Article by Jess Harrison in Berlin // Thursday, Mar. 29, 2018
The exhibition ‘Time Can Space’ at Blain Southern transports visitors into the vivid and expressive scenes of Californian landscapes. Works by Romanian painter Marius Bercea fill both the upstairs and downstairs spaces of the gallery, the interior architecture of which has been specifically re-designed, in collaboration with architect Attila Kim, for this show. White plastic chairs and huge cacti fill the entrance way and the paintings are mounted on large wooden structures to emulate the look of billboards displayed next to highways.
In 2013 and 2014, Bercea visited California several times, taking road trips across the state and also visiting parts of Nevada and Arizona. He became particularly interested in the Viennese architecture in Los Angeles as well as the landscapes of the Mojave Desert, Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Park. After these trips he went back to Romania to paint, taking these scenes and impressions with him. As a result, his works rely on the accuracy of his memory and inevitably involve an element of fiction and establish a sense of distance. Through the exhibition, viewers are placed in a doubled act of looking, both as spectators in the gallery space and as imagined voyeurs in the scenes depicted. We are invited behind curtains and around the back of walls into private moments and spaces inspired by nature and life in California. Bercea’s paintings mediate between recollection and reality through a kind of dreamscape, playing with notions of fantasy and memory and employing iconography that characterizes both California and American culture.
In their arresting, almost statutory suspension of Californian life, Bercea’s work is akin to that of David Hockney. Both artists often centralise their works on representations of swimming pools and figures halted in leisure activities but Bercea’s work departs from Hockney most notably in his use of shadow. While the paintings in ‘Time Can Space’ employ an explosion of colour and reflect the neon-like spectacle of California, there remains a darkness, particularly in his large-scale work ‘Physics for the liminal training.’ If Hockney’s suburban Californian landscapes can be characterized by their flatness, then Bercea’s work is notable for its sensorial elements, its celebration of painterly technique and tactility. The bright dazzling blue of the water stands out against the shadowy tones of the foliage, which often comes to dictate the scenes, especially in the piece ‘Pluralizing Rhythm.’ Bercea, through this work, explores the hybrid of fiction and reality as well as that of the natural world and the manmade.
Bercea grew up in Cluj-Napoca, the unofficial capital of Transylvania, and during his childhood observed the 1989 Romanian Revolution as well as the collapse of the USSR. His works tend to confront the diminishing disparity between the Soviet Communist landscapes that characterized his upbringing and the bright lights of California’s highly capitalistic culture and economy. The body of paintings in ‘Time Can Space’, however, departs from his earlier works, developing a more fixed exploration and focus on California as subject, but it is clear that Romania and the scenes of his childhood remain present. Through a sense of recollection and voyeurism as well as the act of distancing himself by painting these scenes while in Romania, Bercea demonstrates that he always carries the myths of his home with him. By characterizing himself as observer, he entwines in these simultaneously bold and shadowy scenes of his memories of California, the dystopian landscapes of his past and creates highly vibrant and often surreal scenes.