FROM “PAINTED DIGITAL ABBREVIATIONS”, THROUGH ANDREA POZZO, TO THE “PAINTING HEART”—SOME CONSIDERATIONS ON CĂTĂLIN BĂLESCU’S RECENT ART FROM “PAINTED DIGITAL ABBREVIATIONS”, THROUGH ANDREA POZZO, TO THE “PAINTING HEART”—SOME CONSIDERATIONS ON CĂTĂLIN BĂLESCU’S RECENT ART CRISTIAN–R. VELESCU Cătălin Bălescu’s creative journey decisively crosses the territories of the painting itself. It appears to the painter like a realm he is destined to travel in order to get closer to its heart with each and every step. I need to emphasize that this journey is complex, paved with dangers. Consequently, the artist relentlessly scrutinizes its target, fiercely scrutinizing it. Endowed with intuition and creative inteligence, Bălescu asymptotically approaches what I would call the essence of the creative act. That needs, of course, to be construed. In Cătălin Bălescu’s view, possessing the domain of painting is not an adventure that can last for one season or a day in an artist’s lifetime, but a lengthy process which has its own growth natural laws, nodes and phyla. Some phyla that aim almost methodically at the meandres themselves of the act of knowledge. It is clear that the above mentioned act does not lack surprises. Some of them—hidden in the gulf of meanders‑ideas—are able to deter or proove to be downright painful. However, the deterrence and pain are accompanied by the most plenteous and pure spiritual rewards. Artistic practice—as everyone knows—is also a form of knowledge, and Cătălin Bălescu, during all his actions, decisively takes into account Leonardo’s teaching according to which „La pittura e una cosa mentale”. The first time I saw Cătălin Bălescu’s works was in the ’90. Drawing out from the depth of my memory, the cold monochrome canvas that approached the interior theme, appear today like crystallizations of a creative neo‑expressionist experience. It may be because in my perception during that time they were related with Anselm Kiefer’s paintings and drawings, Joseph Beuys’s famous disciple. Looking at the canvas, I had in my memory a certain painting of Kiefer, Parsifal, showing a large room, all bathed in black and ocher, specific to the floor and walls made of boards, a kind of room‑forest, uninhabited and still lacking objects in the middle there is just the bloodied Grail and nothing else. The ocher intertwined with black corrugations in Kiefer’s painting had its counterpart in the black and green present in the interiors painted by Cătălin Bălescu. And could it be mere coincidence that mixing the ocher and the black you get to that saturated green that is specific to the forest moss—the same green from where—continuting to distill it even only in imagination—you get to a more intense green, like venom? Therefore, a symbolic correspondent—but in reverse—the bloody cup of Kiefer’s painting center. However, during a later conversation I had with the artist, I was told that “Kiefer model” was not part of his imaginary museum. The canvas I admired depicted nothing else but the interior of his own studio, the same studio where formerly Costin Petrescu labored to finish his meticulous art. It was perhaps a mere coincidence that Cătălin Bălescu had to restore an experience that was destined to Victor Brauner in the years after World War II. Moving in the studio that once belonged to Rousseau the tax collector, Brauner painted—stimulated by André Breton—a painting where the creatures he imagined met the creatures waken from his old master’s imagination. According to Breton, the creatures imagined by Rousseau must have still lived, like the spirits, in the corners of the Parisian studio in Perrel street. Similarly, Cătălin Bălescu knew how to evoke and reinvent the old energies of the creative act, he must have found nestled in the secret corners of the studio, when—as a young painter—he had come to settle in the studio that was once the site Costin Petrescu’ toil. Perhaps it is this very meeting—like Brauner’s Rencontre du 2 bis rue Perrel that made him rummage the “imaginary chest” and in the layers of the European civilization image. Some of Bălescu’s canvas aim at capturing the energies‑signs the painting masterpieces speak of from beyond time. His paintings—genuine art history epures or “portable museums” à la Duchamp—taking the shape of a grids reminiscent of Mondrian’s paintings, saturated not by pure colors, like the Dutchman canvas, but identifiable figurative realities of “nuclei” or “iconographic embryos”. In their substance, the paintings of former masters were concentrated, pointed‑like, so that when you try to find something you can recognize in that nucleic form, you ask yourself if the information it provides resides in the material world or whether the plastic punctiform sign, encoded, already passed in the spirit realm. Watching them, one can feel art history pulsating like a living organism. The look crossing the painted gridded surfaces recognizes—like some good acquaintances or old friends—Luther, painted by Cranach or Rafael, who self‑portayed, or a portrait of an old Jew due to Rembrandt’s brush. Revisiting the oldest images in this series, I could realize the reality that I would call in a pretentious way “mechanics of reducing to ideogram and symbol a masterpiece belonging to Western painting” does not work quite as “mechanic” as I imagined, when