by Vasile Tolan
I am equally concerned with the expression of raw material, the diversity of its manner of manifestation, the echo it has and the expression of free, spontaneous gesture coming from the depth of the human being, or from its abdominal part, as Jung would say. I am not interested in the figurative (representation); it appeals to me only to the extent to which it can help me mould forms, volumes, rhythms without any ideational references to the respective representation. In my opinion, the created object (painting, graphics, photograph or mere object) must convey a message visually, in a straightforward manner without any connotations, symbols or other references to the conceptual field. I consider fine arts to be an art field that primarily spiritualizes palpable matter, concept and symbol, whereas as a rule, notions are merely able to complete the visual impact. I think hazard may contribute to the development of a simple or complex image, according to the case – the hazard explored in order to obtain a wider field for the matter to manifest itself in a variety that transcends one’s imagination. My momentary state of mind and the materials I have available for my work at a certain moment largely contribute to the onset of the creative act, often resulting from short and lively outbursts, for I see my work as a visual diary of moods. Thus, sometimes, it bears the hour and the date of its completion as a distinctive mark. Recently, I have often used collages of various materials, textures, several means of expression, combined with other techniques. As to the way I work, usually one stage determines the next one and so on, and initially I have only a vague idea of what the respective object will become. I believe that the creative act is a lively phenomenon, whose program resides within us and the more thoroughly we succeed in discovering and following it, the more effective and lively the fruit of our work becomes, being able to trigger reactions of the same extent. The control of the respective act must be done very carefully, in order not to destroy its result. I usually refuse to give a title to my works, in order not to somehow limit or to direct the way they are perceived. I guess my work belongs to the field between rough art and abstract gesturalism.
For more than a century now, the death of Art has been announced either categorically, passionately, or with an “exasperating neutrality.” However, the artists are stubborn to exist and to “lure” us into an alternate world, whose hidden meanings we can only comprehend by experiencing it directly.
Converted to “living onto art,” and not anyhow, but in total ecstasy, Vasile Tolan is restoring dignity to the creative act – exiled by a secularized modernity within the space of the derisory – but not before operating a “necessary purification.” Thus, Vasile Tolan is displacing visual clichés credited by the figurative tradition, de-structuring the iconic reflection of the “real” into its constitutive elements. However, the artist is also showing compulsive tendencies of intertextuality, characteristic of the postmodern approaches, absorbing into his plastic discourse elements drawn from the contingent, objectifying repertoire, without nevertheless insisting to value them “symbolically,” but using them only as “implicit bearers” of meaning, like the chromatic paste or the other “materials” used in the economy of his work.
After the outbursts of a furious initial destructive impulse, the “will of order” reverses the artist’s thought, leading him towards compositional structures which seem caught as if in the midst of their secret conception, still preserving something from the purity of the uncreated, as the artist knows full well that “guilty is all that is created […] and sacred only the wedding, the beginning…”
Perfectly capable of the mimetic accuracy of a hyper-realistic drawing, by virtue of preserving a genuine artistic freedom, Vasile Tolan prefers to tune his instruments of plastic expression somewhere to the frequency of abstract lyrical neo-expressionism, not without formal insertions of minimalist art, conceptualism, Tachisme, neo-dada, informal art, a.s.o., assimilated polemically, though, and always preserving his right “to disagree.” Redeemed from the tribulations of latter-day “fashions,” from the revival of a sui generis fi gurativeness, proposed by the present-day aesthetics, the artist is imperturbably and off-handedly continuing his plastic investigation, firmly holding on to his own stylistic option.
Convinced of the efficacy of his “tools,” elemental in their stated poverty, yet displaying a nearly surgical detachedness, the artist systematically “rummages” through the secret folds of the subconscious, exploring the epicenter of the movements of the soul. The revolt, the amazement, the confusion, the refusal, the attraction, the pacifying, all echo into the disposition of the “materials” that Vasile Tolan “moulds” his works from – which more often than not does not involve only sheer pictorial techniques, as the artist relies on the expressiveness of the language of collage or even installation.
