Biography


Abstraction in painting can be like music. There may be correspondences with the phenomenal world, the world of appearances, but these are like faint memories – triggers to an emotional response rather than the subject of the painting.  Patterns of lines, brushstrokes, shapes and colour, textures, have a mysterious power to resonate in the psyche at a level that defies conscious explanation, just as in listening to music we can be deeply moved, without fully understanding what it is that moves us.  


Extract from “Alex Calinescu – From Three Lines” by Nigel Warburton

After completing her Art Foundation in Cambridge, Alex Calinescu moved to London to study at the City and Guilds of London Art School (1986-1989). During this time she was repeatedly drawn to the many dilapidated and derelict buildings and demolition sites in London, creating a body of very large scale drawings. Working in situ, experiencing the emotional intensity of being within these empty, frequently abandoned, environments was an important element in their creation.
Battersea Power Station 1988

Battersea Power Station

Charcoal, ink, acrylic, bleach, water soluble crayons on paper
178 x 112cm - 1988


Camberwell Hospital 1988
Camberwell Hospital
Oil stick and crayons, charcoal and compressed charcoal on old hospital blind.
210.8 x 129.5cm - 1988
In 1989, walking home from college, Calinescu saw a burning building and the experience of this inspired a series of small monoprints. Made in the print room, away from the actual building, this was the beginning of her move away from representational imagery, giving her the freedom to be able to create a sense of what she experienced emotionally in these places.
Clapham Manor Street site 1989
Monoprint 1989

1990-6752-1
Ink, acrylic and charcoal on paper sewn to canvas
170 x 132cm 1990
This journey into abstraction continued during her time on the postgraduate painting course at the Royal Academy Schools (1989-1992).  Initially a series of works on paper...
...before moving onto canvas and beginning to incorporate mixed media.
1990 Mixed media works
1991 Construction
In 1991 she created a series of small works combining small monoprints held within constructions made with wood, metal and glass found on demolition sites.
Following these the work became more expressionistic; paint and pigments thrown, mixed media materials creating a surface often encrusted with plaster, broken glass and found matter. The scale of the work ever increasing, creating for the viewer a sense of an environment that they could physically step into.
1991 Mixed media
“Turning” 1991
mixed media on canvas - 221 x 356cm 
1992 Royal Academy Postgraduate Show
“Nemesis” 1992
mixed media on canvas - 348 x 335cm

This love of both the intimacy of creating small hand size work, and the environmental scale of her large canvases, has remained constant throughout, as has Calinescu’s preference for working in series, allowing a natural dialogue to develop between the individual pieces, feeding into and informing the body as a whole.

Unusually, during her second year of studies at the Royal Academy, Calinescu took on a studio out of college in order to provide a space where she could focus and truly immerse herself in her work. On completing her postgraduate studies at the Royal Academy, Calinescu moved there full time. The mixed media work continued, becoming in many respects more elemental. Creating on a large scale remained integral to her practice.
1993 Tulse Hill Studio
"Wastewood”
290 x 197cm 1992-94
In the mid to late 90s Calinescu’s ongoing questioning of materials, palette, proportion and scale, resulted in a reduction of the surface and materials used.  As the surface became more minimal, the form became more pronounced and dynamic.
1997-8466-1
mixed media on canvas 223.5 x 168cm
1998-8466-no 3
acrylic on canvas 213.4 x 168cm
2002 London
Despite the move away from figuration, Calinescu continued to be drawn to demolition sites and derelict buildings. 
2002 London
In early 2000 Calinescu began a series of works on raw canvas and paper using charcoal and acrylic paint, alongside a number of works on paper.
2001
2002-series 1-no.2
charcoal and acrylic on raw canvas
102 x 127cm
Increasingly she was drawn to the combination of concrete and wire in its deconstructed state, whether by slowly falling into dereliction or through the violence of demolition, and the tension in the wire forms as they hooked and overlapped.
Calinescu continued to question the need for each and every line and mark. Striving to reduce and pare back to the absolute minimum, and working initially on raw canvas, there was no margin for error.

