Born in Brasov in 1942, Stefan Caltia spent his childhood in Fagaras and Sona, the Transylvanian village where his grandmother lived. After being rejected by the Theological College, he enrolled in the College of Arts and Music in Timisoara, where he met the artist Julius Podlipny who was to become his mentor. In 1970, Caltia graduated from the Institute of Fine Art in Bucharest, where he was taught by Corneliu Baba. Among his fellow students were Sorin Ilfoveanu and Sorin Dumitrescu.
From 1969, he participated in all the state organized exhibitions. Before 1989, he had one-man shows outside of Romania in Norway, West Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Greece, and he took part in exhibitions of Romanian work in Philadelphia, Glasgow, Moscow, Stockholm, Vienna, Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Paris, Lisbon, Tehran, Madrid and Helsinki. Sorin Dumitrescu curated one of Caltia’s most spectacular exhibitions in 1993, which included one of his 12m long drawings. Since then, various retrospectives have been held around Romania.
In 1971 Caltia won a grant from the Italian government to study in Italy. Other prizes won include the Ion Andreescu Scholarship (1969), the Theodor Aman Grant (1970), the “Young Artists’ Prize” from the Artists Union (1972), and the F.A.U. Prize for Painting (1983).
Caltia works in a ‘magical realist’ style, though he does not fit into any label easily, with meticulous craft and reverence for technique. In addition to paintings, he also produces drawings and etchings; more recently, in 2010, he painted a series on porcelain, inspired by the vegetation of Sona. He works on small surfaces in a highly detailed manner. His work is realistic but also fantastic.
He paints a range of themes: sober landscapes, still lives, burlesque characters, humans metamorphosing into strange creatures, and plays with ideas such as doubt, allusion, insinuation, seriousness, malice and happiness. Caltia’s visual and typological universe (of the clown, the divinizer, the floating woman, the unicorn, the gardener) is rooted in dreaming and childhood memories, and points, implicitly but intentionally, towards a mystical model of humanity in Christ. Much of this can be considered a monologue on the earthly condition of existence.
There is a moral element to Caltia’s work: he paints to arm viewers against their fears, without being didactic or rhetorical. After Ceausescu created the post of President of Romania for himself in 1974 and in the context of ‘systematization’ which called for the destruction of more than half of Romania’s villages, Caltia produced a series of fable-like etchings criticising the scheme with its attempt to destroy the cultural heart of the nation. The engravings depicted Ceausescu as a donkey with a sceptre, in the satirical and grotesque spirit of Goya’s Los Caprichos, but they were never published. A rare edition of these leather-bound etchings is held by the Tyler Collection.
In 1993 Caltia became professor at the National University of Fine Arts in Bucharest, and in 2004 he became its chancellor. Caltia is the most sold Romanian painter today, and works in Bucharest and Sona.
Entry authored by Dr Alex Popescu, Dec 2016