Updated November 2020.
Apparently, the 1970s were a great decade for Romanian painting, although it may actually take a while before art history will recognise the fact. In an attempt to compile a list of contemporary Romanian painters worth checking out, we came across this fun detail—all painters featured are now in their 40s, being born between 1973-1979.
Another interesting detail is that most painters are products of the famous Cluj School, which represents not only the painting department of the University or Art and Design (UAD) in Cluj-Napoca, but also independent art centres like Plan B, The Paintbrush Factory, and other similar ones in the city, which functioned as launch pads for many of these artists.
Gert & Uwe Tobias
Born in 1973 in Brașov, twin artists Gert and Uwe Tobias have been living and working in Germany since 1986. Perhaps the most striking detail about them is not that both twins are artists, but they work together in all projects. Their collaborative work is varied and expressed through different mediums, from painting and sculpture to collage—often using recycled materials—and woodcut. The creative duo draws inspiration from their Romanian heritage, Eastern European folklore and Russian abstract art. As a result, their artwork has often been compared to that of Constantin Brancusi and Marc Chagall.
Born in 1974 in Cluj-Napoca, Victor Man studied painting in both his native city and Jerusalem, and currently lives in Berlin. His suggestive, conceptual, often small-scale works are frequently described as rather dark, moody and poetic. Relying on mythology, philosophy, personal and collective memory for inspiration, his artwork has been highly praised and he is without a doubt one of the most renowned Romanian painters working today. His works have been twice exhibited at the Venice Biennale, in 2007 and 2015, and he was the recipient of the Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year award in 2014.
Born in 1974 in Moldova, Roman Tolici moved to Bucharest when he was 15, through an exchange programme, and has lived there ever since. He graduated from the Bucharest Arts Academy in 1998 with a degree in graphic art, and he has expressed himself in various artistic ways—painting, graphic art, comics, photography, literature, poetry and advertising projects, but at 26 he decided to dedicate himself completely to painting. Since then he has exhibited every year in Romania and abroad. His works have been associated with photographic realism infused by poetry and a surreal sense of everyday existence. He is preoccupied with time and memory and focuses on capturing them in mundane situations.
Born in Ieud, Maramureș, in 1975, Dumitru Gorzo studied visual arts in Bucharest and in the past ten years has been living and creating mostly on Brooklyn, NY. Gorzo expresses himself in a variety of mediums, from painting and graphics to sculpture and multi-media. His work is seen as exceedingly contemporary and provocative, while maintaining a deep folkloric aesthetic—a hint to his peasant roots. Moreover, it often features satyrical elements sprung from the political and social reality, while his highly-sexualised paintings are cause for endless controversy in the media and among critics.
Born in Oradea in 1977, Mircea Cantor lives and works in Paris and is mostly known for his conceptual art. However, he is interested in a lot of mediums—painting, video, sculpture, animation, performance, etc.— and it is actually rather difficult to define his work, since it’s constantly evolving, by mixing materials, challenging forms, playing with language, and basically refusing to be categorised in any way. Often compared to Marcel Duchamp, for the fact that he utilises readymade objects in his installations, Cantor is actually the recipient of the Marcel Duchamp Prize in 2011, and, previously, the Ricard Prize, in 2004.
Born in Baia Mare in 1977, Ghenie is by far the most successful painter of his generation, being, at the moment, the second best-selling Romanian artist ever, after Brancusi. A graduate of the UAD in Cluj-Napoca, where he subsequently opened Plan B gallery with Mihai Pop, in 2005, he now divides his time between Berlin—where he opened a branch of Plan B—and Cluj-Napoca. Described as Kafkaesque, and often compared to that of Francis Bacon—whom he openly admires—or Franz Marc, his artwork is quite dark and raw, and strikes as dismantled, somehow rendering the feeling of looking into the interior of things.
Also from Baia Mare, but born in 1978, Mircea Suciu is another graduate of the UAD in Cluj-Napoca, where he lives and works. He prefers oil painting and charcoal drawing and his artwork usually depicts solitary figures or groups of people tormented by inner conflict. To him, painting is a method of exorcising inner demons, constantly exploring and experimenting, thus giving viewers the freedom of their own interpretation. He calls himself a humanist, since his main preoccupation is the human condition, the human body, and the actions of the characters he is depicting. Moreover, the characters themselves seem to be engrossed in their own acts of searching, pursuing, and observing.
Born in Sighișoara, in 1978, Șerban Savu is also part of the group of artists from Cluj, where he lives and works, and is without question on of the most acclaimed Romanian painters today. Using a muted palette, Savu’s figurative paintings usually illustrate realistic and rather melancholic urban or rural scenes. In his works—which often render the feeling of isolation and quietude, despite being populated—people are depicted leading ordinary lives, most of the times being viewed from a distance, as if from a vantage point, without a focus on the people themselves but rather on the composition as a whole.
Born (1979) and raised in Cluj-Napoca, where he still lives and works, Marius Bercea is another exponent of the Cluj school of painting. His large-scale, bold-palleted paintings, based on photographs and memory, usually depict landscapes of post-Communist and early-capitalist Romania, often featuring people at ease or engaged in social activities against dramatic architecture. Marius also founded Laika, an artists’ collective that coordinates exhibition spaces in Cluj-Napoca and Bucharest.
Featured image: Andrian Văleanu / Unsplash