1 Baldwin Street, London, UK
A Momentary Rise of Reason is the first UK-solo exhibition of the work of Romanian painter Dan Voinea. Hailing from a new school of contemporary realist painting, Voinea and his contemporaries (fellow Romanian Adrian Ghenie, Dutch Michaël Borremans, or the UK’s own Justin Mortimer, to name a few) have not only endured an early 20th century phase that appeared to prefer whimsy and liberty over realism (consider momentarily the surge in popularity of work by Peter Doig, Cecily Brown or Gary Hume, for instance,) but have prevailed, spearheading the recent reinvigoration of realist painting occurring on an international scale to an unprecedented degree.
However despite this revalued focus on ‘new realism’, even referring to Voinea’s paintings as ‘realist’ seems to partly miss the mark; certainly the works maintain an element of hyperrealist tendencies, and Voinea is a confident draftsman and storyteller. Yet while technically realistic and anatomically correctly proportioned, the works are characterized as much by their apparent lack of realism: their fantastical tendencies, collapsing or nondescript environments and preference for magic realist narratives. One need look only at the simple brilliance in the titular A Momentary Rise of Reason, 2012 to see the painter’s signature style: the pallor of bare skin against a stark, painterly background; a style situated paradoxically between the looseness of an sketch and the obsess of the hyperreal; all combined with thoughtfully restrained palette and an intense jolt of vibrant color; an obvious affinity for appropriated imagery and a narrative that simultaneously invites and resists the whims of the viewer to understand the tableaux. From one boldly confident painting to the next, one can almost hear the artist’s working whispers: there are no rules to Voinea’s world – and what a wonderful world becomes manifest for the viewer.
Further, the paintings remain crucially aware of their art-historical context; Voinea’s love for the craft of both historical and contemporary painting shines through, subverting his influence and in a move of careful selection – intentionally flattening their temporal context: a nostalgia for some sepia-toned 1950s appears to recur, or perhaps it is the artist’s forlornness for some F. Scott Fitzgerald-worthy 1920s and 30s. At times Voinea seems like a disciple of celebrated American painter Andrew Wyeth, but at other times he throws the viewer back 100 years and his references are full of richly self-aware references to the fanciful Edwardian paintings of the 19th century.
In fact, Voinea credits the ‘intervention’ of street-performers as a source of inspiration and raw material for some of his recent work. For him, the performers articulate a deliberate exercise in sanity and the absurd, where reality becomes intwined with the dreamlike. One can see a naturalized world within which ‘ordinary’ events have been interfered, and this new semantics breathed into life. In much of his work, everyday settings such as streets and hallways appear half-realized, as though articulated through paintings of backdrops – in which paintings of paintings or vaguely described sets interefere with our reception of reality and reason. For this purpose, Voinea employs a Shakespearean mise-en-scene: solemn tones are countered by comical interludes; characters within the paintings appear both absurdist and melancholic. It is a form of reality itself once divorced from reality, where life becomes gradually contaminated by a series of macabre overturns and stage-shadows. This paradox allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions without emphasizing difference; it aims – with the effortless narrative created by Voinea’s brushwork – to naturalize all elements into the same thing: a fleeting recognition, like deja-vu, in which the real and the absurd are countered in equal measure. It is a mastery of both composition and execution, with Voinea manipulating the painterly strings of the marionette.
Dan Voinea (b. 1970, Brasov, Romania) has exhibited in a number of solo and group exhibitions in Romania and France. His group exhibitions consist of [The Year of ‘Unarte’ ‘Dalles Hall], Bucharest, [Characters], 3-4TNB Gallery, Bucharest, [SPACE Art] University’s Gallery, Bucharest, [New Art in Town], Podul Gallery, Bucharest, and [Watching the Neighbourhood, Make a Point], Bucharest. Solo exhibitions include [East Wind ‘Les Cordeliers’ Romans Sur Isere], France, [Finish the Poem] ‘S.A.N’ San de Senart, France, [Heroes and Judges], Carturesti Gallery, Bucharest, and [Playboy Afternoon], D’Ancona Budis Gallery, Bucharest. Voinea currently lives and works in Bucharest, Romania, and is a graduate of the National University of Art Bucharest.