photo: Octav Drăgan/ Cultura la dubă
After the Revolution in 1989, most of Romanians tasted freedom for the first time. They burned photographs of Ceaușescu, got in line to vote, drank Coca-Cola or simply left.
What before 1989 was called fleeing, became a right to travel, and especially those who had the possibilities, chose other countries and never returned.
Dorin Crețu was engaged to a French woman and had been waiting for three years for the permission to get married and leave to France. He did not get it, the simple request arose suspicions of betrayal and interrogations, so the Revolution gave him a chance at a new life.
He has been living in Paris for 32 years, where he is an established painter and has recieved the support of the French state to develop hi passion for art, born during his childhood in Brașov.
Without being part of a family of artists, he lived, however, in an environment where art was appreciated. He felt attracted as a child to colors. He used to paint and make African masks, so his parents allowed him to go to The Plastic Arts High School.
He then went studied Plastic Arts in college in Bucharest and had a short career as a teacher.
“I was made a painting teacher somewhere in Moldova, at a school. Being somewhat restless, I left teaching and became a freelancer.”
What freelancing meant in communist Romania is hard to say. What is certain is that his choices did not give him a positive image in the party’s eyes and had to balance between his passion for painting and his citizen duties.
“It was somehow complicated, I had a scholarship and I had to do a three year probation.
I went to the Carpați Trust, that was handling the building of The People’s Palace and, because there weren’t any openings at painting restauration, I got transferred to sculpture.
I did my probation there, as a sculptor in stone.”
He also received from the Plastic Artists Union in Romania a workshop on Mendeleev street in Bucharest, and, in the evening, after work, he would go there to paint.
He left for Paris with a thirst to paint, alongside his French partner. Only, there, he didn’t have any support and had to start from nothing. He only had an art portfolio, with which he knocked on the doors of the French Ministry of Culture.
“I went through all those offices with photos of my works, begging them to look at my work. I came across an inspector who liked what he saw and showed me the way and the first steps that I had to do.
That’s how I signed up for scholarships, for the acquisition of works on The National Contemporary Arts Fund. And The French State bought one of my works, then I got a scholarship, then came exhibits and awards that didn’t mean only diplomas, but also an important financial support.”
More than this, he was in a contest organized by an artistic commission and received his first workshop, somewhere on the outskirts of Paris.
“Back then, Romania had another image.
After The Revolution, there was a positive attention on us, something honest coming from the French. We were a lot of artists who came to Paris and could benefit from the advantages.”
“Back then, Rromanians were welcomed and supported. Now Romania’s image isn’t that glorious. It is that of those playing in the metro, those giving rides with the bikes around the Eiffel Tower.”
But life wasn’t all good, even with the support from the French State. So he had to work in order to support himself.
“It is terribly nice to play artist, but it is difficult to live only out of art.”
“Having sculptor friends who were already working at the restoration of The Louvre, I remembered my years balancing between color and sculpting in Romania, and for 2 or 3 years I chiseled on the Louvre facade.
I was in the garden of the Pyramid and was chiseling, beyond decorations and geometrical shapes, I would work on the sculptures themselves. There were some characters that I sculpted in full.
I remember how the block was inserted. We would make a small hole in the degraded sculpture and they would add the stone block that you had to sculpt into that, in order to complete in the existing shape what was missing.
Teams of Romanians and French had finished restoring the segment and moved on to other ones, but I stopped and decided to give making a living out of painting another try.”
Even though at the time he was not happy having to work somewhere other than his workshop, he now proudly shows us the characters in the sculptures on the Louvre facade which he restored.
He lives in Northern Paris, on the Saint Martin Canal, in a duplex recieved from the French State. On one floor is the living space, and on the other, his workshop.
Even if it is not free, but at a 50% of the price of rent, the workshop that he won at the contest is still a privilege, given the immense competition in a cultural capital of the world, such as Paris.
“There are a lot of artists workshops in this area, some given by the city hall, some by the French Ministry of Culture, some private.
You come here with the energy and desire to show your work, you want to move mountains. What is harder is having continuity, because life in Paris is not cheap and you come across material problems.”