However, even when he plunges into the three-dimensional, Vasile Tolan’s works preserve a conspicuous graphic character: the line unfolds itself into an unexpectedly broad scale of values, testing the limits of its own expressiveness; the touches are laden with the vibrations of the textures, vividly settling the interplay of the “fullness” and of the “void,” the color displays the efficiency of an advertising spot, to support the compositional ensemble, supplying the “tone” and the “key” in which the visual score of the composition is going to be deciphered.
Connected to the primeval energies of the matter, yet no stranger at all to the adventure of the mind, Vasile Tolan exercises his art with total honesty, as a supreme form of ”‘reconciliation’,” as we can actually wonder what is exactly the purpose of the artist, of Art? Either we admit it or not, finding ourselves in front of a work of art, we inevitably seek to find ourselves again, anxiously waiting for that ineffable “something” to be conveyed to us, in order to come closer, to reconcile ourselves urgently with our own Being, with the Universe… Getting to know Vasile Tolan, one realizes that his whole work of art depends on his very lifestyle, on his provocative and polemic nature, through which the painter is leading us in good faith, on his own path towards art, sharing with us, through a strenuous spiritual exercise, the unparalleled joy of genuine creation.
VASILE TOLAN AND HIS WORLD OF SIGNS
The present considerations are the outcome of a visit paid to the artist at his workshop in Amzei’s Church Street in March 2010, when I could see for the first time or see again the images he has created over time, but also a digital projection of the quasi-totality of the artist’s work. Such a panoramic view of an artist’s work is one of the rarest privileges, allowing the art historian and critic to set himself in relation to the whole and to its component parts at the same time. To start with, I’ll confess that such an opportunity triggers meditation. The prodigious series of images created in time by Vasile Tolan does not seem to have grown “at random,” under the mere impact of fleeting inspiration, but by following – in its natural evolution – various energy flows. Initially discovering them out of instinct, just as with the help of a rod, water-seekers identify the spot where they’ll dig a well, the artist has known how to decant, guide and amplify them in an exemplary manner, thus demonstrating his permanent concern with inciting and stimulating his own creativeness. Some of these energy flows are intrinsic to his work and, as such, they entail some “rules of autonomous growth,” that we may consider natural. The meanders drawn by other flows meant to cross the field of imagery seem, however, to be determined by the artist himself, in the course of that “self-flagellating” incitement of his creativeness and, in the end, other flows are generated by the tension springing forth at the point of contact between the individual creative steps and the “stylistic time” to which the work belongs, namely to that of post-modernity. With regard to this latter observation, I can say that Vasile Tolan is an artist of his generation. What I reckon, however, to distinguish him from many of his colleagues, is the circumstance by virtue of which he does not «accept» the constructive – or perhaps deconstructive!
Solutions of postmodernism with the somewhat, if not downright, naive enthusiasm of his generation; he does not receive them as a datum or a gift – and I cannot repress here my (malevolent) tendency of comparing post-modernists on the point of accepting the “stylistic gift” of the age to the savage populations grabbing, with a kind of religiousness, shards of mirrors and colored glass beads from the hands of their “civilizers” – but after a confrontation, or shudder-giving battle, carried out for each bit of what I’ve called “the field of imagery”. The huge eff ort made during this battle – which is Vasile Tolan’s and that of only a few others like him – can be estimated only by panoramically viewing his entire work or its most important part. Within the contents of such an estimation of the whole created work, an attentive observer will now and then acknowledge “crucial points,” marking substantial renewals of the message and its style. It’s only these mutations, these changes, that show us how uncomfortable the “post-modern stylistic yoke” is, that Vasile Tolan has, nonetheless, eventually accepted. It’s his stylistic metamorphoses that give the measure of the dignity with which the artist has known how to bear such a yoke. Imperceptibly, yet under our very nose – when we have the patience to observe the metamorphoses of his work – the yoke starts turning into a necklace. To my mind, most of the work created by the artist is merged with the history of the battle I’ve just evoked. Its traces, or “ravages,” can be recognized in the very structures of the work, a reason why I nourish the conviction that it’s not me who, while writing this text, has invented this battle of the artist with the “stylistic time” in which he has been living. The “epochs,” “ages,” “stages,” of the afore-mentioned history can be reconstructed, starting from the series of the cycles through which Vasile Tolan has retrospectively organized the work he has created.
