The artist, beyond the image
Even if at birth the sprites gave his talents a special destiny, in order to become a painter Radu Șerban had to tenaciously go through the ascent of a long initiation path that was not without meanders, obstacles and hurdles. But also along the way there were auspicious meetings with predestined people, who at defining moments watched him or showed him the right way, protecting him from tumbling on wrong paths.
Radu's formative route is marked by important stops: Jibou, Cluj, Bucharest, Călărași, Toronto. And necessarily Năpradea, the magical place where his grandfather's house and yard sheltered and protected the mystery of the stars reflected in the depths of the fountain and spread the charm of stories told in the manger, of things and events that shaped the child's sensitive soul with a dowry of amazed eyes. Amazements whose potential has remained intact, able to germinate from their latency fruitful ideas in the broad horizon of what it means to be an artist. Because Radu Șerban is more than a painter, he is an artist in the full sense of the word, trained in craftsmanship, but also in spiritual cultivation.
Early aware of his native talent he went to the art high school in Cluj, then to Bucharest for academic studies in painting, where he received his diploma under the direction of Professor Marius Cilievici in 1987. Then he assumed and cultivated his status as an artist, as a given of his being, as a condition and identity consciousness. Regardless of the season and the avatars of everyday life, a day in Radu Șerban's life always includes a work sequence in the workshop on Albac Street. Therefore, through the caudal forks of thousands and thousands of jobs and days in solitude, Radu juxtaposed the thought with the brush, in a series of thematic searches practiced and resumed until he reached a bi univocal junction between the semantic metaphor and the plastic metaphor. His introspective restlessness always goes hand in hand with curiosity about praxis, about state-of-the-art technologies to which he always is connected. Unhurried, but steadfast in hard work, Radu Șerban places inside the artistic concept the veil of memory using a deliberate blurring. In the dimension of plastic expression, he gradually detaches himself from the conventional figurative. Choosing to work mainly with acrylic in thin, juxtaposed layers, to distill the representation to almost abstract chromatic compositions, he keeps in palimpsest a very weak evidence of the concrete. Most often, this ligament with the real refers to the primordial elements (water, air, earth, fire) or to the anthropic element. The temptation of the same distillations is found in other forms in the ingenious experiments practiced with other techniques and media. Many works created over the years fill the large but not spacious workshop space, while also going on tour to exhibitions at numerous museums and galleries in Romania and abroad, as well as in state or privately owned collections.
It is the fourth personal project of Radu Șerban at the Art Museum in Cluj, and the third in this space. We would like to mention the previous exhibitions: Traces (2006) which fulfilled the doctoral project in Visual Arts, under the coordination of Mrs. Livia Drăgoi. This was followed by the exhibition Transparencies (2010), curated by Călin Stegerean and, respectively Glissando (2018), curated by Oliv Mircea. Each of these projects marked in its own way a stage in the artist's evolution from the perspective of creation, but also from a curatorial point of view of elaborating an articulated visual discourse, integrative and in relation to the exhibition space. Even from the titles these exhibitions, like others, explicitly appeal to recollections filtered through the flow of memory, mixed through the press of oblivion, distilled through the visual code assumed by the artist who, however, did not forget to forever remain somewhere in a corner of his soul, a child.
This time, Radu Șerban's project contains two events: an artist's album, including photo reproductions based on a selective inventory of critical works and texts, authorial confessions and a documentary archive. The album, which can be regarded as a retrospective piece was thought entirely in concept, graphic design and technical editing by Radu Șerban as a real object, an art product, reflecting four decades of intense activity.
The exhibition, however, deliberately distances itself from the retrospective aspect, usually associated with anniversary moments. Rather it has the appearance and message of work in progress. The monumental canvas, representing the aforementioned grandfather's house, dominates like a flagship the exhibition. New and relatively recent works displayed near the entrance and exhibited for the first time, direct us towards it.
As in a roundabout, this is the place where the sequences that propose visual expressions in alternative techniques start. They store and reiterate, as in a dream, purified, distorted, overturned, hieratic but alive, the memory of this house, of the things and spirits in it and around it. In order to receive them, to enjoy them, you have to enter the logic of the game. In the semi-darkness of the room, you get lost looking for the images that run on the walls or are hidden, stuck in black boxes where you can find them. You recover their meaning only if you realize that you have to view the clear but trembling mirror of the water from a side angle, through a small elliptical slit. Thusly the retina of the spectator is absorbed in the game and he will be amazed, fascinated and a little ashamed that he had discovered and re-seen the past peeking through the keyhole. He becomes a child again, he regains childhood.
The route continues along the flow of memories. Works selected from established cycles are associated, but not chronologically. The route through these three halls is as if between dream and wakefulness. Works on canvas but also on cardboard, drawings or objects made once in Jibou or Toronto, are now assembled compositionally using other criteria than their original ones. In a playful act, the mature artist uses his own works from his formative youth, even from childhood, through a flow of memory that allows reinterpretations updated to the context. Finally we arrive at the space with the first certified work, the one from the 6th grade, recovered by Professor David. We can sit on a chair in order to admire it better. We have at our disposal a rich documentary archive of catalogs, leaflets and posters that complete the symbolic geography of the places where the artist has so far exposed to the world his works and thoughts built inside their paste.
True, the Continuum exhibition is not a retrospective, but an integrative sum and synthesis, aiming not at an all-encompassing effort, but at the rebirth of creation. It is the testimony of a dynamic, restless, tenacious, creative work, generating and reverberating a fruitful creation, always refreshed by taking on new technical or thematic challenges.
From inside the catalog, Radu Șerban, the mature artist, stands on the doorstep and smiles. He already has a lot of plans for his second youth.
museographer, Cluj-Napoca Art Museum