The most well documented and researched monograph in the Tyler collection, based on the editor’s direct interviews with the artist, archival research and press cuttings. There are photo reproductions from various museums.
Georgeta Naparus was born in 1930 in Comarnic, Prahova County, a land of rich culture and ancient traditions dating back thousands of years, and died in Bucharest in 1997. In 1965 she married the painter Octav Grigorescu (1933-1987) and had one son. Her brother, Serban Naparus, still lives in Prahova Valley. Naparus studied painting at the Institute of Fine Arts ‘Nicolae Grigorescu’, Bucharest (1951-1957) under prominent artists such as Corina Lecca, Titina Călugăru, Adina Paula Moscu, and was taught by the painter Rudolf Schweitzer-Cumpăna. She graduated in 1957 with an artwork called Țesătoare de covoare (Carpet Weaver, now lost).
Her formative years coincided with the 1950s, i.e. the ‘obsessive decade’ (obsedantul deceniu), a period characterized by unprecedented abuses from the Soviet authorities which imposed an atheist proletarian culture in post-World War II Romania. After the Red Army’s withdrawal in 1958, she benefited from the de-Stalinisation and relative freeing of Romanian art and culture from the ideological constraints of Socialist Realism in the early 1960s. In the mid-1960s she became more familiar with the masters of Bauhaus modernism, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. Their fascination with utopian Communist views, which legitimised their artworks within the Iron Curtain, enabled artists like Naparus in post-Soviet Romania to take up their artistic flow of imagination and cartoonesque sense of simplification and abstraction.
Her playful sense of composition seems to invite the viewer’s imagination to engage in a carnivalesque rhythm of untold stories dormant within her archaic and imaginary world. This playfulness intensifies at the interface between the seriousness and gravity of her themes, which include maternity, historical events, harvests, and the humorous and comic aspects, at times veering towards the grotesque, e.g. Circul (The Circus, 1967), Sperietoare (Scarecrow, 1980) and Caruta cu Paiate (Puppet Cart, 1977). In works like Miniaturi I (Miniatures 1, 1971) and Scena de Familie (Family Scene, 1979), Naparus organises the painting in a gallery-like manner which requires a chronological and ordered examination of faces and silhouettes. These gallery-like compositions have an iconographic resemblance to the Byzantine iconostasis (the painted screen separating the altar and the congregation in Orthodox churches).
Other works such as Bluza pe Fond Rosu (Blouse on Red Background, 1981) and Costum cu Rama Pictata (Costume with Painted Frame, 1976) require a different approach. Her technique here has a holographic nature about it, inviting the eye to come closer, towards the detail, which can thus be explored three dimensionally in its surprising and eventful depth. For Naparus, the painting as first exhibited is not always its final form, because sometimes, months or years later, she would return to her artworks out of a creative impulse, even if just to alter or add a detail, e.g. 1 Mai (1 May, 1971; International Labour Day, celebrating the working class).
Naparus is an artist fully immersed in and developing traditional folk art. This is conveyed not only by her themes or style but also by pictorial details which can trigger ancient narratives, as if told by impromptu storytellers of village mythology. Radu Bogdan writes about her richly coloured series of costumes and shirts:
“Of their double quality as clothing items of daily use – aesthetic and practical – what the costumes and the shirt retain in a painting is only the aesthetic dimension, of course, a dimension which is also suggestive of ancient myths and outlandish worlds; once purified through a sui-generis artistic filter, these outfits and garments appear in her paintings as mere shapes, contours and alterations of drawings and colours which, seen from a distance, remind one of the embroidered blouses and ornamental patterns of the peasant women’s skirts. A ‘victim’ of such optical illusions, a viewer is prepared for recollections of folk arts and traditions, which are so deeply rooted in the artist’s subconscious and in the even more powerful memories of a happy childhood spent in the countryside, among people whose beautifully adorned clothes fascinated her. As the viewer approaches the painting, what had at first looked like a costume or a shirt gradually opens new perspectives and displays more magic little areas, captivating the eye and the mind with endless surprises and enigmas. Hidden and confined within a delicately traced cell, all kinds of figures, personages, objects and symbols can now be identified: trees, butterflies, flowers, animals, masks, medallions, heads from front and profile, nudes, necklaces, clowns, dolls, kings, fairy queens and Prince Charming, town dwellers and peasants, garlands, arabesques, coats of arms – an infinite diversity which, by eliminating the concrete folklore elements, makes up an original world of its own.” (Bogdan, from English translation, pp.61-2)
Naparus’ paintings recall Romanian carpets: her work seems to have a textile feel about it, sometimes looking from the blurry reproductions like tapestries. It is difficult for the art critic to comprehend her work with its telescopic openings into distant and hidden universes, and to formulate value judgements about work which essentially “escapes definitions and classifications” (Bogdan, from English translation, p.61).
