17 March 2022 - 28 April 2022

Curator: Ruxandra Demetrescu

Craiova Art Museum

Jean Mihail Palace

Any artistic biography is stamped by turning points which can take either the form of the retrospective look, or that of a synthesis. The retrospective look supposes to revisit the whole activity, while the synthesis imposes an exigent analysis. The exhibition Petru Lucaci opened at the Craiova Art Museum offers a retrospection, a revisitation of the itinerary the painter started soon after 1990, the moment when the black became for him the dominant colour, evident in the cycles “Nightshades”, “White/Black”, “Night Shadows”, “Chiaroscuro” or “Black-based Cocktail”. Qua unique chromatic possibility, the black stands for a synthesis moment, when approached from a double perspective: on the one hand, as an annihilation of the previously practised chromatism, concentrated on the expressive virtues of the colour and of the contrast between luminous/light and gloomy/darkness, and on the other hand, as an emphasis of the spatial depth, by enforcing the dialogue/the play between the close-up and the distant view, between the haptic and the pure vision.

Petru Lucaci’s interest for the black colour is identified in the theoretical reflection he conjugated with his artistic practice. The former gives some measure of the intellectual curiosity he put across in the ample research developed in the doctoral thesis defended at the Bucharest National University of Arts in 2006. Lucaci resumed the history of the black colour from prehistoric to contemporary art, with fundamental milestones in Pierre Soulages, Arnulf Rainer, Rafael Canogar, Vittorio Ac-conci, a.o. I don’t believe the quoted artists’ works inspired Petru Lucaci’s oeuvre, but they definitely encouraged him to articulate his concerns and place them in the larger context of the contemporary art. The artist could retrospect the moments hallmarking “the triumph of the black” in the postwar painting following “Le noir est une couleur”, the exhibition the Maeght Gallery organized in Paris in 1946. The title, explicit and insolent at the time, acknowledged not only a new artistic reality, definitely different from the academic education clichés, but also an innovating theoretical position vis-à-vis the artistic literature tradition of the painting treatises. In Noir. Histoire d’une couleur, a book published in Paris in 2008, Michel Pastureau affirms it is possible that the painters the Maeght exhibited wished to answer, through their works, to Leonardo, the first artist who proclaimed, in the end of the 15th century, that “black was not a colour”. Pastureau considers that, in our days, black has recovered its status-of-colour “à part entière”, which can be seen in the artistic practice developed by the painters for whom black became a brand.

Petru Lucaci states: “Black colour has challenged me qua painter; I’ve approached it in different contexts, I’ve perceived its plenitude and expressive force, and that’s why I wanted to follow more closely its presence in the space of art.” Aware of the radical dimension of his option, he goes on: “Black colour hides a great number of significances, yet, in the same time, an immense expressive force. I realized that black matter incorporated energies which we usually didn’t exploit enough, that our prejudices related to its negative charge could harm painting, which was essentially defined by the presence of colour.”

By valorizing “the black material”, Petru Lucaci developed his artistic means in several experiments, turned into his trade mark. I’d mention the exclusive use of oil-on-canvas painting, with ivory black or satin black, in order to get a thicker pictorial material. Looking for the haptic quality of the black, the artist proposed to (re)create a substance – the coal – and transform the basic matter of the studio practice – charcoal drawing – into a distinct materiality, by exploiting the tactile quality in object pictures.

Concerned about painting’s virtues and limits, Lucaci has always “ruffled” the traditional “parts of painting”: the drawing, the chiaroscuro, the colour, the space construction and, not in the least, the history within the picture. Reconverting the chiaroscuro into a painting reduced to black rep-resents artist’s most interesting visual experience, because it negates chromatism, yet preserves the clear–obscure/light–darkness contrast. In the context, the influence of the black-and-white photography and of the noir film was stronger than revisiting any imaginary museum of European painting, concentrated on the tenebrism tradition.

A couple of years ago, the painter affirmed: “For our visual experience qua actors in the social space, the chiaroscuro signified a voyage into the depth of our human consciousness. It’s a diary which ‘labels’, in black and white, the light and darkness, the hope and despair, our being’s radiant zone, its anxieties and shadows. On the one hand, it’s an analysis focused on the interest in this type of value contrast, a nuanced or clear modelling of shades and light, the degradation of the atmospheric perspective, the different types of object lighting or of formal and informal spatializations, the achievement of shade mystery and of darkness secrets, the arbitrary illumination as opposed to the acceptance of light in the way it naturally falls, etc.”

The next step, “out of space”, is materialized via three-dimensional experiment and finalized in the series of objects made of stratified and black-painted wood. Petru Lucaci’s artistic practice has some relevant features such as the cult of the fragment and the montage technique, which permits fragment assemblages/permutations in compositions able to endlessly change their visual configuration and significance.

Let’s quote the painter anew: “Translated in everyday space, the chiaroscuro technique – the contrasting suggestion of light, shades and darkness – takes second place, as the potential of provided significances is of utmost relevance. The chiaroscuro becomes a way to artistically (re)define an uncertain, undecided world, a world in continuous quest of something and of somebody, a world of those on the sidelines, of the outskirts, of those in quest of ‘light’ or running away of ‘light’.” After rereading these lines, I remembered a sentence quoted in Sortir du noir, the book Georges Didi-Huberman published in 2015. Commenting Son of Saul, Lázsló Nemes’ film, the author affirmed that “the image sprouting from the black had its own tactile limits”. The problem of the limit between the visual and the tactile by visually working off the black has, also for Lucaci, a deep spiritual significance. Obturated under the opalescent layer of the “Nightshades”, hardly visible in the cycle “Meninas”, it must be recovered/deciphered by an attentive inquiring and patient approach. I’m re-quoting Petru Lucaci: “Thus, more than ever, the chiaroscuro of the 21st century becomes for the artist a means to participate in the public discourse, to be present, to take a stand, to protest, to revolt and not only to demonstrate his/her artistic velleities and skills.”

In our days, these words can get almost prophetic nuances.

Ruxandra Demetrescu