The Universe of Romanian-British painter Bogdan Mihai Radu

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The Universe of Romanian-British painter Bogdan Mihai Radu
By Michael Prokopow

In writing about the condition of contemporary art (meaning the art that ‘presents the present’) the critic Boris Groys argues that three dominating temporal, ideological and social conditions define and explain 20th-century cultural production: that of modernity which was ‘directed towards the future’; that of postmodernity which critiqued the modernist project and that of the contemporary (or what has been termed “contemporaneity”) which, as the author explains, ‘privileges the present with respect to the future and the past’.

Groys’s efficient summary of the operations of the art of the ever-fleeting present and its relationship to multiple pasts offers a useful framework for considering the practice of Romanian–British painter Bogdan Mihai Radu. Radu is an artist who, in favouring impasto, makes thematically and physically complex works which, in drawing upon such varied visual and material histories as 19th-century British romanticism and mid-20th-century Atlantic American abstraction (as well as revealing an awareness of other post-war European developments) has fashioned an original, distinct and often personal painterly language that considers place, memory and experience.

Born in 1979 in Sibiu, Romania, Radu discovered early on the pleasures of art, the particular pleasure afforded by the material operations of painting and how, in terms of his own existence, the work of looking at the world, thinking and translating experiences and ideas into images would be his life’s work. Having come of age in the decade after the violently liberating December Revolution of 1989 and the optimism of a post-communist future, Radu – like many other artists of his generation working both in the country and out of it – understood, nonetheless, that art was rooted in the aesthetic preferences and visual practices of a national culture still suffering from the constraints of communism and consequences of the severing of a long and distinguished history of critical and artistic exchange with the West. For Radu, however, the desire – the need – to expand his understanding of art and to experiment with new ways of image-making was realised in 2018 by his decision to leave Romania and move to London. This self-aware, affirming act was transformative and made it possible for Radu to continue refining the distinct material language of his emotionally powerful work.

In occupying the entwined space of documentation and critique, where ideas, feelings and observations are translated into images that rewardingly blur (or wisely leave ambiguous) the lines between representation and abstraction, Radu’s layered, dense paintings require scrutiny. His is a practice that exemplifies the relationships between the appearance of things and the mysteries of what lies beneath the surface of an image and the myriad forces that have resulted in its making. Radu’s paintings – whether bright and open or dark and restive – capture and convey the affective and psychological complexities of the contemporary age as the product of layered and simultaneously present pasts, shared and known, private and guarded, fierce and vulnerable. The Romanian word regăsire means ‘recovery’ when translated into English. The several implications of the term – recall, reclamation and well-being among them – are fitting when looking at and thinking about Radu’s visually satisfying, resonant works. Whether of places or psychic states (whether observed or imagined), his paintings exist as compelling vehicles for careful, deliberative contemplation because of the knowledge – the understanding – of assured returns.

1 Boris Groys, ‘The Topology of Contemporary Art’, in Antinomies of Art and Culture, Okwui Enwezor, Nancy Condee and Terry Smith (Durham N.C., 2009), p. 71.

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The Universe of Romanian-British painter Bogdan Mihai Radu

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