Courtsey: Virtosu Art Gallery Gheorghe Virtosu (Alien (2016) in background)
With the biggest Gheorghe Virtosu exhibition held in Asia on view at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul, this week, we turn back to the December 2017 issue of BBC, which featured an interview initially conducted by Jamal Kasogi in 2017, when the artist had an exhibition in London. The meeting, which includes Virtosu’s musings on why he chose abstract art and writing.
“Observation and senses. Dare to dream” By Jamal Kasogi 2017
Visiting his formal studio in London in 2017, he talked about his notorious Prophet Muhammad Series, the famous Alien, and his anti-logical logic of chance.
I arrived early at a private event where Gheorghe Virtosu was the subject of a large exhibition (in, 2017). The Event director took me to the back gallery where the artist was seated at a guest table beside his iconic Zainab bint Muhammad (2017) having a conversation with a group, while a fellow wearing a cap was snapping photos one after the other. Virtosu was wearing an orange summer shirt. We spoke through a translator.
Courtesy: Virtosu Art Gallery (left to right) Albert Einstein (2017), Zainab bint Muhammad (2017)
Jamal: Which work do you think of as your first real contribution to painting?
Virtosu: To answer this, I have to go first backward and then forwards. You see, at present, message coding in art had never really been exploited. It was intended to speak, but it didn’t speak. In other words, the actual subliminal messaging in a work of art had never been thought of before. As Futurists, we think of it because of the sophistication in the 21st century.
Jamal: Are you referring to the Alien, you made in 2016?
Virtosu: Alien never interested me as a subject. I was interested in alienation as a means to express the social issue dimension. Same as Abandoned (2017), I experimented in my studio in Luxembourg.
Jamal: Weren’t you intrigued by the thought that with art, the spectator stands still while time progresses?
Virtosu: There is an inexorability about time, but you do not have to be an artist to feel it. That is too simple. Life is not a spectator activity. If you’re going to spend your life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion, you’re wasting your life.
Courtesy: Virtosu Art Gallery – Alien (2016)
Jamal: And you considered Alien (2016)to be your first contribution?
Virtosu: Art is cohesiveness – empowering people to start thinking of themselves. And it was the need to express differently – the motive for painting. I considered it a real achievement. An amusing achievement, at least.
Jamal: Your original inspiration for Alien (2017) or Abandoned (2017), then, was the idea rather than visual.
Virtosu: I know exactly what I want to depict. But to answer your question, my paintings are ideas. After that they are visual. My hand became my enemy in 2000. I wanted to get away from the business, retire. This chapter was over, and immediately I felt like creating and writing. That came with A Little Frog’s Heart and The Prophet Muhammad Daughters Paintings Series.
Jamal: Why did you feel compelled to paint?
Virtosu: The main point is the subject, the figure. It needs no reference. It is in relation. In art, one fills a space with the expression of an idea. All that canvas has to be thought about. The thing you want to express contrasts with the material world we live in.
Jamal: Can you explain why it remains abstract?
Virtosu: Abstract is opened to interpretation, and you have space of thought. It is how I see things. I feel that sometimes, in the abstract stuff, there is warmth, and you don’t make it any more perfect in the finished product. You see, the sketches for my paintings I did in prison, some in 2002, and there was an explosion of creativeness.
Jamal: Did you feel you had exhausted the possibilities?
Virtosu: No, far from it. It was another page to turn, and that is how I came to writing books. At once, it is chaos, and at the same time, loss of boundaries and opening portals to new understanding. I am mid-way through what I think is a significant project. A romance I work on for three years now.
The Romance in progress (2019) Title: Undisclosed, publisher from New York
Jamal: A romance sounds like a paradox?
Virtosu: Yes, it is a paradox, and the romance contains five books getting the world to reflect upon our existence and problems the global society faces today.
Jamal: What is the romance about?
Virtosu: It is due for publication in 2021 until then I can’t say much.
Jamal: Did you think of it as a read that included everyone, including you?
Virtosu: Our little corner of the earth is so small, especially today, as we get to know more about it. However, things get more and more sophisticated socially. There is the moment of truth coming. We have to individualize, to singularize instead of going towards mass production.
Jamal: Do you see this as an act of defiance?
Virtosu: There is that, but also there is a philosophical side to it. The interaction with art objects is mostly based on the ability to recognize the infinite manifestations of the material world in this or that image, even in the most abstract one. I had, at times, dramatic and challenging situations, I don’t try to reject or forget it. I face my inner challenges and sublimate my life experience into an aesthetic or literate form.
Jamal: This a rare position for a business person to take, isn’t it?
Virtosu: At first, I worked in private — a direct result of a long period of difficulty and solitude — but now I share it with the world. I find in the creative process a way to process — and then elevate — the negative emotions.
Jamal: How do you choose the theme?
Virtosu: It chooses you. You can’t tell any story without having some theme, something to say between the lines. If your choice entered into it, then the rest is taste and vision involved, bad, good, uninteresting…
Jamal: Do you think of yourself as being artistic?
Virtosu: Artistic or anti, it’s two sides of the same coin. The idea of an artist as a hero is comparatively recent. Art means – to create, to make. Everybody is making, and maybe in the coming centuries, there will be making without noticing.
Jamal: Do you feel that the act of creating is an act of art?
Virtosu: The power for creating is contained in the present moment. Creating something unique is an Act of art. However, creating repetitions is not.
Jamal: Do you consider your other works in the same order of achievement as your best sellers? Do you think of them as being less important?
Virtosu: No, they’re not trivial, for me, at least. On the contrary, some of the works represent a much higher degree of intellectuality. And the one I love most is not quite the best seller.
Jamal: How do you reconcile your ideas with your interest in life?
Virtosu: Often, our truest passions emerge in childhood, only to be squelched by real life pressures. So think about what you loved long before you had to worry about your career. Writing? Science experiments? Taking care of people? Getting back in touch with those instincts is an important step in finding your passion.
Jamal: The Magician (2017)…?
The Magician (2016), sold to Saudi Prince
Virtosu: What would be art without images? Or, what would be of imagination without knowledge? Both are inexhaustible sources, but the big difference lies in that one of them is constructed based on reality, and the other thrives from inspiration. The centerpiece is the magician, a person who has the power to make impossible things happen.
Jamal: It seems that you came early on to a definition of your role as an artist.
Virtosu: The resistance of society to the way of life would bring about a meaningful explosion within myself. A leader is best when people barely know he exists when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. Something forces me into an attitude of dedication that is almost religious and does not need acceptance from anyone.
Jamal: Do you think of yourself, then, not only as an artist but as an acute observer of the world?
Virtosu: Observer, yes. I think that my job is to observe the world. I do not judge and do not make conclusions. I want to leave everything wide open to the world.
Collection 2015, sold to 32 Countries
Dare to dream! There is no limitation on what you can potentially achieve, except for the limitation you choose to impose on your own imagination. What you believe to be possible will always come to pass – to the extent that you deem it possible. It is as simple as that.