The piece below inspired the title for her exhibition “From Three Lines”  in 2003. She recalled being asked where her work could possibly go from here, having reduced it to such a degree. Her answer was simply that each body of work had always naturally led into the next. A few years later, whilst making the circular form works, she realized with a wry smile that three lines had reduced to one.
2002-series 1-no.2
charcoal and acrylic on raw canvas
102 x 127cm

There quickly followed a series of paintings and works on panel and card. By contrast with the raw canvas pieces, these allowed Calinescu to work in an entirely different way, able to make dramatic changes, or miniscule adjustments honing the edges of the lines. 
2002 Studio interior
2002-6674-no 8
acrylic on linen 168 x 188cm
2004-6674-no 2
acrylic on linen 168 x 188cm
A series of 40 drawings on small canvas began to create the foundations for the next body of work. Working on so many at once, a dialogue and language developed which fed into the large pieces.

Once again the need for each mark was questioned but, unlike the earlier raw canvases, Calinescu decided on a different approach; drawing with charcoal directly onto the raw canvas as before but then painting the canvas with a pale cream acrylic, taking the paint to the very edge of each charcoal line, and thus, unlike the limitations of working on raw canvas, this process allowed her to edit the pieces.
2004 - Work in progress
2004-8290-no 1
charcoal and acrylic on canvas
208 x 228.6cm
2004-8290-no 2
charcoal and acrylic on canvas
208 x 228.6cm
In 2006 Calinescu was invited to spend three months as artist in residence at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in Connecticut. This was a life changing experience.
The studio at the Albers Foundation,
Connecticut. 2006
Extract from “The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation Residency” by Emma Hill 2006

“Calinescu recalls arriving after a late spring fall of snow, the forest of silver birch trees a leafless, uncluttered grid of vertical planes. 
The studio at the Albers Foundation,
Connecticut. 2006
The studio at the Albers Foundation,
Connecticut. 2006
Albers Foundation April 2006
Albers Foundation April 2006
She talks of long, solitary walks, the palpable silence and of how the immense studio window gave the sense of being able to pass effortlessly in and out of the landscape. 

Weeks of concentrated, uninterrupted work allowed a kind of freedom to progress ideas with a speed she had not previously experienced.

Albers Foundation June 2006 
Albers Foundation June 2006
Night time working in the Albers studio 2006

Working at night on small scale images Calinescu experimented with various processes, incising lines into the surfaces of painted boards in a reversal of the processes she was using on the larger scale canvases.
 
Carved painted panel 2006
A2006-9082-8
acrylic on linen, 228 x 208cm

How the experience of the residency entered the work is measured less in formal changes within the paintings than in the clarity and force of their emotional impact. 

Though they are rooted in the experience of being in the sensory world (light and space are certainly implicit) the images are not attempts to represent or equate to natural phenomena. Their tension comes from the most subtle of nuances: how a line appears against a tone, how a shape registers at a certain scale, where the viewer finds themselves in relation to the size of the support.

The paintings are the result of a kind of game of consequences, the potential for emotional effect dependent upon relationships that may, or may not, happen during the actions and decisions of process.”

Extract from “The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation Residency” by Emma Hill 2006

A2006-9082-7
chalk and acrylic on canvas, 228 x 208cm
A2006-9082-2
charcoal and acrylic on canvas, 228 x 208cm
In July 2006, on her return to London from the Albers residency, Calinescu moved into Sean Scully’s former studio in Deptford where she continues to work.
Work from the Albers Foundation residency,
90” x 82” series. London 2006
The 1700sq ft space, with its 4m high ceilings, has enabled her to continue to work on a large scale and develop her love of working in series, allowing a dialogue to naturally flow between the different pieces.
2007 London studio
Work from the Albers Foundation residency,
90” x 82” series. London 2006
2007 London studio

“In Calinescu’s lines are memories of vibration, echo, and synthesis. In the space there is colour, tone, scale and context. The finished works contain a fusion of harmony and discord, sound and silence, movement and stillness, form and emptiness.

