Mona Maria Ciciovan: Between Realities, a Perpetual Journeyby 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
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,”
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