
People ask artists of the meaning of the symbols but not always the symbols I use make sense to me. Dreams and visions are summed up to complete; I am called upon to create and the hand runs from one line to another while time collapses and the reasoning mind falls into silence.
The visions exist most completely in solitude. They press their shapes upon my mind and I just need to get them out. They resent examination, at first so spontaneous, or any thoughts that could deny their potential for they are symbols of inner reality, subjective openings connecting my familiar self with the soul.
Where understanding seems to elude me or escape me I stretch and I plunge into the inwards of my emotions. Sometimes I paint as if the paint were urged out of me by the pressure of the time. Sometimes I fear every gesture as if I were setting up psychological and psychic barriers in order to explore more. At first they seem erected to protect myself from the unknown dangers of what seems to be the unconscious mind. I am for a while drifting in the apparent meaningless of my gestures. But images, words or thoughts, they are all connected one way or another. A picture in imagination or an emotion, just like a thought, once formed they leave the conscious mind as if they would disappear. Somehow I fear to follow them, pursuing (going after) something that is no longer in the tree dimensional landscape.
I change focus towards the reality I identify myself with but when I paint I simply realise that my own reality bends, continues in another direction and all the images seen on the mind screen, the thoughts or emotions that have left my conscious mind will conduct me into other environments, back to the dreams, back to that very point from where the initial experience emerged.
The consciousness is not immobile, constricted or enclosed in the bone framework and it is the consciousness who forms or acts in symbols. Paintings are methods of expression just as the words are. I do not consciously know how I manipulate loads of symbols. I don’t know how I think or how I pick a precise symbol to express a given thought. All the confusion starts when one believes that one’s own symbols may be translated by someone else. Just like in the case of a painting or any art object.
The marks upon the surface have the reality only of paint and canvas, just like the letters upon the paper. What they carry is invisible to the eye. They are information conveyors.
Sometimes I wonder if it is detrimental or not for the public to have known the artist’s discourse regarding his creation since even if it is a valid point of view it is a single point of view. Sometimes minds must be divested of many impeding ideas and symbols, so that the symbols that lie in front may carry consciousness into personal explorations.
Without any different interpretation or symbols translated in dissimilar or divergent ways the creation for me remains an isolated event that cannot grow and transform and further create through the viewer.
Consciousness forms symbols, but consciousness also creates form. One should better wonder why events brought him precisely in front of a particular image such as a painting being aware that all that he perceives is equally the consequence of his own creation.
How do one's ideas appear within the matter? Matter can be manipulated to materialise. But the one that manipulates matter into physical existence is not more of a creator than the one that meets the same idea already formed in front of his eyes.
Anca Stefanescu, Notes on “Novus Amor, Novis Vita”, 2021