In this engagement with the pure note Calinescu explores enigmatic visual territories in which the dimensions of existence are investigated through a subordination of the literal to focus on formal considerations and respect for the subconscious.

As a result these works are the material of truth, not illustrations of reality. They help make visible creative fundamentals which focus our minds beyond the individual to the universal. Calinescu does not create what she sees or hears, through the journey of making she creates what she knows.”

Extract from “Alex Calinescu – New Work”, by Daphne Astor, 2007
Delfina, London 2007
Full Circle Fine Art Consultancy 
Delfina, London 2007
Full Circle Fine Art Consultancy 

During 2007/8 the circular form began to break and, whilst working on a series of forty 5ft x 4ft drawings using chalk against a painted dark blue ground, this form began to transition into something very angular. 
2008 Work in progress
2008-3530-2
soft pastel and acrylic on canvas
89 x 76cm
2008 Work in progress
Feeling the work demanded to be on an even greater scale she began a series of 239 x 325cm canvases. The dynamic and dialogue in the relationship and space between the forms intensified.  In the journey of their creation, working on them in series alongside many smaller pieces, they very much fed into each other.
2008 Work in progress
2008/9 The 94128 series
239 x 325cm
Whilst they stand alone as individual works, there is a powerful synergy between them when hung together. Additionally, as a collection, their scale creates a sense of a physical environment into which the viewer feels they can visually enter.
Music and contemporary dance have been sources of inspiration in Calinescu’s work for many years. In 2008 she had two important experiences that very much fed into this particular body of work.

The first was seeing “Entity” by Wayne McGregor. The performance had a profound impact on her. The tension and dynamic in the relationship between the dancers, especially in the duets, echoed that of the relationship between the forms in her canvas. 
Sometimes soft, gentle and incredibly tender and intimate, and at other times hard, aggressive and with a sense of violence. Always an acute awareness of the space between. On meeting with Wayne she was fortunate to be invited to sit in on a number of rehearsals over a two year period and experience at close quarters the physicality of the dance, and interaction between the dancers.

The second was meeting the composer and musician John Metcalfe at a series of concerts to celebrate the opening of the new music venue in Kings Place. Once again, there was a synchronicity between the music and sounds he was creating, and these works. The physical force of bow hitting the strings of his viola, contrasting against against gentler sounds.
Calinescu has spoken of hearing and feeling a particular “resonance and vibration” when a piece is finally finished. Of a “jarring” when it is not quite right.

Sometimes left sitting quietly for months until the reason for this is suddenly clear. Those first moments each day on entering the studio that are often when a mark that should not be there, or an edge that is hard when it should be soft suddenly obvious.
This was a period of time when Calinescu would go to the studio directly from performances and rehearsals, everything she had experienced feeding into the work, listening to the music of John Metcalfe, and working late into the night with an intensity very similar to her time at the Albers Foundation.
2008/9-94128-4
chalk and acrylic on canvas
239 x 325cm

In 2010 these very stark and minimal forms began to soften. Calinescu began to work with a light palette creating a series of painted canvases and panels  
2010-8290 series
acrylic on canvas
208 x 228cm
2010-159209-1
acrylic on panel
15.9 x 20.9cm
2010-8290-2
acrylic on canvas
208 x 228cm


In 2011 Calinescu made the decision to incorporate elements of the fall of soft pastel and chalk dust that occurred in the making of the dark blue pieces which previously she would clean off and paint over.

Using this as a deliberate part of the work added to her palette, and created a veil like layer through which the viewer experienced the space beyond.


2011-6674-2
soft pastel, pigment and acrylic on canvas
168  x 188cm
2010 Work in progress
2010-94128-7
soft pastel and acrylic on canvas
239 x 325cm
Alongside these canvases Calinescu began a series of monoprints, working on a beautiful Victorian star wheel press she had purchased from Brunel University many years before. Literally moving backwards and forwards between the canvases and the monoprints, enabling a dialogue to flow through, and feed into, them all.
2011 Monoprint Series
2011-db series 2
Zerkall 902 smooth 225gsm
plate 17 x 20cm
paper 37 x 40cm
The monoprints spawned a series of small works on aluminum panels.
2011-2130 series
oil on aluminium panel
21 x 30cm
2011-2130 series
oil on aluminium panel
21 x 30cm
In turn, these fed back into the large canvases, the fall of pastel and chalk dust creating a softness against the harder edged form.

