Ion Alin Gheorghiu (1929-2001) was a Romanian painter and sculptor and an elected member of the Romanian Academy. His artistic career under Communism was helped by his background: born in a modest working class family, he studied at the Institute of Fine Arts ‘Nicolae Grigorescu’ under the famous professor and painter Camil Ressu (1880-1962). (Ressu was awarded the title ‘People’s Artist’, and became a member of the Romanian Academy and honorary president of the Artists Union, helped by his longstanding membership of the Social Democratic Party.)
Gheorghiu finished his studies in 1954 without graduating; his final degree piece, “Creanga si Eminescu la Iasi” (“Creanga and Eminescu [Romania’s pre-eminent writers] in Iasi”), was considered to be both nationalist and formalist, which was unacceptable during the period of Soviet–inspired Socialist Realism. Until the withdrawal of the Red Army in 1958, his work was rejected in official exhibitions. He had to unload potato vans at train stations and had no studio. However, after 1958 national and international exhibitions followed, in Memphis, London, Prague, Moscow, Paris, Warsaw and more, and he was awarded many international prizes, including the Homage to Picasso Award in Italy in 1983. Gheorghiu was extremely exigent and chose to have very few solo exhibitions. Despite repeated invitations to receive his degree, he refused to do so, regarding his initial rejection as a badge of honour.
The themes of Hanging Gardens and Chimeras are two significant poles in Gheorghiu’s art and reveal his fascination with mythology and fantasy. However, under pressure from the cultural apparatchiks, Grigorescu tries to dismiss this mythological dimension and to discount the non-conformist aspects of his work:
“the allusions to Semiramis’ mythological construction [Hanging Gardens] do not constitute, I believe, the essential element of Gheorghiu’s latest paintings. The artist detests that which is artificial and I am convinced that he regards as bizarre the idea of dislocating the rows of flowers and of arranging them with savant geometries: he looks for the rationality of nature’s compositions as they are and does not want to impose a pre-established order. He is not attracted by the proud gesture of a queen who purposefully built one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The wonder in his painting is hidden within the very inner embodiment of living things… Gheorghiu’s gardens are hanging not in the legendary space of Semiramis but in that meeting place of diverse forms from the visible world.” (Grigorescu, p.6)
Grigorescu reinvents Gheorghiu’s art in a Marxist vein, almost forbidding any idealist reading of his paintings. Without justification, he regards Gheorghiu’s work as celebrating both the abundance of nature in its harvest and natural form, and industrial landscapes (which “impart a feeling of strength”). However, while there is an emphasis on the natural form, with his images of flowers and shells, this is far from the dialectic materialist vision of nature to which Grigorescu alludes. In this monograph, there is no industrial imagery, nor is there,
“the boundless expanse of fields sunlit by the ripe yellow of the grain, where the massive figures of the combines lay a powerful accent… the same can be seen in his industrial landscapes – elaborate constructions whose geometries impart a feeling of strength. … The industrial view is in Gheorghiu’s perspective a reason for celebrating matter itself… the concern (characteristic of his art) to proclaim the unity of material forms has led Gheorghiu to sculpture”. (Grigorescu, p.11)
Grigorescu seems to fabricate the artist’s allegiance to Marx’s historic and dialectical materialist doctrine as if the monograph needed (and perhaps it did need) to pass the test of ideological censorship. Such a defence was a requirement for any artist seeking publication in Communist Romania. Was Grigorescu helping, intentionally or otherwise, Gheorghiu to get his work published for national and international audiences?Many of Gheorghiu’s abstract sculptures in cast metal are entitled “chimeras”. Although influenced by Dimitrie Paciurea’s elemental chimeras of earth, water and fire, they seem nevertheless to stem from Gheorghiu’s own imagination, reflecting his personal exploration in the use of chromatic rhythm and simplification of form. [Written by Alex Popescu, December 2016]
Table Of Contents
Chronology (p. 15)
68 pages of Reproductions
French and English translations: Hanging Gardens and Chimeras (p 17-23). Also comprises added materials: Added material: There are three 4”x3” colour photos of Gheorghiu’s studio with various paintings on an easel. They appear to be from the same period as the monograph. Gheorghiu appears on the edge of one photo.
“Domnului Geoffrey Tyler,
in semn de prietenie –
Ion Gheorghiu Aug 1979”
(“To Mr Geoffrey Tyler, as a token of friendship – Ion Gheorghiu Aug 79”)