Enigma Variations: Mircea Teleagă

Where are we? In a derelict, overlooked corner within a tarnished and uncertain land. A cryptic entropia perhaps condemned, perhaps forgotten. We might be in the Zona of Tarkovsky’s Stalker, or the opening 20 seconds of Joy Division’s Atmosphere, or even Stan Brakhage’s artist film epic, the circling and looping Dog Star Man. But this is not a destination. It’s where we might briefly be, while on the way to somewhere else.

Repetition is very important in my work. I am working with a lot of elements that are unique and specific to a time and place of making, and a state of mind. But in trying to replicate that somehow, multiple variations appear.

Though it would be easy to locate Mircea Teleagă’s practice at the soft border between representation and abstraction, such a placement doesn’t please the Romanian artist. For him, these terms obscure rather than clarify, are monsters grown from mental shortcuts. 

The fact I repeat an image so many times, that underlines there is no original image that is being replicated and all the variations can exist as originals.

Teleagă’s work sees a limited number of motifs in a state of near constant revision: new work revising our view of earlier work, the future revising the past, which remains embedded in the present. 

Repetition is the statement that a particular subject can never be fully exhausted as it always connects to different things. It can never exist on its own and is always in context. Repetition is one of the ultimate luxuries – the ability to ask: what if?

I started taking pictures before I decided to focus on painting. I really don’t know why I went with painting. That said, I think there is a particular physicality in painting that reminds me of my childhood.

As fellow painter Caroline Walker has suggested, “the inextricable connection between what is painted and how it is painted is the real subject of Mircea’s investigations.” While for collector and curator Jon Sharples, “The fact that what he does evades explanation is part of the reason why his work doesn’t suffer the same diminishing returns as that of other painters.”

It matters what you repeat.  Success is worth repeating. I repeat in order to better understand. If I think something’s so successful, why don’t I do it again? See what it is I can take from it. Repetition is not to copy. Repetition is confirmation, like in music. It validates the subject matter.

As has been observed elsewhere, Teleagă’s depiction of landscape in portrait format is highly suggestive of human regard. The rigid overhead power lines a clear counterpoint to the asymmetry of the fluid, sentinel trees – those trees that stand in for the people we never see.

When I am out taking photos, I have a sense of the things that will stay within photography, while other things start turning different wheels and I will start thinking about composing a painting. This is the only conscious part. You have to be very self-aware to be able to see photography, because it tends to become invisible because of the medium. 

I started taking pictures before I decided to focus on painting. I really don’t know why I went with painting. That said, I think there is a particular physicality in painting that reminds me of my childhood. The first twenty years, your memory gets heavily imprinted.

Though deserted, the paintings are never empty, carrying instead the weight of what cannot be left behind. As Teleagă has said, the early years leave their signatures, even if the places he depicts exist only in the mind: his and ours.

One spends a lot of time alone in the studio while painting, which requires a particular type of energy. For me, going out and taking photos requires a different kind of energy, an energy that is somehow contradictory to the first, so they live their separate lives. Then again, when you are in the dark room, the energy there is similar to the painting one.

Recently, Teleagă has extended his range of motifs by painting imagined interiors. We see a large painting of a room. On a wall inside the painting hangs a small painting of a skull. On a wall outside the painting hangs a small painting of a skull. It’s the same skull, the same painting: a version of the latter present in the former. One painting has entered another. 

Painting is useless. It does not keep us warm, does not feed us. It requires tremendous effort to make and keep, but we still see it as one of the most important things we do. I guess it is a transcendental experience where we are amazed, as humans, and we worship something useless that we made. I think most of painting’s beauty lies in its uselessness.

Mircea Teleagă

All Rights Reserved: Text © Nick Scammell & Mircea Teleagă; Images © Mircea Teleagă