the artist was pleased to reveal to me his science research project of the image world. I learned on that occasion—and I was quite taken by surprise—that reductions of old paintings that I thought intuitive and coming following a creative gesture full of spontaneity, equivalent to a brush stroke able to condense in an instant the creative experience of old masters, are actually the result of compression due to new electronic media. Researching by “digital means”, tens, perhaps hundreds of masterpieces, the artist forms a sort of DNA of the phenomenon we usually call “art history”. By statistical means entrusted to electronic media, Bălescu succeeds in eventually filtering certain stylistic parameters. They are specific not only to masterpieces, but to the very creative epochs which have generated masterpieces subject to research act. Everything happens in the place full of mystery, whom I shall call the “digital lab” for which Bălescu’s studio is partially mistaken. Coming back to the “digital research” done by artist, I shall add that the above mentioned stylistic parameters finally settle—like the precious nacre conch—on the surfaces intented for painting. So only after the image was “digitally condensed”, Cătălin Bălescu “collects” it from the polished surface of the computer monitor and—completely assuming it—ultimately entrusts it to the traditional media of painting. On my way to reconstructing the stages of the creative process the artist chose, I try to imagine the moment saturated by creativity, when—glimpsing the condensed image of the masterpiece in the researched electronic media—Cătălin Bălescu rediscovered it and the pigments on the palette. He searches them with the brush tip by an estimative gesture, a gesture that I imagine like the one sketched by Velázquez, who became the character of his own painting, apocryphally called Las Meninas. I am thinking of a certain detail, that of the hand holding the brush. Seen in full motion—an estimative, hesitant motion—the painted hand suggests both nearness and departure from the canvas, as if the painter’s thought itself was caught in its undecided oscillation. That is why the titles remain, finally, a simple accessory: the paintings could just as well remain „untitled” or bear allusive-metaphorical titles, in agreement with the deep and ineffable Baroque poetic substance. The author himself seems to have experienced literarily with the titles of his works: in this respect I remind a series entitled paradoxically—as it seemed to me then—„neoclassical”. Returning later I realized that there could be a hidden meaning, such as the one identified by Germain Bazin when he said that, in fact, classicism is a kind of recurring „remorse” felt by the European civilization whenever it tried and succeeded most of times to turn aside from it. For Baroque seems to have always been a challenge for the European culture, an irritating phenomenon, because of its very recurrence. With the end of the artistic paradigms of modernity and since the advent of postmodern culture, Baroque seems to have become the subject of a true symptomatology; rather a model than an object, it is the experimental place of a thinking in search of its own history, which is trying to restore the 17th century spirituality where philosophy, art and science merge into a harmonious whole. The detail of the hand was not represented anatomically, but in a rather summary manner so that the anatomy, the estimative gesture and the movement itself are presented in a single brush stroke applied on the canvas. A stroke that I equate to a broad instaurator gesture. This fleshless hand, all of it in movement, is mistaken for—in my opinion—the impetus of inspiration. Such exercises that abbreviate, summarize, which compress are applied by Cătălin Bălescu to a whole series of masterpieces. Canvas of impressive sizes—as they can be seen in the mu-seums—are transformed into genuine painting haiku. Composed of “brushes‑syllable”, they are loaded with minimal visual information, but overwhelming‑essential. This is how Cătălin Bălescu knows how to discover in the depth of the pasta on the palette by gestures “à la Velázquez” the investigated masterpiece ideogram itself. From the palette, from deep painting pasta, by a skillful brush, spontaneous and vivid at the same time, the above mentioned “ideogram” is instantly transposed on canvas. I cannot help noticing that, in such an alchemy of the creative act—newly proposed by Bălescu—a scholar construction time can be seen. It is as if time is condensed in one accurately applied brush. It no longer carries straight ahead the artist in its flatness, like an endless plain that needs to be crossed, but becomes a whole, where the past, present and future merge. Here is the real cause for which—thanks to an incredible grace of nature or perhaps that of “god of painting”—Bălescu is destined to become not only a simple visitor of the old studios, in Amsterdam and Steen, Venice or Madrid or from elsewhere, but downright sharer of the act of creation, in all these places and still many others, wherever the former masters worked. And—really amazing!—it is noteworthy that the artist does not penetrate the studios of the great masters in turns, but he becomes the apprentice of all of them, during a simple brush stroke, that can be identified—painters know it all too well!