Born in 1985 in Bistrița, a peaceful small town in northern Transsylvania, I grew up in what is, nowadays, one of the last and best-preserved genuinely Romanian landscapes: soft tranquil hills covered in lush meadows where cows graze and people still mow manually, dressed in traditional costumes, majestic mountains, clear blue skies, horse-drawn carriages and beautiful songs. The nature and its simplicity have had a great impact on my artistic endeavours: figurines modelled out of mud from a village near home, statuettes of little Romanian peasants, draped cloths made of clay and painted with folk motifs, hand-decorated stove tiles, and many more.
What made me choose art? Why did I pursue an artistic career? Well, I owe it all to Mircea Mocanu, my mentor, who is an artist himself. I grew up in his workshop, following his footsteps, listening to his warm voice, absorbing his dedication and his wisdom, fascinated by both the person and the artist. He has always encouraged me because he saw in me what others couldn’t: that I am obsessed with faces, the infinite number of facial expressions and attitudes, therefore figurative art was a must in my case. I did not choose ceramics, I’d rather say ceramics chose me. Eventually it was the best choice (as life’s plans are bigger than we would dare to envision) because modelling clay allows me to make mistakes, and I’ve made plenty. We have a saying, “One learns from one’s own mistakes”. Maybe it should be my motto.
I went to school to Liceul de Arte Plastice Corneliu Baba in my hometown, where I opted for Painting, but one of the teachers assigned me to the Sculpture class, then to Universitatea de Arte Plastice și Design Ion Andreescu in Cluj-Napoca, where I chose Sculpture as a major, but I never completed the studies, having left it in my final year. While I was exhibiting in Sibiu, I decided to settle in this beautiful former Saxon citadel after only one week. This is where I still live and work, where I created my brand name and had my own gallery between 2012 and 2016, since when I moved online. This has enabled me to meet a lot of interesting people, most of whom have become regular clients and long-time fans.
Modelling the bears in Teddies Riot in 2019 naturally took me back ten years, virtually, when I was broke and grieving, had left art school and my little family and wandered through the hills around Bistrița, looking for life’s purpose. My godfather, who is also my go-to person, told me I should start modelling something big, something with a purpose. Having no money to buy clay, I had to do with whatever was at hand: mud, dirt, soil, mother Earth. Day after day after day, for sevenbmonths, I collected mud and modelled it into figurines whose expressions mirrored my state of mind at the time. They are one of a kind. No repetition. I called the ensemble The Innocents’ Choir. I have no idea how I could survive and create 5,000 figurines, but it must have been this process that has enabled me to heal myself, to find the clarity and the strength I needed to move forward. The Choir visited a few town squares (in București, Brașov, Cluj-Napoca and Sibiu) and it was overwhelming to see so many people stop to admire the Innocents arranged in different ways and patterns; it was featured in the media and made me close-to-famous. What a metamorphosis! The Innocents’ Choir allowed me to raise 35,000 euro to help children with disabilities or terminal illnesses and it is exactly its success that gave me confidence to start Teddies Riot.
Between the Innocents’ Choir and Teddies Riot I modelled lots of different works (Children, Princesses, Statuettes, Wall pieces) featuring portraits of mostly children and women, which can be seen on my facebook profile and on my website. There were a few ceramics festivals where I displayed my work, both in Romania (Ceramik in București, 2019) and abroad (‘argilla’, Italy, Villach, Austria, Florence, Italy). I have recently crafted a new collection, called Puzzle, featuring portraits that illustrate different emotions, shaped like pieces of a puzzle, that come in different colours and can be displayed on the wall in many versatile ways, as they fit one into the other. Most of my work is visible on facebook and Instagram.
Blue is my favourite colour, as anyone can easily notice. There is a lot of symbolism in blue, it connects me to the depths of the sea and to the endlessness of the sky, it is a healing colour and a wonderful backdrop for what I need to express. I use it in contrast with white or to enhance the beauty of terracotta, which literally means burnt clay. I like the contrast between blue/water and clay/earth, the way they counterbalance one another.
One may think I’m a very lucky person, because I enjoy the freedom to create in complete accord with what I genuinely feel. To me, it would be impossible to model a happy face if deep down I’m feeling angry. When I was in high-school I had very low grades in Painting, for instance, being considered a rebel – I could not paint a theme or subject my teacher imposed, I wanted to have creative freedom and to be true and honest to myself and Art.
Modelling involves a lot of work, it means making and breaking, starting all over again until I reach the desired curve, angle, smile, frown, detail. It does not require tools or machinery or expensive materials, only inspiration, clay and a woodstick. Sounds easy. Every piece I model gets a little bit of myself in it, there is a transfer of warmth and energy when I work the hard clay into soft clay by hand, we communicate and at some subconscious level, it tells me if I’m on the right path or not. Anyway, I consider it complete only when I remove it from the oven; that is the final step, the test all ceramists fear (will it crack?). The idea goes a long, meandered way until it reaches the final stage, gets through numerous transformations and changes of shape and matter that involve science, not only craft, but it brings me the utmost satisfaction. And it makes other people happy.
Written by Andrei Pandea