The titles of the series have been transmitted to me by the artist, and their succession corresponds to some distinct stylistic sequences, in which the appropriation of post-modern solutions, highly fashionable during the 70’s and 80’s, when they were created – was followed by an adoption of the same suggestions, this time, however, in a tense and polemical way, as if the artist had declared war to the style of the age, tending to subdue it. Even though tense and polemical, his assumption of post-modern and stylistic solutions is not devoid of organicism. An onlooker becomes aware of that, once he realizes that the artist has not been engaged in a purely aesthetic dispute, but in a genuine battle, during which the artist has sometimes turned against his own creative self. What I mean is – to put it in terms of a theological outlook, – that Vasile Tolan “cuts out his own will,” in order to connect himself to the energies of a timeless moulding principle, which transgresses ages and styles. In the – Platonic?! – shade of each image that Vasile Tolan has created, I distinguish a forking, a kind of stylistic crossroads. One of the roads seems to promise sure success, a road that any artist – however ordinary – would feel tempted to tread along. To my mind, this road corresponds to the “style of the age.” Thornier, more winding, with meanders which do not allow for a ceaseless scrutiny of the target, thereby inducing hesitation and uncertainty in the explorer’s enterprising spirit, the second road can be identifi ed with the choice that Vasile Tolan has made in nearly all the segments of the distance he hass creatively covered. I reckon I would not exaggerate by stating that the tension of the afore-mentioned choice has, from the point of view of their signifi cance, nourished the series of his images. All the more so, as the artist has avoided bringing any unequivocal fi gurativeness to his expressive equation. I don’t mean to say by this that Vasile Tolan has embraced the somewhat dumb proceedings of abstraction. On the contrary, these are contradicted by discreet fi gurative nuclei, to which the artist denies, however, loquacity, discoursiveness. It’s as if the painter had taken an oath of silence and the image – in the sense of one per se – were made to evolve before the onlooker, its becoming being the very subject, the very theme of the drawing, lithograph, picture, picture object or merely object. A becoming of the image, whose source is to be found neither in the “description” of the encompassing universe in a fi gurative or abstract key, nor in rendering visible the stages crossed by the creator’s being, but in the pressures the artist places on the idea during the creative act, or the reality of the image per se, bringing it thereby out of its very potentiality and making it manifest itself. The “image per se” has to be imagined as a kind of Pythia the artist discovers on a tripod, in a temple. By asking her questions and thereby inciting her – in addition to contradicting, dissecting, mistreating her, I’d say, – the creator takes her out of her state of latency and indistinct babbling. In clearly delimited thematic cycles, this oracle-priestess, caught in the world of his imagery, is compelled by the artist to manifest herself. We, the onlookers of the painter’s work, become witnesses of his spectacular and somewhat baroque evolution, witnesses of its “prophecies”.
Circumscribed by the “genetic code of his imagery,” in its successive metamorphoses, the sense of such a way of becoming is strengthened, qualified, clarified, to the extent to which the artist leaves “behind” the old cycles, and the onlooker of his created works focuses his attention on the subsequent cycles. What seemed to be merely sketched, rather timidly, in the retrospective cycle entitled Openings was to acquire force and amplitude in the cycles to come. However, the battle to which I’ve referred to at the outset of the present considerations is already on, half way through the Openings. Considered from the «standpoint» of a certain stratigraphy of post-modernity, the drawings of this cycle – bearers of a repertoire of somewhat conventional signs, in which I have recognized the influence of Sorin Dumitrescu, in his capacity as an illustrator of Nichita Stănescu’s poetry, an influence that Vasile Tolan has confirmed, – are still speaking the language of their age and handling it with ability, and Vasile Tolan seems to be content with achieving such a performance. Communicating with one another almost musically, his signs make up the genuine mass of an archetypal, more or less conventional, world. At a given moment, the geometrical harmony of the cycle is discontinued by an extremely concrete, by no means conventional, image, piles of firewood arranged, in accordance with the inflexible geometries making up archetypal worlds or only their maps, imagined by the artist through such interpretations that I’d call realistic. Vasile Tolan makes himself the master of this archetypal world, which up to then had still been alien to him, which had still been the other’s «property.» Such images, laden with concreteness, have , to my mind, the value of breaches through which distinct territories of the imaginary are made to communicate with one another, gates by passing through which you [come to] realize that the pale maps nourished by the power of a human archetypal geometry acquire consistency and meaning. Later cycles come to mark – more pregnantly than the images grouped in his Openings might give one to understand – the ideative substance of Vasile Tolan’s work. I have in mind the cycles, or groups of images placed under ambivalent, descriptive and symbolic titles like Realms, Relics, Writings. Images able to suggest the archaeological nature of minerals, waning, decomposition – images marked by a certain gestural significance, guiding the onlooker’s reception towards abstract expressiveness