“I started to become increasingly interested in working on small surfaces. Perhaps this is because I have seen many pictures which tell you everything from the beginning and which after a first glance do not give you any reason to look contemplate them. I would like viewers to always discover something new in my pictures, to oblige them to return and to give them the opportunity of discovering another “something” every time. I also believe that I have reached a moment of feeling an almost censorial pleasure in colour. Little brushstrokes offer me the possibility of more nuances.” (Naparus, quoted by Bogdan, p.16)
Instead of exploring the depth of her imaginative and individual style, Radu Bogdan plays up the Romanian folk influence and roots it in familiar nationalism: “while deeply committed to pursuing a style of her own, [her work] remains faithful to her roots and their characteristic treasures … the major source of inspiration for one of the most original Romanian painters of today.” (Bogdan, trans. p.62) He conjures up the rather more conventional image of an idyllic happy childhood in the countryside. At times, this stifles her independence and enthusiasm, her strange visions, her dreams. Even her intimate relationship with Christianity is downplayed by Bogdan who sees influence of the church as a historical “monument”, rather than as a living body (Bogdan, p.19).
Bogdan rationalises and adds lucidity to the dreamlike qualities of her art, downplaying the innocent, playful power of her oniric imagery.[i]
“‘Sogni dei pittori’, painters’ dreams, were the names given to grotesque Renaissance works of art; this is precisely because, like in dreams and especially in reverie, the grotesque vision turns the natural order of things upside down and confuses elements which naturally exclude each other.” (Bogdan, p.31)[ii]
At times he is cynical about her lyrical expression, reading undue humour and irony in works such as Puppet Cart, rather than appreciating the joyful and celebratory regression back to happy childhood that it stimulates. Naparus’ art offers the maternal comfort, reassurance and love which enables the viewer to enter into her mysterious world and to recreate that innocent universe of awe and self-discovery through the eyes of the child within. [Written by Alex Popescu, December 2016]
[i] Bogdan quotes Paul Claudel’s distinction between order as “la beauté de la raison” and disorder as “le délice de l’imagination” (p.15). For Bogdan’s assessment of the oniric in Naparus’ art, see p.25.
[ii]In his notes, Bogdan discusses Mihail Bakhtin’s distinction between the Renaissance and Romantic views on the carnivalesque/grotesque (pp.44-5): the former links it to folk culture in public squares, while the latter internalises it from a distance. In both cases, laughter, as an aesthetic attitude, defies natural logic and fosters moral transformation. What in Bogdan’s view is Naparus’ laughter should perhaps rather be taken as a knowing smile.
Table Of Contents
In cautarea stilului (In Search of Style, pp.7-21)
Interferente: Visarile gliei (Interferences: The Dreams of the Land, pp. 22-38)
Cuvint de incheiere (Conclusion, pp. 39-40)
Notes and References (pp. 41-47)
Exhibitions (pp. 49-57)
Chronological index of cited works (pp. 58-60)
English Translation: Georgeta Naparus and the Flow of Imagination (pp. 61-2)
French Translation (pp. 62-3)
“Cu emotie si dragoste
Silviei si lui Gorduz
(“With emotion and love, to Silvia and Gorduz”)