Dorin Crețu has sold, during his career, about 300 works and has had shows in Paris, Bucharest, London or Krakow.
In his works we can frequently find a floral motif, that welcomes us from the very entrance on his apartment in Paris.
On the walls there are framed pages of his mothers herbarium, from his house in Brașov.
“At first I was attracted to the idea of painting differently. And I came across a French artistic current – Supports/Surfaces.
And I saw that you can paint not only with oil on canvas. They would paint on petals, military bandages, they would cut wood. That way I managed to develop a technique that was appreciated. One of the works that I did then was bought by The National Contemporary Arts Fund.
I was an ancient stela on which I glued pieces of lace, over which I threw bitumen. And the lace and bitumen formed a sort of calligraphy that fit in perfectly with the stela shape.
At a certain point , from the excess of materials, I felt the need for a clean slate and to try to paint without materials.
Which is a sort of chemical experience, not an easy one.
I worked with some acrylic resins that allowed me to get those transparencies, those pictural reports, without which a painting cannot exist.
And I have developed, for some years now, having floral and vegetal motifs, this theme.
Even though I am now looking at another motif – the mountain – I always return to that floral shape. I can’t wait to go to camp (in Bistrița, Romania) and draw some trees, that will probably later feed me into making something on a larger scale, with the same floral theme.”
“The vegetal shape is a form of reflection on existence, a sort of fragility of life, but also vanity, it lives for a moment and then it dies.”
Meanwhile, he has become equally preoccupied with the mountain motif, without being able to identify the origin of this interest. He remembers, though, that in his teen years in Brașov, he had a passion for landscape photography and collected tens of mountain photographs.
“Artistic vision changes with time, it adds to itself, it grows. Of course I keep memories or something from the beginning.
I thought that the mountain motif has plenty of imagery that I can put it on canvas, I’m attracted to this solid shape that you can paint on the canvas, it’s like a solid solitary.”
Dorin Crețu is an artist representative to the ’80’s generation in Romania and has come back, for a few years, in Bucharest, where he got back his workshop on Mendeleev street, after 30 years. Also, The National Museum of Contemporary Art has bought two of his works.
“They were bought following an exhibition I had in Mogoșoaia. The director of MNAC from back then, Oroveanu, proposed the acquisition of two of my works, which filled me with joy.”
He travels to Bucharest almost monthly and is represented by AnnArt Gallery, along with renowned artists such as Sorin Ilfoveanu, Ștefan Câlția.
He is happy to remake an artistic connection with his home country and hopes to constantly earn the freedom to paint.
“I have an itch in my fingers, I love colors, I find personal pleasure in what I do.”
“It can be paper, canvas, a piece of wood or something else. But all these pleasures are being paid for in some way. An artist’s life is not easy, be it in Bucharest, or Paris.
To do what you like is an extraordinary luxury, and it must be paid for.”
For that, in Paris he sometimes works as an interior designer, collaborating with French architects, earning his living.
He is a French citizen, but has kept his Romanian citizenship.
“I speak French, but have not lost my Eastern accent, and I am immediately spotted. And I naturally say that I am Romanian, I live in Paris, I am a French Citizen, with Romanian origins.”
“But the status of an artist does not stop at borders. I want to believe that his vision is broader, pushed toward humanity.
Nowadays, any artist can get on a plane and go anywhere, see exhibits, visit new places, then come back. You don’t have to take important migration decisions anymore.”
“The artist of today is free to chose his place of creation. Art is like a fluid, a flux, it must move everywhere.”
Romanian or French, Dorin Crețu is an artist, a father and a person constantly fighting for his passion. He is grateful for the chance he got in 1990 and wishes that Romanians get the image that they had back then.
He bares the label of immigrant, and that motivates him to evolve.
“I fight the feeling of not belonging, and being suspended somewhere between Romania and France.”
“In the same time, there is the feeling of something that is not entirely yours, that you are a permanent spectator and never participate. There are moments when I feel that, and other times when I feel that Paris is mine.
On the other hand, the cultural barrier is not necessarily a bad thing. It pushes you to constantly show and be your best.”
***This story is part of the “France Week” series, a Cultura la Dubă project supported by BNP Paribas.