Aeroplastics is delighted to present Black Milk, Romanian artist, Mircea Suciu's first solo exhibition with the gallery. The title of the exhibition is derived from Paul Celan's poem, 'Death Fugue', published in 1948 and considered one of the great works written by a holocaust survivor. The poem describes how prisoners are forced to dig graves while others play music. The macabre practice of forcing prisoners to 'perform' in the run up to a terrible event such as a mass execution (as often happened in Auschwitz), was referred to by prisoners as the 'Death Tango'. Celan's text originally held this title and this information is significant both when considering Suciu's works for this exhibition, and the motivation behind his practice.
Black Milk is comprised of a series of mostly large scale, charcoal drawings. Like a great deal of Suciu's works, the drawings are dark; both physically and in terms of the atmosphere they convey. The figures in Suciu's drawings often appear trapped in some kind of routine or performance. It's not unusual for artists to create a composition after a dance and indeed if we choose to interpret the work in this way we come closer to discovering the artist's keen awareness of what he describes as 'man's tragic destiny', with each individual playing out his part in a pre-ordained drama, like dancers in a ballet.
Suciu is fascinated by what he describes as 'the absurd actions of man'. He watches people intently, observing the quirks of human behaviour and the pull of human nature - so strong - that despite the examples history teaches us, each generation must go through the same experiences for themselves. In Suciu's works the common man is caught in his given 'role': helpless, despairing, hedonistic or wilfully ignorant. However he chooses to address (or not), this existential anxiety, Suciu records his often strange acts. Yet while he may at times appear sad, foolish or even pathetic, it is not the common man that Suciu satirises, rather he balances his investigation into man's foibles with an uncovering of his exploitation.
State and religious figures of authority often find themselves the protagonists of Suciu's drawings. Sometimes depicted as corrupters or abusers, often times derided as figures of fun, at other times revealed as terrifying personifications of punishment, Suciu reveals the danger of putting faith in humans and systems that might be exemplary but are ultimately fallible.
Though Suciu's work is dark and he is a master of chiaroscuro - boldly contrasting bands of light or spot lit bodies with great looming shadows and unfathomable grounds -there is also humour and irony in the artist's practice. Suciu is concerned with social critique and as such follows in the footsteps of artists as diverse as Bosch, Goya, Hokusai, Duamier, Redon, Lautrec and Kentridge. Suciu employs irony and humour to great effect, revealing the most bizarre of coincidences and turns of events. Black jokes often prove uncomfortable viewing but they are proof that there is comedy even in tragedy, though it can taste very bitter.
We want to believe though, that good will win out. Throughout human history, man has invented gods and superheroes to 'save' them from the terrors of both the natural world and man's own making. For Suciu, the rise of the superhero is a direct consequence of the overwhelming horrors of World War II. The threat posed by megalomaniacal dictators, genocide and mass atrocities, meant that man again started dreaming of champions. For Suciu, this period was the defining moment for the 20th Century, and also decided the future for the 21st Century. War is a terrible thing but it also enables the best and worst in human nature to come to the fore and it is this struggle that ultimately captivates the artist. The trouble is that once a horror or a particular weapon has been invented, human nature is such that now the blueprint exists, it makes it easier for new crimes to be perpetrated. Suciu understands this, and his drawings are wrapped around the hopelessness felt by man caught between his nature and his yearning for escape.
Perhaps it is this primal urge to express and record that leads Suciu to choose to make drawings in charcoal.
The most primitive and ancient tool in an artist's box of materials, it allows the user to be direct, bold and expressive. We find finger prints, as if the artist has touched his subjects, caressing them into life. There is also evidence of brush work, rag marks, thinners mixed with macerated charcoal powder to create a suspension that allows for experimental techniques and different dynamics.
Suciu is a master at creating a feeling of colour, even though this is a world of black and white and grey. The greys, in fact are so diverse we can project into them. Though colour is not there, the palette construction is so consistent and rigorous we can build a scale and identify tones and hues. We could live in this dark, strange world, a place Suciu defines as 'psychological realism' - a term used to describe early German films. Suciu makes us feel as though we know it.
Though Suciu turns often to the middle of the 20th Century for inspiration, he is very much a 21st Century artist, 'finding' objects through contemporary sources such as the internet, photographs and other current media. Continuing a line from Duchamp's 'object trouve' to, in his case 'image trouve', Suciu builds dramatic compositions that function on very different levels. Sometimes they are deceptively simple, featuring a lone figure set against a flat background, at other times they might be peopled so intensively as to create a work that is almost unreadable in a narrative sense. In the latter, the work becomes about the shapes and tones; concerned with the tropes of abstraction and optic effects, rather than 'the story' in any conventional sense. This, one feels, is when Suciu becomes overtaken by both his love of the medium, and the moment itself. The subject is dark, but the drive to create is overwhelming.