Adrienne Braun in a conversation with Stuttgart-based artist Mona Ardeleanu
Ms. Ardeleanu, you give your works titles like, Falter, Zirkler, Zwirbel, Brüter and Dreidel. Are these your own neologisms?
Mona Ardeleanu: Yes, the title describes what the work is: A thing, that doesn’t exist. The titles are also descriptive, they are a continuation of the pictorial creation on a linguistic level.
These creations are captivating in their strong materiality. Where does this love to the material, to fabrics, tassels, fur, come from?
MA: When I first began studying, I came from a background in comics and graffiti, never having worked on canvas. During my studies, I tried out everything that could be done pictorially, I also painted figuratively—but above all I was searching for something, something that I could manipulate. Fabric is very obliging, it doesn’t follow the laws of physics, instead it can follow the image. I can shape it to suit me, to the object, the thing.
So, you are the mighty artist that manipulates reality?
MA: Yes, demiurgically speaking, that’s the best part about it! It’s about the demiurgic, about finding solutions in painting, to bend something so that it has an inner harmony, a resting point.
Are there templates?
MA: No, not specifically. I’ve since starting using watercolors, which often result in series, before I start to paint. They are very laborious; I need a lot of time to complete a watercolor, until it’s just right, but in doing so I spare myself the search for form on the canvas. The templates are not translated one to one onto the canvas, but because I have a well of ideas of forms, of objects, in which, I know where it’ll eventually lead.
Yours shapes seem familiar, reminiscent of something that one has stored somewhere in a memory. Do you sometimes study patterns or designs?
MA: Definitely, that I’ll, for example, google an image of a Delft vase. This isn’t a strict approach to painting, but I’ll ultimately refuse to have a direct model from which to work, because I know that my works have an added value to them when the things arise for the image and are not influenced from the outside.
How do you begin a painting?
MA: Gray and white. Priming takes a long time, because I want to have a neutral pictorial base—without space, time, physics. There should be an undefined space in which the object is able to exist alone. Then I begin with gray and white—and the things develop from there.
So there isn’t a masterplan beforehand; the objects develop quasi on their own?
MA: The images are created on the canvas, so I always work on several parallels. They influence each other, one arises from the other; that’s why you can always recognize groups of works.
It is a very labor intensive painting process, isn’t it?
MA: Yes, it’s a totally silly way to paint. It is a super intensive thing, but in the end, the result is as I want it.
The objects hover in neutral space. Why isn’t there any context?
MA: Because the things themselves are not static. They could not function in our reality, if I were to build them, I would have to hang, position, support them. I used to light them, place them in an aura. But now I no longer define a point of light, but instead let the light radiate from the object itself. Therefore, it’s logical to say that the background is a neutral image space. Although more works are created in which the background is integrated.
Does it only have to do with the “art” of painting, or do these idiosyncratic creatures also have a contextual dimension?
MA: There is always a substantive dimension that I commit to, I do it for myself. I have topics for series, such as epidermis or circles—where it has do with the circling motion. I try to learn first, examine many things, but eventually it all falls away, and I get into the painting.
In a sense it’s almost an Old Masters painting. You are also involved in the tradition of the still life. Does art history serve as a major source of inspiration?
MA: It’s not the basis for my painting. I go to the museum, some of it is important for me, but it’s not as if I would purposely create references.
Do you also think about the viewer?
MA: Yes, it’s a game with the viewer.
Is your intent to lead the viewer astray?
MA: I want to guide them, let them stumble, open doors for them, it paves the way to feelings and memories. However, it is also important to leave things undefined, open. I define nothing. It’s about the misleading, but also about making things accessible. I define nothing. It shouldn’t be a purposeful act, to look at the image, but rather a misstep.
These things on the canvas have a strong haptic quality. Should one feel the respective materiality through the eye?
MA: Exactly, I believe, that one gets over the act of seeing quite fast, but if you want to go further, it’ll be difficult. It is also about geometric shapes, which are implied, look harmonious, but are not completed properly to the end, there is no finality.
You started with graffiti and comics. One didn’t necessarily expect that you’d gravitate towards fine art painting. How’d that come about?
MA: I was at the Stuttgart Art Academy, studying under Alexander Roob. I had absolute freedom, so I really let loose, and had tried out a lot—I even tried my hand at sound installation. But it was always clear to me that it’s painting that truly captures me. I’d be away, but then found myself again among the painters in the class. The year I spent in Vienna studying under Daniel Richter was a very informative time—I was far from sheltered Stuttgart in this “punk” class, where thirty-right people sat in a room and everything went astray.
How has it affected your work?
MA: Before I went to Vienna, my paintings looked like this class: huge and overflowing. Letters, animals, everything confusedly jumbled together. During this year, my painting became increasingly reduced. I found an old painting teacher in Vienna, from which I learned painting techniques. During this year, my painting became increasingly reduced, I did away with the people, the animals, then I got rid of the writing. I came back and had painted nests from fabric.
So was studying all the more important for your development as an artist?
MA: I’ve learned something from everyone. In Alexander Roob’s class I learned to question what I paint, and to view my work from a different perspective. I learned a lot about the art market from Karin Kneffel. I painted and painted, but it was never an issue, what would happen when one day the protective “bubble” at the Academy is no longer there. Karin Kneffel took her students didactically by the hand and prepared them for being an artist.
You’re now out on your own and have been awarded several grants as a freelance artist. Are you already so far along that you can support yourself with art?
MA: I am now in the second year without a grant. To be able to support a family is another matter, but for me, it’s fine.
How important is the collaboration with galleries?
MA: Very important. As in any business, it is important to have good partners. My galleries handle everything that I have no desire to do, newsletters, mailing lists, writing letters. I am glad that I can use my time to paint.
You’ve just had a solo exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart. It’s probably been an enormous help.
MA: That [exhibition] was a huge success, which has pushed too hard and brought a broad public.
You’ve since established your own studio, are you more of a loner or are you connected and in constant exchange with your fellow painters?
MA: I like to paint alone and I also quite like to be alone. I’ll also go to an opening, but then it’s good. If I’m in an intense painting phase, I don’t want to be distracted, I don’t go to exhibitions, don’t go to the movies, or read newspapers and make sure that I’m not influenced by anything.
You’ve developed great virtuosity in Faltern, Zirklern, and Zwirbeln. Is there something that excites you, something that you want to try? Do you eventually want to take a different path or do you feel far from being finished with the idiosyncratic creations at the end?
MA: Currently I’m unraveling these objects, and it has to do with surface area. It’s evolving into a deconstruction, I unfold the objects and then put them back together again. That will certainly occupy me for a while.
This interview was conducted by Adrienne Braun.