—with the artist’s momentarily breath or sigh. The same pulsatile tension—of spiritual ineffable nature—welcomes you in the most recent canvas that raised a certain world of Baroque, painted by Father Andrea Pozzo on the walls of the church dedicated to St. Ignatius of Loyola. When in Rome, Cătălin Bălescu visited the place itself. Here, he became the viewer of the famous frescoes, he was able to discover—in a postmodern spirit—a new inspiration. I run before my mind’s eye the reproductions of the frescoes of father Pozzo that I know. My memory kept the forced perspectives in trompe l’oeil Andrea Pozzo imagined in order to convince us that the miracle is not only imagined but we are real witnesses to its accomplishment that, we are also witnesses and partakers to the “sacred work” taking place before our flesh eyes. Although at a first and superficial glance one may believe that the “Baroque” series Cătălin Bălescu initiates is totally different from the series of “digital paintings”. In reality, between the two groups of images I consider that a bridge arches. It is thanks to the energies the artist knows how to mobilize and direct, from assembly to detail. The analytical concerns, presented in the digital paintings, can be also found in the Baroque images. It is a Baroque for “personal use”, which Cătălin Bălescu builds it in a skillful and also feverishly manner. The creative strategies he chose—as with digital images—are those of the abbreviations, of synthetic summary representations. Cătălin Bălescu puts on a seconday plan the trompe l’œil architectures of father Pozzo, the vast “vertical panoramas” in order to focus—I would say exclusively—on the inner life of his characters those putti that make up, in fact, a real collective character. Painted in a technique suggesting sometimes grisaille sometimes the sanguine drawing, these putti are perceived as true messengers that mediate between worlds through this intercession they favor the baroque miracle the viewer of Cătălin Bălescu’s paintings no longer perceives in its whole—for this the viewer needs to turn the eyes towards the frescoes of father Pozzo—, but at the infinitesimal level of energies, those which determine the blurred and yet so clear gestures of these “putti messengers”. The gesture entropy corresponds, in my opinion, to the spatial entropy, which Bălescu intercedes by the blurred vision he chose. Its origins are, of course, still cultural. I am thinking, for example, to the relatively recently visit I did at the artist studio. A drawing of impressive dimensions that I discovered leaning against the wall still persists in memory. A drawing “inhabited” on its entire area by those putti, whose meaning is mistaken—in my view—with the spirits mediating between worlds. In the above mentioned drawing, the gesture of the brush was completeley entrusted to the graphic sign. However, here, the drawing is charged with the entire representativeness of the paintings to which it thematically relates. Not far away, in another corner of the studio, I found an album dedicated to the art of Michelangelo. It was opened next to a drawing, which I suppose Cătălin Bălescu was researcing. Judged from a stylistic perspective, the drawing was not one of pure Michelangelo style. It was rather related to Leonardo’s vision, as it was made of discontinued, uncertain contours. The graphic overlays wove a kind of network in whose eyelets the atmosphere that bathed the face in dwelt. The universe Cătălin Bălescu kneaded is made of such pallors, inspired by father Pozzo’s frescoes. This imaginary world—completely autonomous from the material world—saturated by the monochromy of browns in grisaille, descending from the Baroque through the pallors of William Turner, in postmodern times. The latter we are living together with the artist in a spiritual order. That is why Cătălin Bălescu’s characters—wonderfully hanging on Sant’Ignazio walls—have the power and the audacity to look for a new identity when combined—perhaps without the will of their forger—with the characters of Peter Greenaway’s films, taking part in an endless pulsatile‑unsettling procession imagined by the great director. In its turn, this world Greenaway imagined—polymorphic, grotesque and consequently aspiring to a suspicious indefinable holiness—meets—engaged in the process—Federico Fellini’s characters. I am thinking—allowing myself the luxury to fail—at that fantastic “ecclesiastical fashion parade” imagined by Fellini at the end of Rome. Skillful surgeon, Cătălin Bălescu reveals the mysteries of this spiritual tissue, that I tried to outline as second‑order critic—anatomist of the image world. A tissue both centuries‑old and contemporary, which proves to be alive. We slowly imbue in its calm life, becoming part of it like the mosses and lichens become one with the marble gray, of which, sometimes, the mage of a putto or a faun was released. In fact, mosses and lichens, living their vegetal life, secretely know they became faun and putto at the same time. These are the secret drivers, specific to the wonderful metamorphosis about which Ovid did not write a single word. However, it is a metamorphosis that constantly amazes Cătălin Bălescu and, together with him, we—the viewers of this paintings—fall prey to the same fascination.