– are ideatively linked, perhaps in an unconscious manner, with the series of his Relics. This human-mineral symbiosis seems to be confirmed by the imagery of the Kingdoms. It’s important to bear in mind that, though fancied as quasi-abstract structures, the Relics actually reproduce fragments resulted from demolitions, so, ideatively, the artist is resorting to strange and disquieting “archaeological traces.” His Relics are plastically structured as ample still-lives, in which seasons seem to succeed one another realistically. I have in mind the snowfall on debris-relics. Whereas in Kingdoms an anthropomorphic “absorption” is suggested by the shift from the whole to the fragment, in the series of Relics, on the contrary, it’s the mineral-like character which tends to get involved in an anthropomorphism concerned over a change with the physiological “inner-side of the human being,” understood as an organic mechanism, rather than its capacity as a “canon of classical beauty.” To make up for the lack of “classicalness” of the images inserted in Relics, they are humanized poetically, rather than in any other sense. However, Vasile Tolan is far from being a “realistic painter,” – his Relics are interpreted either from the standpoint of the still-life genre, manifest in this case as “an undescribable muddle of organs” – to quote from Jean Acalair, when that exegete focuses his critical lens on the strange anthropomorphism evinced by Marcel Duchamp during the creative period to which his masterpiece La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires belongs – or, on the contrary, as fragments of landscape or “essential scenery,” in which even the time-lapse within the seasonal cycle is perceivable, as I’ve already pointed out. Poeticizing his outlook this way, Vasile Tolan has discovered the “relic-stage,” through which his painting has recovered by now an old vein, deep-rooted in Romantic and Symbolist painting. Let me also add that, despite his having become in this roundabout way an archaeologist of “art history strata,” Vasile Tolan knows how to soften the “historical prints,” by relegating them to areas of false appearance and vagueness, through an input of utmost pictorialism. In doing so, he has proved, once more, that his art is indissolubly linked to post-modernism, even if a sometimes brutally declared, at other times deafened, polemic is going on between his outlook and the mentioned trend. During my visit to his workshop, I was impressed with and somewhat surprised by the systematic order the artist has known how to introduce, retrospectively, to the works he has created. They were organized in cycles, and even though the images of the same cycle are not strictly contemporaneous, they seem to descend from the same persistent vein of inspiration – whose energies the artist is capable of finding anew, whenever he wants, precisely due to his ability to ceaselessly stir his creativeness, to spur, whip it on, so as to bring it about unsparingly, with no commiseration.
I reckon that Vasile Tolan shares this kind of spiritual exercise with poets and shamans alike. Stylistically, his various cycles – Openings, Kingdoms, Writings, Relics, Steps to Freedom (provisionally also titled Free Exercises), Pictoreliefs, Cassette-Witnesses, Installation Objects – are most frequently sustained by a “gestural inspiration” which, whether more marked or diluted, now aggressively, now diaphanously, crosses his works. Even if the images comprised in a certain cycle are piercing, here and there, through their strict chronology, I reckon that the systematisation proposed by the artist is a real “backbone,” or more exactly, a “genealogical tree” of his own creation. I mean to say by this that the images making up his various cycles are communicating with one another, in a process of reciprocal determination, whereby the older ones are generating the newer ones, but – given those chronological breaches which I’ve already referred to – sometimes, the determination may have, mathematically judging, “its sign changed,” in the sense that the newer images are remodelling, retrospectively, the ones that preceded them. The works comprised in the cycle Steps to Freedom make up a world in itself, the cycle seeming to be built from independent nuclei, which nevertheless intercommunicate at both the level of the plastic sign and at that of its significance, the latter being “delivered” by means of real symbolic constellations built by the artist sometimes on purpose, at other times unwillingly, in the gestural fever of his creative process. Such makings – that I’ve called “symbolic constellations” get either the shape of families of graphic – pictural signs, or that of interventions with unconventional materials.
