‘When people look at my paintings I want them to feel something, something beyond just what they see.’
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.
Alex Calinescu’s paintings have musical qualities. It is no surprise that as a child Calinescu was a talented violinist and considered a career in music. She works in series, which are essentially variations with developed and re-worked motifs. But to label these marks as in any way representational implies a simple symbolism, a notion that is easily dispelled by looking at the paintings. Nor is colour for her ever a crude emotional trigger; rather she works tonally, and with great subtlety. Every series develops from the previous one, and there is usually a pivotal work from which the new series begins in what can be a modulation or a transition to a completely new theme.
2002-6674-no 2 charcoal on raw canvas, 168 x 188cm, 2002
2003-90100-no 1 acrylic on linen, 228.6 x 254cm
Each individual painting is complete in itself, a work in its own right to be appreciated alone as well as understood within the extended series. This applies as much to the smaller paintings as to the large canvases.
Calinescu’s small pieces aren’t simple prototypes which she later scales up into larger pictures. They are the starting point for any series, working within a format that allows for greater experimentation because of a greater freedom in terms of time and cost of materials. They invite private meditation. Their marks can suggest fragility and vulnerability in ways impossible on a larger scale. Here in these direct and intimate works she explores motifs that metamorphose into the subjects of her large works. And in turn the larger works can then suggest directions to explore in smaller pictures.
2003-dr1012-no 1 acrylic on linen, 25.4 x 30.5cm
2002-series 2-no 7 charcoal and acrylic on linen, 25.4 x 30.5cm, 2002
The large paintings have their own distinctive qualities, like Bach played on a church organ rather than on a spinet. For Calinescu it is important that they allow the viewer to feel able to walk into them, be absorbed within them. These are not windows onto someone else’s world, but invitations to enter a world. Often simpler in their elements than the smaller works, they have a profundity and power that resonates in the memory long after leaving the gallery.
Calinescu has been working on a large scale since first developing a fascination with the shapes and monumental qualities of dilapidated buildings when as a student she visited Beckton, the location used as a substitute for a razed Vietnamese city in the film Full Metal Jacket.
Becton 1988 charcoal on paper
Borough Market 1 Charcoal on paper, 1998
Working in charcoal on paper she began the journey towards abstraction and tonality that has culminated in ‘From Three Lines’. The remains of Battersea Power Station, and of a burnt out house became the sources of a progressively more abstract art.
She began by working on site, later using her recollections of the atmosphere of these places as the stimulus. A series of small monotype interpretations of a house destroyed by fire, was pivotal, her first move beyond recognisable representation to creating a sense of place, or, more accurately, a sense of the experience of a place.
Battersea Power Station 1988 Charcoal, ink, acrylic, bleach, water soluble crayons on paper 178 x 112cm, 1988
Clapham Manor Street Monoprint, 1989
While a postgraduate at London’s Royal Academy Calinescu became more overtly expressionist in her painting. Huge canvases incorporating diverse media such as plaster and broken glass encrusted within thick acrylic suggested an apocalyptic vision, an effect heightened by titles such as ‘The End and the Beginning Were Always There’ and ‘Nemesis’.
With these Turneresque explosions of light, pigment and energy, she emerged into the consciousness of the London art world.
There is no help for me upon this earth III mixed media and acrylic on canvas, 213 x 183cm, 1996
1997-8472-No.1 mixed media and acrylic on canvas, 213 x 183cm, 1997
Calinescu’s recent work developed from her desire to express feeling using simpler and more precise forms. Over a period of five years she pared down her technique to achieve greater clarity, often using only a few lines or marks against a monochrome background.
2002-series 1-no 2 charcoal and acrylic on raw canvas, 102 x 127cm, 2002
2002-6674-no 8 acrylic onn linen, 168 x 188cm, 2002
Nothing is arbitrary here. There is no room for vagueness. These paintings have purity and serenity in their tensions and resolutions. They imply the complexities and dynamics of human feeling.
Like the musical compositions of Arvo Pärt, which she greatly admires, Calinescu’s paintings employ apparently simple means to achieve these highly expressive effects. With ‘From Three Lines’ Calinescu has herself achieved the musicality of a sophisticated and subtle composer.