After the End – the paintings of Mircea Suciu

—Eleanor Heartney

After the End – the paintings of Mircea Suciu
Eleanor Heartney

A grim faced man perches precariously on a stepladder, leaning forward as if to dive toward the floor. A pair of women dressed in the fashion of the fifties stand with their backs to us, apparently engrossed by the blank gray wall in front of them. A man in a brown suit and fedora lies curled in a near fetal position on the ground. These scenes, the creations of painter Mircea Suciu, are realized with muted colors and presented in settings devoid of detail. The titles (respectively Final Speech, The Abstract Painting and Nightmare) are as enigmatic as the images.

What is the meaning of this strange world ruled by anomie, depersonalization and black humor? Its author was born into N i c o l a e C e a use s c u’s Romania, and came of age as the Soviet world collapsed. His works reflect a consciousness shaped by the realization that the end of the hated system has yielded, not utopia, but simply more confusion. Suciu trained at Cluj Visual Arts University in an educational system where realism was seen as an outmoded and compromised style, fit primarily for purveying communist propaganda. Despite this, he has chosen to pursue figuration as a style with an illustrious history. Receiving little support for this mode in his immediate surroundings, he studied figurative painting in the Czech Republic in Brno and in Palermo, Sicily, where he soaked up the work of artists like Rembrandt, Velázquez, Goya, and Manet. His deep respect for the realist tradition is evident in the detailed brushwork and beautiful finish of his paintings.

At the same time however, Suciu has been unable to escape the enormous historical and psychological chasm that separates a survivor of twentieth century totalitarianism from the masters of renaissance and post renaissance Europe. His work remains haunted by the ghosts of socialist realism, which perverted the realist tradition to create official representations of a patently false reality. One senses this in the iconic nature of his figures that are types rather than individuals. But his work reflects the contradictions of another kind of propaganda as well. Suciu borrows his compositions, figures and elements of his illustrative technique from American advertising images of the 1940s and 50s, which were in their own way as detached from reality as the heroic workers and all knowing leaders of Soviet socialist realism.

In Suciu’s hands, these outmoded representational styles form the kernel of works that are at once intensely imagined and psychologically remote, presenting scenarios deliberately devoid of the specificity, explicit narrative, and the immediately identifiable characters that are a staple of propagandistic realism. Instead, his paintings offer dreamlike tableaux that reflect a resistance to all forms of ideology. In place of enforced groupthink, they use the tropes of realism to create a personal language that suggests otherwise inaccessible interior states, while revealing the disconnect between inner and outer worlds.

Suciu notes that this body of work, with the series title The Fall, was inspired in part by the global financial meltdown. In keeping with the artist’s indirect approach, the current crisis of capitalism is evoked here less by specific references than by a general ambiance of failure and loss. Drained of color, affect, and immediacy, these paintings suggest a world in which the satisfaction of desire, that staple of capitalist economies, has become little more than an impossible fantasy or a distant memory. In this, these paintings express the great paradox of our age. Two economic systems, once separated by the iron curtain and framed as polar opposites, are revealed instead as two sides of the same coin. Equally bankrupt and equally permeated with empty promises, they leave behind a world bereft of warmth and hope.