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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 13, No. 7 April 2008

Mona Maria Ciciovan: Between Realities, a Perpetual Journey

by Kristine Berey / April 13, 2008

I first met Mona Maria Ciciovan at the Chapelle Historique du Bon Pasteur, where she is currently exhibiting La Grande Traversée, over 30 oil paintings on canvas and wood, spanning her artistic journey of the last four years.

The artist was not there in person, but the second and last paintings in the show were self- portraits, painted a year apart, that immediately commanded attention. The first is of a pretty young woman lost in thought, stylish and self-confident, wearing a wide-brimmed hat painted with a bold sweeping brushstroke. The last painting portrays a woman still looking outward but with her hand covering half her face, seeming anguished.

In crossing from one portrait to the other, the viewer enters a world of images evoking cityscapes and waterfronts, bridges and trees—city trees. It is a world of majestic silence conveyed through the geometric elements of monumental structures, yet there is a certain music in the rhythmic representation of some figures, as in a fugue, sometimes through repetition, sometimes through inversion. The artist seems to move across the canvas, taking the viewer with her, like a pianist through the keyboard, always in the flow of the moment. The viewer has the sense of looking fleetingly at the world through a kaleidoscope or a crystal at twilight—a time of day when everything briefly turns to gold.

In her quest to communicate her inner vision, the painter scratches outlines in the paint, conveying a sense of spontaneity and sometimes employs oil paint as if it were watercolour, in transparent glazes dabbed on and or allowed to drip, providing a sense of the intangible and unfinished.

The grain of the wood surface is an inextricable part of the composition. The transformative power of distance becomes an expressive technique. The closer one stands to a painting the more one notices the cooling touches of light blue and dark green that balance the dominant yellow, orange and raw sienna tones. The two-level space afforded by the Chapelle allows for the viewing of the works either head on or at a great distance from above or below, making it ideal for the kind of canvases Ciciovan creates.

I wasn’t prepared for Ciciovan’s bright sunny smile when I met her in person. But then, I realized that in forming a mental image of her I had taken the portraits too literally, neglecting to take into account the overall feeling in her work, in particular the light that seems to pervade every image.

Born in a village in northern Romania, Ciciovan came to Montreal in 1997 “with four bags and two little girls.” She explains that the family chose Montreal partly because the French language is close to Romanian and because Canada welcomed immigrants, but mostly it was a great adventure. “In life if you ask too many questions you end up doing nothing because you’re scared,” she says.

The magic of her early environment in the country, the light and the atmosphere had made a strong impression on her. As far as she could remember, she painted and sculpted. “To me art is a necessity,” she says. Upon her arrival here she was immediately fascinated by the contrasting architectural elements of Old Montreal and the downtown core. “I’m a very visual person and I was amazed at the bridges and the blend of the old and the new,” she recalls.

With the beginning of her studies at the University of Montreal and UQAM she began to realize her dream of becoming a professional artist. She is now well on her way with over 8 solo shows under her belt and her work in public and private collections all over the world.

Her evolution as an artist was unusual. “Artists usually begin from the figurative and move toward abstraction. But for me, abstraction was the beginning,” she says.

Her artistic process is unconventional, as she grabs whatever means are at her disposal to express her inner world. She paints without an easel, using the floor for support and uses her hands to blend the paint when a necessary effect is desired. Though there are figurative elements in her painting, her work is not merely representational. She never uses a camera for reference or to jog her memory. “Through painting we can communicate something we’ve lived, and idealize it making it beautiful,” she declares. “It becomes a mixture of past and present, emotion and memory, inspired by reality.”

She paints every day, needing the silence of her studio and delighting in the limitless freedom she experiences in the process of coaxing an idea into being. “Van Gogh said painting is the expression of solitude. I need solitude in order to paint,” she explains.

Ciciovan is deeply involved in the artistic process that has led her from abstraction and earth colours, to landscape and figure and now toward atmosphere and light. “I don’t know what will happen,” she says.

I now better understand Ciciovan’s last self-portrait, Autoportrait (regard) 2007, after meeting with her. The artist focuses an intense gaze upon the outside world while crossing into the silence and solitude of her inner world, essential for these unique images to come into being.

I had planned to ask Ciciovan whether some of the images were indeed of a particular physical place, where I felt I had been before. As I walked out of the show, crossing over into the bustling harshness of Sherbrooke Street, I realized that the impression I carried with me was the ensemble of Ciciovan’s and my own experiences. Perhaps her paintings offer a sense of familiarity because this journey between the inside and outside of our skin is one we all make perpetually, every day.

In the arts magazine Vie des Arts, Dorota Kozinska expresses her impressions of Ciciovan’s images: “It may be New York, it may be Manhattan, but truly, it does not matter. The pleasure of viewing Ciciovan’s urban magic is purely aesthetic.” n

(c) La Scena Musicale