Worth mentioning among the latter would be train tickets, diversely coloured wool threads… And the list might continue. Through its recurrence, the “constellation” makes up a genuine alphabet, a language that an onlooker might learn by going from one image to another, skilfully guided by the artist himself, who thereby proves to be a good teacher of the sign, imperceptibly and all of a sudden, become symbolic. I’d like to add that the above sketched dialectic is not devoid of its natural organicism. The means of expression have grown and naturally circulated throughout the process of Vasile Tolan’s creative work, without the painter’s being entirely responsible for their evolution. He’s got, as I’ve already shown, the task of a pedagogue, rather more modest than that of a master. Once that the mission of the artist comes to an end, that very instant it’s the onlooker who takes over the initiative. He partakes in the writing of the message inserted by the artist in his work. The plastic sentences, syntagmata, that the painter formulates are laden with potentiality. On their “power of growth” depends the final message the onlooker is sharing in. The structure delivered to the onlooker is the same as the act of comprehension which starts from the point where the artist has ceased to intervene in his work. This way, the message ceaselessly evinces its opening and its availability. This transpires more clearly than elsewhere from the cycle the artist entitled Steps to Freedom. Progressing towards an ever more marked gesturalism, the Steps are derived, I guess, from the geometrical firmness of the cycle called Writings. It’s as if the artist had wanted to discover in gestural freedom what Jorge Luis Borges called “God’s Scriptures”: in the apparently aleatory spots on a leopard’s fur, in whose vicinity a conscript is kept captive, the latter manages to decypher – given the long captivity in the neighbourhood of the beast – the very ultimate reasons of the universe. In this case, the aleatory becomes – to my mind – equivalent to a meta-geometry, whose rules cannot be understood from the standpoint of everyday, ordinary, «reasoning». Which is not to say that the meta-geometry that Borges identifies with “God’s Scriptures” would lack legitimacy, even if its logic were impenetrable. Vasile Tolan senses – perhaps diffusely – all these branches of the secret, since in a series of images of his Steps … cycle, a kind of a previously spread geometrical tissue becomes a prop for his gestural expression.
The closer the onlooker chances to get to the core of the cycle (or the heart of the matter), its gesturalism identifies with the creative freedom itself and the background geometrism tends to hide in its own shade. Starting with his Writings cycle, the artist acknowledges a certain insufficiency of his palette, which explains why aggressive and diaphanous collage fragments, vague intrusions of objects – for instance, the cardboards of train tickets come to round off the plastic expressions, and not only. The object included in the painting models the sense of the image, its symbolic spectrum. Train tickets become the equivalent of some tally encrustation on the substance of the painted work. Simultaneously, they indicate distances in space and the accumulations of temporal substance, equivalent, in the last resort, to the destiny of the creator himself, become a theme of his painting. This is also a way of tracing his self-portrait! Within the Steps … another leitmotif regarding objects tends to conquer a perennial place: the nest – a wreath, woven or spun, from straw. Let’s note that this doubly symbolic opening may send to the idea of sheltering, to that of sacrifice, just as it may include sheltering and sacrifice in the same semantic equation, the two hypostases reinforcing their significance reciprocally. Read in the stylistic key, such an intrusion of things guides Vasile Tolan’s steps to the level of “poor painting.” As these boundaries are opening up and becoming more ample, this tends to invade the artist’s approach. Along the same lines, it’s worth pointing out that by altering its symbolical spectrums, the garland-nest becomes identified in his Pictoreliefs with a threadbare, sunken mattress. To a greater extent than in the case of the so-called Arte Povera, you become aware, by contemplating and trying to understand the images created by Vasile Tolan, that the real meaning of such an approach – which places the precarious, the insufficient and the derisory among his means of expression, and ends up by raising them upon a pedestal – is the omnipresence of God. Nothing is too insignificant or too debased for redemption and ascension. This last observation can also serve as a conclusion to the interpretive approach I proposed, after a hasty attempt at panoramically reviewing the works created by Vasile Tolan.