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The flame of the little  match girl

Marius Bercea (b.1979) was born and grew up in Cluj, Romania. At the age of 10 years old he experienced the demise of the communist period as the USSR disintegrated and the 1989 Romanian Revolution took place. The effects of this history are evident in the pictorial space that Bercea creates as he alludes to a post-communist, early-capitalist Romania. The artist’s works are highly distinctive, as memory, recollection and reality seemingly merge upon the canvas’ surface, giving rise to a visual sensuality that has made Bercea one of the leading artists of the Cluj School.

Artistically, Bercea is inspired by a number of sources including what he defines as an ‘intensely personal archive.’  Fading Polaroid pictures, family photographs and newspaper images all feed into the subjects that he expressively depicts, and although it is a figurative realm that Bercea creates, these are never purely mimetic renderings. His scenes are often surreal, otherworldly, and highly psychological as giant Modernist buildings merge into surrounding fertile green landscapes; the environments bring together a series of disparate and, at times, strange objects as caravans, gazebos, statuesque busts, minimalist plinths, prams, fetishistic blow up dolls and roaring animal heads coexist. Thus, these paintings become ambiguous as they are simultaneously landscapes of the imagination but also perhaps nostalgic blurred memories, or conversely, hazed visions of the future.

While socio-political references clearly influence Bercea’s practice—an aura of decay surrounds the crumbling buildings that the artist depicts, their whitewashed concrete decaying with age and neglect—a more introspective facet is also evident as he also examines the behaviours and obsessions of children and teenagers, some perhaps autobiographical recollections from his own childhood. Encompassed by the luscious greenery of mountainous landscapes, the characters in his works can seem impersonal, their features a blur, and yet an intimate sense of sexual reverie, carelessness, fantasy, innocence and freedom enfolds them, precipitating an atmosphere of utopianism. The influence of sixteenth and seventeenth century Dutch painting also permeates his practice, and the artist references his specific interest in Bruegel’s genre painting where there was a shift in focus towards an ascendant mercantile class, which anticipated an age of democracy.

Bercea has been described as one of the strongest colourists of his generation, his landscapes crackling with energy. Deep blue or sulphurous yellow skies sing when set against rich green rolling hills and the flecked grey of his concrete structures. Colour is applied with force: a flash of orange or a scrape of ochre butts up against an energetic mix of vibrating vivid greens; a lick of sumptuous brown is delicately laced with a dappling of white. His work is fresh and exciting, with Bercea understanding the impact of the push and pull necessary to make a painting resonate. Fast-paced strokes are offset with steady washes and the consistency of his paint is varied; thin translucent areas are complemented by thick opaque mark making. At times buttery and fully suspended, at others sand-paper dry, his grounds are as interesting to examine close up as from a distance.

Marius Bercea received his MA from the University of Art and Design, in Cluj-Napoca in 2005, and currently works within Cluj’s Fabrica De Pensule (Paintbrush Factory), a multidisciplinary space with studios and exhibition galleries. In 2003 Marius Bercea was given an award by the Institute Superieur d'Architecure Saint-Luc, Belgium.

Marius Bercea’s recent solo exhibitions include: Hypernova, Blain|Southern, London (2014), Concrete Gardens, François Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles (2012), Remains of Tomorrow, Blain|Southern, London, (2011), Time will Tell, Chungking Project, Los Angeles (2009), If Through the Copper Woods You Pass, Eleven Fine Art Gallery, London, (2009), Shorn lambs fall behind, Mie Lefever Gallery, Ghent (2008) and Yellow Side of Glamour/Melted Guidelines are passé, Contemporary Gallery of Brukenthal Museum, Romania (2008).

Group exhibitions include: This Side of Paradise, S2, London (2014), Hotspot Cluj - New Romanian Art, Arken Museum of Modern Art, Denmark (2013), Nightfall, Modem Centre for Modern and Contemporary Arts, Debrechen, (2012) which travelled to Galerie Ruldofinum (2013), Referencing History, Green Gallery, Dubai (2012), European Travellers, Mucsarnok Kunsthalle, Budapest (2012), European Travellers, Mucsarnok Kunsthalle, Budapest (2012), Selektionseffekte, Blain|Southern, Berlin (2011), Palets, Barbara Thumm Gallery, Berlin (2011), After the Fall, Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, Peekskill , New York (2011), No New Thing Under the Sun, Royal Academy, London (2010), Mircea Pinte Collection, Museum of Art, Cluj-Napoca, Romania (2010) and Prague Biennale 4, Prague (2009).

Bercea’s work is in several public and private collections, including the Hudson Vallery Center for Contemporary Art, New York and the ARKEN Museum of Modern Art, Skowej.


Image above:

Marius Bercea
The Flame of the Little Match Girl (detail)
Oil on canvas
45 x 50 cm