2011
2010/11-94128-10
soft pastel, pigment, and acrylic on canvas
239 x 325cm

2012-6674-2-1
acrylic and pigment on canvas
168 x 188cm
In August 2012, in addition to the pigment, Calinescu began to incorporate thrown paint into the work. 
2012 Work in progress
2012 work in progress
2012-94128-1
acrylic and pigment on canvas
239 x 325cm 
Alongside these canvases, she worked on a new series of monoprints. As with the canvases, these incorporated pigment thrown onto the wet surface of the plate, and impregnated into the damp paper as it passed through the press.
2012-September-series 2-2
Zerkall 902 smooth 225gsm
plate 17 x 20cm
paper 37 x 40cm
2012-November-series 1-13
Zerkall 902 smooth 225gsm
plate 17 x 20cm
paper 37 x 40cm
The paleness of some of these monoprints prompted a change of palette in the paintings, and an increasing softness to the work.
2013 Work in progress
2013-7482-1
acrylic and pigment on canvas
188 x 229cm
Over the next year the surface became more layered, the marks more gestural, and the colour increasingly vibrant. 
2014
2014-94108-3
acryic and pigment on canvas
239 x 274cm
2014-4248-1
acrylic and pigment on canvas
107 x 122cm
After the death of her father, Calinescu painted a series of three white canvases and, from these, the work reverted to a more muted and restricted palette.
2014-7482-3
acrylic and pigment on canvas
188 x 208cm
2014-7482-1
acrylic and pigment on canvas
188 x 208cm

Work in progress - 2014/15-94108-4
acrylic and pigment on canvas
239 x 274cm
2014/15-94108-4
acrylic and pigment on canvas
239 x 274cm
2014/15-3545-1
acrylic and pigment on canvas
35 x 45cm
In 2016 Calinescu began work on a series of large scale canvases (254 x 228.6cm).
2016
2016
Nature and the Elements, music, and contemporary dance have, for a long time, been an integral source of inspiration in her work and, indeed, life practice.
2016-4842-1
acrylic and pigment on canvas
122.5 x 109cm
“Being in nature, feeling the weather, land, sea, air, sun, around me, in me, I feel alive. I feed on this. That line of the horizon between sea and sky, sometimes so indiscernible and soft, sometimes such a hard line, in sharp contrast, draws me in again and again. As does experiencing cloud, mist, vapour, moving across hills, mountains, in valleys.

But, whilst such things inspire and excite me, these paintings, and the ones before, are not simply a recreation of my sense and experience of such elemental landscapes.


In music I am drawn to, and intrigued and inspired by, the space between sound, which becomes a sound in its own right. 


The edge of a note, whether it is soft, drawn out, lingering, or hard, short and cutting.

The breath.

In dance, that space between human forms, and/or their interconnection. The expression of harmony and discord, anger and violence, tenderness and sorrow.

Touch.

Intimacy.


Absence and presence.

Weight, balance, imbalance.

All of these elements are in the creative mix.

But then there is that “Other” element.

One which cannot easily be defined or explained in words. Essence. Soul. Spirit.”

Alex Calinescu - Extract from article for John Jones, 2016 (link to full interview)
2016-10090-5
acrylic and pigment on canvas
254 x 228.6cm
2016-10090-7
acrylic and pigment on canvas
254 x 228.6cm

Calinescu has been the recipient of a number of awards, including the Pollock Krasner Foundation Grant, the David Murray Travel Scholarship (selected by the late Sandra Blow two years in a row), the Landseer Scholarship, and the Richard Ford Award for Travel.

Her work has featured in numerous exhibitions both nationally and internationally and is held in many important corporate collections including Mittal Steel, the Bank of England, Reuters and British Land, and private collections in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Japan, Switzerland and America.

2016

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