How do you view reality?
This is the question asked by Cătălin Marius Petrișor Hereșanu's paintings at his solo exhibition It’s all in your vivid imagination at Elizabeth Xi Bauer. The title references his 2018 artwork It's all in your vivid imagination and feelings, an oil painting depicting a figure clad with a virtual reality headset holding a skull like a modern-day Hamlet. “The painting represents a character in a virtual reality who is trying to alter his own reality.” says Hereșanu of the titular work. “But some of his equipment - his glove - is missing. So the character is hooked up to virtual reality, but he’s also feeling real life. There’s a combination of being there but also feeling two realities.”
Indeed, the overlayed grid bends and curve around the skull and bleed onto the figure’s clothing, interrogating the very matter that surrounds him: the existential question of “to be or not to be?” is etched into every inch of the work, a bitingly relevant work in the wake of the rise of AI in art. Hereșanu’s references to literature extend to his other portraits: Mr. Samsa, my favorite superhero (2017) depicts a re-imagining of Kafka’s Metamorphosis protagonist as a masked vigilante. “I think these themes are natural.” He says. “These kinds of characters are in my mind initially, but now they feel like an instinct.”
Several other works were created in tandem with each other: Full of moonlight (2023), Lay out (2023) and Mutual desires (2023) were all created with the discarded pallet swipes from other works such as Eye am (2023). The jettisoned impasto of these brushstrokes poses some fascinating questions not only about material usage, but of the nature of art itself: at which point does the re-use of paint destined to be discarded transform from an oil scrapheap into a fully-fledged artwork? The strokes are quick, precise and numerous, layered into repeating shapes reminiscent of Native American twana stickmen, constructed charms reminiscent of the Medieval alchemical Vitruvian man and popularised by the Blaire Witch project film, ritualistic in both appearance and origin. They swarm together in swirling swathes, mimicking the migratory geometry of bird-flocks. Despite the charming brightness of Hereșanu’s colors, there is something a little unsettling underneath these tandem works: a collective hivemind of miniature figures rising upwards and outwards in… what, precisely? Anger? Celebration? Fear?
These are not the only of Hereșanu’s pieces at Elizabeth Xi Bauer that play so vividly with uncertain emotions. A Gentle Persuasion (2023) depicts the story of Genesis; Adam and Eve crouched in coarse charcoal. The figures, like many of Hereșanu’s portraits, are not immediately apparent, looming instead out of the darkness like hermits. There’s something a little alien about both subject and scene - Hereșanu’s use of charcoal is exceptional, and the glowy eeriness he manages to tease out from the darkness is reminiscent of artists like H.R Geiger or Aron Weisenfeld. Yet there there is still a tenderness in the way the two huddle together at the forefront of the piece, half-glancing back at the viewer as we have interrupted something scared – which, of course, we have.
Another series showcasing Hereșanu’s mastery of light are the paintings Spring in the desert (2022) and Rain in due season (2022), which simply pulsate with light. “The rhythm represents some sort of mesh, or some sort of texture that you can see through -- but not clearly.” he explains. Each work is, again, composed of thousands of miniature strokes placed at rhythmic intervals across a glowing gradient. There’s something classic about the works being taken a step further: think the harsh, classic geometry of an Agnes Martin combined with the sheeny, dreamy backdrops of a Turner, strident geometry combined with evocative colours to let symbols and figures peek out through the haze. ““Sometimes when I finish a painting, I get really surprised at what I’ve achieved at the end.” muses Hereșanu. “You see the future through that mesh. Even [at the opening evening] a woman pointed out that you can see a figure through it - that surprised me, because I didn’t intend to do that at all, but it clearly came through.”
His new role as a father has influenced his approach; “I’m discovering things about spending time with my daughter.” His next steps? “I’m letting my imagination run more - I'm not thinking about what comes next."
It's all in your vivid imagination will run from 8th December 2023 to 20th January 2024, Wednesday to Saturday, 12-6 pm or by appointment.
Victoria Comstock-Kershaw is an arts writer and curator based in London and the editor of FETCH London.