A painter in love with his subjects
published in Flash Art
Victor Man’s painting is not what is but rather all that might be. It is a space of possibilities, in contact with itself at all points, inside it, outside it, next to it. Every work can function as a point of departure, within a logic of contiguity that leads to new and unexpected connections, like a cinematographic montage. The viewer is presented with a sense of dissolving boundaries where the narrative appears positioned but not fixed, as the mutual dependency of its multiple units can at any time be altered. Move them around and a different configuration will result. A relatively minor detour or diversion can lead to an entirely new subject area. What is set in place is not clearly defined; what is present invokes what is absent. His work functions more in the realm of semiotics than reality, allowing the painting to be part of the world, in its infinite openness and density, rather than letting the world into the painting as a form of closure.
However, an artist is someone who, by necessity, performs an act of closure, by making real that which was previously only a possibility. What Man values and aims in art is a movement away from established forms of closure, or to use closure as a means of creating a sense of openness, of ‘depth’ and ‘richness’. It is not that closure is abandoned; it is rather that it is postponed, delayed, as Duchamp might have said. Particularly compelling is the artist’s use of distance from and proximity with the limits of representation as previously understood. His work moves within the historicist accounts of painting as a location, but the work contains its own knowledge and experience and is not attempting to adhere to the established codes. On the contrary, it seeks to measure its degree of continuity or rupture, revision or subversion, in relation to tradition and especially to aesthetic approaches based on referential content and homogeneity.
“I am very interested in painting from the point of view of a sort of continuity in art history” – says the artist. “For at least 50 years the question of the ability of the painting to move on has been continuously set forth. But maybe it is the very marginalization of painting that will bring it back to the centre; this moribund status is fortifying it. I am directly interested in what could give it a different meaning. I am absolutely convinced that we find ourselves only at the beginning of its redefining. My works are open ended, leaving space for an answer which appears when painting is born out of a necessity that is placed outside it.”
But what are exactly Man’s practice and its sources, after painting has been through so much so that it seems almost impossible to relocate it in time, space and language? He uses constantly images originated in the media, depriving them of any reference to what they represent or to the context they come from, to the point where any logic identification fails and the image remains open to both abstraction and the impulse of a new storytelling. The images are transposed into wall drawings and oil paintings grouped as assemblages in relation to the architectural space in which they are placed. They are in a loose way ‘combines’, exploring a certain kind of formalist aesthetic through a language determined both from within and without by a sense of hybrid unity. The works produce meaning not by themselves but through their relationship within a shifting territory where narrative is a matter of negotiating locations, as it happens in The Maneuver, Mister Quiet or The Place I’m Coming From, all absorbing interplays between spaces of reality and potentiality. Connected analogically, through a heightened awareness of context and through personal idiosyncrasies, they recalibrate the perception of the world with which they are identified, and replace linear, conventional narrative with arbitrary layers and cycles. I would say it is a tactic of minimal interference for maximal effect within the relational and repetitive continuum we experience. Man takes the syntagmatic order of the world (as constructed by the media as a synthesis of the real) and turns it into a paradigmatic one, settling his own meta-harmony, where order, even in its randomness, seems reliable and permanent. Furthermore, by injecting an air of unreality into real images, the images act as seductive entry points for an enquiry into how representation relates to the real object with a certain ambiguity and how can its alterations disrupt the given perspective and place of the viewer in the world. Once the terms of the look are established, it is time to move on and to leave the work open to any interpretation, as the artist remains in crucial respects committed mostly to the investigation of formal aesthetic issues in his work, even if the materials he uses are rooted in the media and the subject matter he engages are informed by traces of personal memory.
This brings me to another relevant aspect of Man’s practice, namely how he plays with autobiographical elements in his work. He belongs to a generation that grew up in the most austere period of communism in Romania, the ’80s. Isolation and censorship affected to a certain degree his representational experience, as he used to take possession of anything was not reachable only by looking at or, if possible, by re-creating it. The clash between a teenager’s fantasies of Western popular culture and the communist Romanian reality in which such inclinations were suppressed occurs explicitly in his last paper drawings installation at Timothy Taylor Gallery, London. What is not so visible however lingering throughout his painting is the scopophilic element of his aesthetic the act of repression led to. He conceives his work as a signifier but one which serves to distance the viewer from reality and to control him. This distance produces or unveils a lack within the viewer who is transformed into a voyeur searching – in every inch of painting and surround it – to grasp the reality beyond the appearances. Even if the artist leaves very little trace of his subjectivity in the works, the desire of playing with the audience, of controlling its gaze, emerges everywhere from underneath. It is present in the monochromatic painting installation Perfect Crime at Plan b gallery in Cluj, where we are left unable to convey an accurate truth about the subject portrayed, as well as in the images of a man buried in snow or of a painter with his easel in open space, where the forms soar into space only to remove itself and melt into the background as ghosts as if to announce an absence rather a presence, which encourage meditation on being and not being, on the flow between permanency and change, on ideas of veiling and revealing with an eye turned inward.
Elusive, allusive, discontinuous and fluid, Man’s painting is difficult to classify. If need be, I would say modernist monochrome and residual figuration, or better minimalist aesthetic austerity. Even colour is only one part of the complex web of significations of his work, it is important to say that chromophobia seems to be another expression of his arbitrary order: essence over appearance, transcendence over commonsense, the infinite ever over the finite now. However, in choosing his references, whether inherited, acquired, or absorbed, the artist presents such complex and faceted personalities that a polarized mode of thinking becomes simplistic. Why should we wish, or try, to pin him down anyway, when it is the very mechanisms of classification that his art avoids with such perseverance? Expecting either meaning or perception to be straightforward is futile, because his painting is, more than anything, about levels of expectation, degrees of openness and closure. “I keep away from definitive statements – says Man. I love the idea of going slow into things and if they become too explicit, to include new elements that disturb the coherence.” And he is right. If an achievement has no other value than that given by the journey to it, why would we aim to abolish the time? A hasty person never reaches his goals, as he makes abstraction of the very ways that lead to them. Also, if ultimate solution means closure, why would we wish for an ending instead of the possibility of an insertion into the alive and infinite chain of interrogation? Who requires definitive answers wants death. Victor Man is a painter in love with his subject – the possibilities of painting – and desires to keep it alive.