Making Colour your Best Friend
Transylvania … the mere mention of the name evokes an atmosphere of mystery, history, gothic suspense. No wonder, then, that the work of an artist born and raised in this legendary region would be infused with an undercurrent of agesold romance. Yet, unlike Bram Stoker’s dark and brooding literary representation of Romania in "Dracula," artist Iosif Derecichei portrays his homeland with the lively hues of scarlet poppies, golden sunflowers and skies of welcoming blue that he remembers from childhood. No depressing shades of grey, here. Iosif’s paintings delight the eye with stylized visions of tiny villages nestled in the hills and, everywhere, the vibrant colours of nature. Iosif Derecichei was born in 1962 in Marghita, a small town in Transylvania (Western Romania), perhaps best known throughout the world as the setting for the classic novel Dracula. His relationship with art started at a young age, and Iosif’s talent did not go unnoticed. "Growing up in a small town, I remember being considered rather strange, a kind of rarity, being able to draw with ease. During my teenage years, I continued drawing and painting as a hobby, not really considering an artistic career as an option. In communist Romania, being a full
time painter was pretty much out of the question." After the regime change in 1989, Iosif completed his art education at university. With the communist era gone, new opportunities opened up, giving him the freedom to present his paintings abroad. "I started to exhibit my work in Hungary, being represented by galleries in Debrecen, Szeged and Keszthely (a beautiful city near the famous Lake Balaton). Through these galleries my paintings were shown in Austria, Japan and the USA. Those were prodigious years, having the chance to be part of some art camps around the picturesque lake; plein air painting with other artists when neither commitment, nor artistic knowledge got in the way, the whole process being pure joy and excitement."
An Abstracted View
Being a great admirer of Claude Monet at the time, Iosif developed an impressionistic style, and years would pass before he discovered the beauty of abstract and abstract expressionism. "My work started to shift, more and more abstract elements being incorporated in my paintings, until form, colour, line, texture and patterns took over my canvases. There is a permanent movement in my style between abstract and representational, a permanent struggle to find the perfect balance and harmony. Today, more figurative elements are making room in my paintings in a rather stylized manner." Living in Windsor, Ontario since June 2004, Iosif now considers himself a Romanian-canadian
artist, and he is grateful to some special people who helped him along the way. One of them is Nagy Jeno, a gallery owner in Keszthey, Hungary. "He was the first to offer me a solo art show in his gallery. That collaboration continued up until I immigrated to Canada. Also, two very good artist friends, Papp Gabor and Silaghi Stelian, who supported and really encouraged me – having an important role in what I am today as an artist. Then, some of my university teachers, who helped me develop the ability to interpret the visual world surrounding me." Living in Europe while studying art, Iosif was artistically influenced mostly by European artists, such as Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh, and Austrian artists Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. "Also, Michael Goldberg and Willem de Kooning had a huge impact on my style. On a personal level, growing up in a Christian family, values such as kindness and humbleness shaped my personality and my life."
Open to Interpretation
Even though his studio is not a large one, there is plenty of room for sketches, drawings and paintings on the walls. Being surrounded by them is inspiring – sometimes certain areas of an older image will stir the creative juices and prompt Iosif to develop that same theme into new paintings. Photographs are used as a starting point, though his paintings are never an exact copy of nature or any specific place, but rather a constant strive to establish a sense of place. "What really inspires me is nature, all the simple and ordinary things that exist around me. Beautiful textures, shapes, colours, just waiting to be
discovered. Historical architecture, narrow streets in old cities, neglected buildings are a wonderful source of inspiration. Forests, the reflection of trees in the water, can create extremely beautiful abstract patterns. All it takes is to change our way we look at the world and, instead of copying it, recompose it. Interpret it." Iosif is impressed by other artists’ ability to be spontaneous, loose, profound and meaningful, all at the same time. He especially appreciates the work of contemporary artists such as Dominic Besner, Jean-pierre Lafrance and American artist Jeremy Mann. When not working and creating, Iosif enjoys spending time in museums and art galleries. He has fond memories of wonderful art museums in Bucharest, Budapest, Vienna, Venice, Paris, Ottawa, Montreal and Washington DC. Travel is a big part of his life; not surprisingly, Europe's medieval cities are filled with inspiration. He is currently making serious plans for a trip to Rome and the gorgeous Amalfi coast this summer.
For anyone with thoughts of becoming an artist, Iosif has some sage advice: Begin drawing a lot to perfect your skill, then make colours your best friends until you just simply love the smell of paint.
Be creative and prepare for a long and sinuous journey. Never stop learning and challenging yourself. Spontaneity comes after lots of practice. "I think that my work is a self-portrait. It expresses my feelings, my emotions, my own journey through time … the places I visited, the people I met, how they influenced me, how they transformed me. All this makes my art unique in a certain way, different from other artists’ work." Iosif worked in oils for a long time. But after trying acrylics a few years ago, the versatility and fast-drying qualities won him over. "I've been working with acrylic ever since. I like to use collage for my sketches to create abstract compositions, then add figurative elements to the design, creating movement and rhythm. By using primary colours, along with stylized forms of houses, small villages, blooming trees, I create vibrant images. Texture, dripping colours in the background, thick paint applied with a palette knife, these are all part of my technique. Drawing lines coming through the thin layer of paint, sometimes redrawing over certain areas, adds to the freshness of the image, creating more vibrancy." Many times the process begins with a photo, which is used as a reference. Iosif breaks down the image to its basic elements, recomposes it in a more abstract manner, and subtracts or adds
new elements until the desired composition is achieved for the painting. "A quick charcoal sketch on the canvas and then I apply the paint, filling in the larger and abstract shapes, not really paying too much attention to details at this point. In some areas the paint remains thick, in other areas I spray water, mixing the colours right on the canvas, then let it drip, always hoping for some beautiful accidents that I can use later on. Figurative elements are added to the design until the right balance between abstract and figurative is achieved."
A funny thing happened...
"At my first show in Windsor, there were two people exhibiting: a well-known lawyer in the city, who was painting as a hobby, and I. When a local TV crew came to do interviews of both artists, all I remember saying, in my extremely poor English, was that the gentleman exhibiting with me – whom I'd never met before – was my brother. There were some quite awkward moments. My English has improved a bit since then. Never watched the interview, though."
previous spread, Purple sky, acrylic on canvas, 40" x 60" above, Rhapsody In Red And Green, acrylic on canvas, 48" x 48"
Wild Cherry Blossom, acrylic on canvas, 48" x 60"
End Of Summer, acrylic on canvas, 48" x 48"
Tuscan Poppies, acrylic on canvas, 30" x 60"
left, The Story Of Red Poppies, acrylic on canvas, 40" x 40" above, Sentimental Journey, acrylic on canvas, 40" x 40"