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Gheorghe Ciobanu - Naive Art  

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Gheorghe Ciobanu was born in Baltati, during the war, in April 1944. It’s there that he went to school so his roots are strongly planted in the area. For the artist Gheorghe Ciobanu creating is in his nature. His painting talent wasn’t learned in school but it was born along with him and he fed it with the beauty of these places in which the time has a whole other dimension. Everything that Gheorghe Ciobanu has learned about the visual arts he’s done it by himself, reading about the lives and creations of others, about how one can resonate with self and the world one tries to mirror and talk about.

Gheorghe Ciobanu is a naïve painter, meaning without advanced studies, but in his case passing through an academy would have probably led to the loss of his innate ingenuity that is specific for his works. Gheorghe Ciobanu is part of the chosen ones category, who have discovered their call. For Mr. Ciobanu “painting is a chance to show God”.

Gheorghe Chiobanu is often attending the fair organized by the Romanian Peasant Museum and Village Museum from Bucharest. He’s a man with a picturesque language, full of life, something that can be seen in his paintings, in the images of his home village and the scene of a life lived for six decades.

He is the father of two children who he considers talented and it’s hard for him to accept the fact that they chose not to express it. As if in a sense of revenge he dedicated himself to teaching painting in art camp to other children whom he teaches to express themselves with freedom and joy.

He started drawing in pencil and charcoal and later he found out that paint lasts longer and nicer on the canvas. His first outing in the local art community happened in 1979 when he presented his first works at the Army House in Ploiesti. Skilled critics’ eyes saw in him an artist with an exquisite expressivity so they studied his works and invited him to other similar events. Abroad he was launched in 1996, with a first exhibition in Limoges, France. Switzerland, Germany, Austria followed. Everywhere he went, Gheorghe Ciobanu or his works, the audience was filled with admiration. Collectors didn’t wait and enriched their collections with his naïve works that can be now seen in USA, Canada, Austria, France, Italy, Germany.

,,I’m a peasant like my parents, although I wanted to be something else, and for a while I wandered through the world but I woke up in time and I realised that another type of life is not for me. And I returned home, in Moldavia, in my Baltati, a village with honest and working people, where my place is and where I love to live. I grew up in an universe full of candor, divided between love of life and love of work, hardship and holiday, in a healthy life lived by the rules of God. Now the village lost some of its picturesque, some of the community spirit, people have lost their modesty and simplicity in their attempt to become modern. But, in general, things remained the way they were and the connection with the earth is still strong. As far as the passion for painting is concerned, ever since I was a child I had talent for drawing, with pencils or charcoal on paper, or for sculpting in wood. I’ve made many, many sketches, but I didn’t have money for colors, and when I found an art album at the school library I was amazed by Luchian’s beautiful flowers or by Van Gogh’s sun flower, or Grigorescu ox wagon… Only that my father didn’t even want to hear of an art high school – how could a peasant’s child be a painter? – so he sent me to a military school and I had to leave my village and go far away.

Later as a grown up, married and with a place of my own, for years I lived among strangers, for my children because they had to go to a good school, for my wife who wanted to live in the city, but I badly missed my village and taking the paintbrush out of the hiding and paint whatever I liked, the way I knew it: imaginary world in colors. And when I picked up the paintbrush, then I stuck by it! I didn’t study art, I painted the way I did it in my childhood, without learning any special technique or following a road opener in naïve art, although I know there have been some great names among our artist too, like Nita Nicodim, Ion Maric and Aurora Nafornita. But then, for me the memories from my village were so strong, in so powerful colors, that I felt my flesh hurt if I didn’t see them at least on the canvas, if I couldn’t go visit my parents too often. Like this I filled my house with images from my village, and the people who saw them said it was an exhibition, and the first one I had was when I was in my early thirties. Soon after 1989 I quitted the army, I left it without regret, and in spite all of my wife’s protests, I returned to my village, I built myself a house of wood, I spread my canvas and my colors on the grass in the middle of the yard and I started to paint. Now and then I have exhibitions in the country and abroad, but this is not why I paint. My paintings are part of private collections all over the world. I’ve got maybe hundreds of paintings, I haven’t counted them, I’m happy when I paint and when people like my paintings, when they become enthusiastic because they find in them small lost joys, like cutting the grass in the summer, picking grapes in the fall, feeding the animals in the barn, the chickens in the yard, the flower beds in the garden, going to plowing whistling, the noon silence, a longing song about your darling. Normal simple things that are good for the soul and that are getting lost.

I’ve been painting for over thirty years and from these during the first fifteen I haven’t sold a painting. Friends and family let me follow my artistic call treating it more like a bit of craziness or hobby at best.

But when, due to some lucky circumstances, I went to national and international exhibitions of painting and sculpture, I realised that my works were worth some money like the critics claimed. And, little by little the word got out about me especially after a very special moment when an Ambassador visited my exhibition, bought two of my paintings (for a price that left me speechless, I had never had so much money in my pockets) and invited me to work for three months sponsored by the Austrian Bank. After that I was invited to participate to exhibitions in Switzerland, France, Spain, Germany, and I sold paintings even in United States and Australia. Following each success I returned to my village, I gave half of the money to the poor people like I always do when I gain something from my art. From the rest I bought colors and I went back to my “little square” and started working, not thinking about the money but only about the joy brought by my work. If I don’t have other commitments I take my paintings to village fairs and I sell them there too. Being in my 60s now, with my small military pension plus what I make from painting I can live a decent life, thank God. I don’t need a high life standard or protocol, I prefer to live a simple life in peace with myself and God. And when people tell me, especially those close to me, “Ciobane, your painting relaxes me when I watch it.” or “It’s amazing how good I feel in front of your painting!”, I realize that my biggest reward is that I make people happy. And even more, there are children in the village who are interested in what I do, they come to watch me work and I teach them how to paint too.

My vision of nature and village seen as a spherical universe is what separates me from other naïve painters apparently, how many they are left. It’s these village universes that I close in my round, spherical, models, in order to progressively see all the details, from the rooster singing in the morning to the pink dawns rising above the forest bordering the village and unveiling the church’s tower. They are all visible, entangled, composing full images. By my focus on the details I want to show the perfection of God’s work, the beauty and poetry of His creation. The world is beautiful the way He made it, and not with stains, strokes, symbols, like it’s portrayed in some modern visions, with interpretations that are foreign to me, because I do not understand them and it doesn’t look to me that God was ever close to them. Maybe my hay wagon full of lovers, or the horses with wings ridden by naked people, the way God made them, they all look a little fantastic but also full of funny eroticism, because the love ritual, the magic, are all part of the village life. But above all, for me, the “first violin” of my paintings is represented by the harmony of colors. They make my characters vibrate with life.

God has put so much beauty in this world for people to enjoy that there shouldn’t be people who are sad, worried or mean. Sure, life has its limitations and challenges, but we have to make time to open our eyes wide and be aware of the beauty of the world, the perfection of God’s creation. “Be happy! Love each other!” Jesus Christ told us, but many of us live full of hate and anger. We need so little to be happy! Me, when I sit on my knees and paint, I pray to God to give me a bit of beauty to put in my paintings from the beauty he put in His creation. And when the painting starts to take shape under the brush I feel such joy that it heals me of all problems and it makes me happy. And I know it all comes from God!"

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