The Tyler Collection includes a rare and precious monograph on Ion Tuculescu (b.1910 in Craiova, d.1962 in Bucharest) with a commentary by A. E. Baconsky, translated into French and German. Tuculescu’s art was regarded as a landmark in the history of Romanian painting, although his name only came to notoriety in the spring of 1965, the date of his posthumous retrospective exhibition. He was born in Oltenia, in the South West of Romania, to a family of intellectuals.
Although he expressed himself as a painter at the age of 14, Tuculescu studied in parallel both at the faculty of natural sciences and the faculty of medicine in Bucharest. He received his doctorate in 1939 magna cum laude. He had a constant interest in biology, but his medical studies were mainly carried out at his family’s insistence. He was interested in medicine only during the war when he showed extraordinary abnegation towards the victims of the war.
Tuculescu was essentially a self-taught artist, and it was only in the last years of his life that he came under the influence of friends such as the poet and philosopher Lucian Blaga. At large intervals he took part in various collective exhibitions, but his participation went largely unnoticed, and his real value only became apparent when he no longer exhibited and became “confined in his house which had become a fabulos tezaur al nimanui (fabulous treasure for nobody)” (Baconsky, p. 6). Tuculescu was hard working and a perfectionist, not preoccupied by anything apart from his art, and died working. According to Baconsky,
“When in the summer of 1962 an unforgiving illness struck him, his face as seen in his last photographs was that of a martyr from the iconoclastic middle ages, as absurd as a nocturnal fantasy.” (Baconsky, p.7)
“Tuculescu’s art is striking in its exceptional chromatic force, its unusual combination of colours, its haunting intensities imprinted on our retinas – what we might even call audacity… His sense of colour, however intense, is foreign to any violence and the laws of Vlaminck’s “orchestration outranciere” [outrageous orchestration]. Even when colours erupt from their tubes and settle directly on the canvas, his red, yellow or green compels us to speak of their magic rather than their violence. This magic has its origin in a more profound and less accessible zone of his art – in the overall vision on the phenomenal world, in the metaphysical aura of his palette, in what we call the universe of Tuculescu’s painting. It is there that the particularities of his art, which is so new, not just within Romanian fine arts, reside. It is there that his strange harmonies are distilled, that his stylistic matrix emerges out of centuries of subterranean accumulations.
Tuculescu is a painter of a ritual; without understanding this, we will never find the true way to the essence of his art. This ritual, composed of both ancestral elements and others of unsettling anticipation, is organised in a direction suggested by the words of Paul Klee: “I am looking for a distant point situated at the origins of creation, and I perceive a formula for humankind, animal, plant, earth, fire, water, air, as well as for all inter-circling forces.” The sense of approaching the origin of creation is perhaps one dimension of modern spirituality. All the contemporary artists’ dramatic explorations converge in this goal. Increasingly constrained by technology (photography, cinematography, electronic machines), which limit – even only quantitatively – his sphere of action, the artist experiences the need to relive the myth of creation, to return to the origin of this miracle in order to consolidate his consciousness of self-worth and of that irreducible and legendary power. Mircea Eliade identified in this cult of origins the signs of mythological behaviour (“comportament mitologic”) among his contemporaries.
Tuculescu himself displays mythological behaviour on his journey to the origins. In this way his return is not a method of evasion since it is not accomplished on the level of history; it is not an act of regression, nor the unfolding of a chronology. The primitivism to which he tends as a painter thus denotes not a historical age but an ideal stage of sensibility and experience, in the sense of total liberation from any mystifying intermediary, from the secret and often unconscious conformism of his craft, and ultimately from the destructive action of time. Such a tendency acquires the significance of an act of revolt against historical time, against its irreversible character which challenges the creator’s urge for simultaneity. The same Paul Klee said that he felt that he was living concomitantly among both the dead and those not yet born. How well these words define one of the dominant characteristics of Tuculescu’s artistic universe. The Romanian painter’s great achievement is that [very] simultaneous existence within an almost totemic past and the anticipated future… On his canvas circulate motifs of old ritual: masks, troiţa [Romanian Orthodox crosses], anthropomorphic representations suggesting bizarre idols or ghostly appearances, birds, butterflies, signs and forms which seem detached from a panoply of primitive symbols.” (Baconsky, pp.7-8)
Tuculescu’s use of eyes may seem bizarre to the newcomer, but they indicate a profound familiarity and fascination with the symbolism of eyes expressed within the Judeo-Christian tradition and primitive totemic cultures. The meaning of the open eye painted or encrusted above proto-Christian altars and within the Romanian troiţa is that of the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, all-loving eye of God, in whom everything is and grows.
His paintings radiate a hypnotic power through these eyes embedded in his landscapes and compositions. They are colourful open eyes within colourful backgrounds, like Ochi negri intr-un ocean oranj (Black Eyes in an Orange Ocean), with one significant exemption: the black and white eyes of the apocalyptic vision in Poarta Infernului (The Gate of Hell). They are friendly, inquisitive, curious eyes, highlighted and accentuated with thick lines of colour, opening up windows into the in-sight-full mind.
Tuculescu’s symbolism of eyes, as windows to the brain, reminds us of the optic nerve as an outgrowth of the cortex. There is an interesting and suggestive etymological link here between: 1. scoarţa cerebrală (brain cortex, meaning literally, ‘cerebral crust/skin’); and 2. scoarţa oltenească (Oltenian carpets, a regionalism). The painted eyes draw together these two meanings inherent within the Romanian noun scoarţă (bark, crust, cover, derived from the Latin scortea - ‘of skin’). Both linguistically and visually, Tuculescu’s paintings speak as windows to his Oltenian soul, and thus into the immemorial origin of that Carpathian-Danubian culture. [Written by Alex Popescu, December 2016]
[i] See Reproductions No. 63 (Masti), 90 (Aurul Mastilor)
[ii] See Reproductions No. 38 (Troiţa Roşie), 40 (Troiţe), 43 (Troita), 69 (Troiţe Mari).
[iii] Reproduction No. 87.
[iv] Reproduction No. 80.
Table Of Contents
Chronology (pp. 13-14)
List of Reproductions (pp. 15-18)
96 pages of Reproductions
Foreword translated into French (pp. 21-29)
Chronology translated into French (pp. 30-31)
List of Reproductions translated into French (pp. 32-35)
Foreword translated into German (pp. 36-44)
Chronology translated into German (pp. 45-46)
List of Reproductions translated into German (pp. 47-50)