HOW CAN WE HELP A PUTTO RESIST TEMPTATION TO BECOME OR A BRIEF PLEA FOR THE IMAGE RIGHT IN CHARACTER HISTORIOGRAPHY HOW CAN WE HELP A PUTTO RESIST TEMPTATION TO BECOME OR A BRIEF PLEA FOR THE IMAGE RIGHT IN CHARACTER HISTORIOGRAPHY MIHAELA VELEA The first feeling created by Cătălin Bălescu’s works is that of déjà-vu. It is the kind of painting that overwhelms by familiarity, and at the same time astonishes by its mystery and uncontrollability. Beyond the instantaneous effect, what truly strikes in this approach is the dynamics of the mental process through which the viewer internalizes and assimilates a pattern of iconic painting. It involves merging with a cultural pedigree that, once installed, provokes and forces certain barriers of thought. This is the stake: Cătălin Bălescu imposes a visual construction of Seicento influence, which, brought to the present day, seems to be attacking the distinct territory of today’s art. It is interesting to see how the age in which the artist was formed – namely the ’80s – coincides with the period in which the concept of contemporary art was built. We obviously refer to contemporary art as a current in itself, as the art critic – Catherine Millet – also theorizes; this covers all the manifestations and trends of updating the field, according to new paradigms of thought, representative of the contemporary man. Here we can discuss the relevance of a particular model, generically called mainstream, which, as soon as it coagulates, acts as a catalyst. That promoted direction, systematically practiced by a large part of a generation of artists, naturally has the force to percuss, with the risk of being perceived by self-pastiche, as a mass product that cannot escape uniformity. In a contemporary space in which art feels the need to inoculate the tension of present times, invading the environment with the aggressiveness and dissonance of commercial advertisements, Cătălin Bălescu has his own direction and the tenacity of being controcorrente. I specifically used this term in Italian, to mark the proximity or, more precisely, the contamination with a cultural pattern that has decisively influenced the artist. One can note that one of the haunted trends in contemporary art is to occupy a divergent position in relation to the history of art, precisely aiming to „conquer” it. Or Cătălin Bălescu does exactly the opposite, for him the art of the past centuries has become a source with an extraordinary potential. The interest in the reanalysis of certain typologies of notoriety is obvious in his works even before 2000. A series of works of that period are already defined as Studies for Mannerism and are the beginning in this research the artist is currently developing. It is a starting point that evolves in increasingly elaborated constructions, reminding the Baroque rhetoric, and is individualized by the subtle way of calibrating the cultural „quote” from the perspective of a contemporary ideology. This revaluation, beyond the phenomenon, is exciting for Cătălin Bălescu, not in the sense that it strictly targets a mannerism of mannerisms, but becomes a way to reconsider its resources. His works become ample compositions that remind, although they do not aim for a perfect achievement à la manière, by spectacular trompe l’oeil frescoes. It is a visual „manipulation” that avoids taking over all the demands of baroque illusionism and leads, not necessarily in a present time, but rather in a continuous present of the history of thought. The eternal collapse of the creation of the worlds, or the grandiose unfolding scenes that do not recoil from showing props of characters who made a prodigious career in the history of art, transforms Cătălin Bălescu’s work into a mirror of all times. I would speculate that this may be an effect of the convex mirror which obviously does not lack from the artist’s toolkit. It is a challenge, a way to test what we can call the „wear” of patterns or, on the contrary, to evoke a certain right to their image. The invocation of this right to the image should not be regarded as recalcitrant or contradictory in relation to emerging artists’ approaches such as Chris Ofili (The Holy Virgin Mary/1996) or Maurizio Cattelan (La Nona Ora/1999). At Cătălin Bălescu we see the need to preserve a certain impressive appearance regarding the status of the character, which is remarkable, not only by the iconic character, but also by the meanings it perpetuated over time. That is why his heroes face the abyss and want to revive, twisting under all their entire historical load. Entering into the repertoire of recurring subjects, Putti do not seek, in any way, to deny themselves the aura that consecrated them by keeping their ability to become viral intact – in the contemporary sense of the term. This may be the argument for which everything that is significant in Cătălin Bălescu’s work is of a certain academic rigor, which has no reason to easily integrate into the phenomenon of art globalization.