Ros Drinkwater, “TV collection points the way”
Sunday Business Post, February 17, 2008
“…The first painting that caught my attention is one that lights up the gallery, Belfast Bus by Avram Dumitrescu. Gouache on paper, it takes the form of a triptych in vibrant crimson, violet and white. Dumitrescu produced his marvellous bus for the Belfast Festival 2004.The theme then was Journeys and Migration – something close to the artist’s heart as he was born in Jersey, raised in Belfast and now lives in Texas.”
David Roy – Larger Than Life
Irish News – 30th October 2004
Currently running at the Tullycarnet Library, Belfast, as part of the Belfast Festival at Queen’s is a new exhibition by up-and-coming Belfast-based artist, Avram Dumitrescu. Titled Transport, it captures some striking images culled from American car culture. David Roy met the artist to discuss his work.
BORN in St Helier, Jersey, and raised in Poleglass, 28-year old artist Avram Dumitrescu has already marked himself out as a fast-rising talent in the art world. You may have seen his illustrations of local scenery in the Ulster Tatler, and he has already held several local exhibitions. Thanks to his immediate style and bold use of colour, Avram’s work makes for compelling viewing, expertly drawing the observing eye to his canvas. With a mother from Belfast and a father from Romania, it’s perhaps fitting that his art should be featured as part of this year’s Belfast festival, with its theme of ‘journeys and migrations’. Weekend spoke to the young artist earlier this week to discuss the ideas behind his work and latest exhibition.
“I’ve just completed my Masters in applied arts at the Art College,” explains Avram. “I was exploring all kinds of themes and materials, working with my tutors trying out several projects. The theme of transportation seemed to be a good one, so from about February to May of this year I was creating illustrations and paintings of local vehicles.
“They were really successful at my end-of-year show, and I ended up selling most of my work from my Masters. During the week it was on, some people from Poleglass and Colin Glen Libraries where I had exhibited previously came down and brought along Mairead Ferguson from the Tullycarnet Library.
“That was the genesis of the new exhibition. Mairead liked what she saw and wanted to put on a show of my stuff as part of the Belfast Festival, because it tied in perfectly with the festival theme this year.
“As it happened, around the same time I had the opportunity to go to America. I decided to go out there and do some brand new work for the exhibition, rather than showing the pieces I’d already done.”
Thus, Avram travelled to Texas where he spent three months living in Austin, doing paintings of some of the vehicles he encountered in his distinctive style.
He says: “I was there with my girlfriend Megan, who’s actually American. We had a great time in Dallas and Austin. I would just go out onto the streets and create these big pieces from scratch. Sometimes it was actually too hot to work, but everything was created on the spot from life.”
Indeed, this approach has served Avram well over the years. Rather than working in the studio from sketches or memory, Avram prefers the immediacy of working directly from the subject at hand. As he admits, “the street is basically my studio”.
During his three months in the States, Dumitrescu familiarised himself with the local car culture. From painting local fire trucks, which earned him a spot in the local student newspaper, he moved on to rather more colourful transportation territory.
“I discovered something called the Cruise Night at Oakhill, in Austin,” explains Avram. “Basically it’s a weekly meeting of car enthusiasts who congregate in the parking lot of a supermarket called Albersons. They were lovely friendly people who spend Saturday night just hanging out and admiring each others restored vehicles.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to capture some classic Americana and it worked out great. I went up on a couple of Saturdays and painted, and they all loved the pieces.”
Having now documented American cars, Avram hopes to return to the States to work with some world famous architecture.
He says: “I’d love to go to Vegas and spend some time there painting all the neon illuminated buildings. I think it would lend itself well to my style.”
One of Dumitrescu’s emerging artistic trademarks is his preference for emphasising perspective and colour over actual detail. His paintings are often described as ‘larger than life,’ undoubtedly because they take the first impression and impact of the subject as their focal points. The actual pieces featured in Transport are quite substantial, measuring roughly 60x90cm. This only serves to heighten their impact.
“I wouldn’t say my style was abstract or impressionistic,” Avram explains. “I think exaggeration is probably the key. When I’m painting something, I go for the stuff that grabs you first – it might be the colour of it or a certain shape. I get hold of that and try to force it through, to concentrate it. That will be the genesis of the whole thing.”
This talent for capturing striking images obviously stems from something deep within the artist, as you can tell by studying the evolution of his artistic education. “My degree was in visual communication,” relates Dumitrescu. “It was a good degree and I got very good teaching, but I couldn’t quite focus. I found myself drifting towards video and film. I actually tried to get into that field and found it difficult. It’s one thing to do it in college, but to actually practice it in real life is something very different.
“I always remember drawing and sketching when I was a child, and my painting feels natural. It’s something that’s been developing since about 2001. I used to work quite small and tight, and in watercolour, but my tutors got me to grow a bit more. “I love the fact that painting is very portable. Acrylic is a nice medium to work with, in that it’s a fast, easy expressive paint. It definitely suits my personality.
He adds: “One thing that probably shows through in my work is that its got immediacy. When I go out drawing I’ll take a lot of extra materials. I might produce 10 pieces in one day, even if it’s just sketches to get them started. I tend to go out to focus on one thing and then get sidetracked by something else.” As for the future, Avram is content to take things one day at a time, letting his work and reputation grow at a natural pace.
“It can be difficult to sustain yourself doing this kind of work, but I do believe it’s something where I have to be prepared to sacrifice a lot of things,” he says. “For example, ironically enough given my current work, I can’t actually afford a car at the moment.
“I have pretty modest goals, really. It’s just a matter of slowly building things up. As for getting into private collections, I’d rather have people take an interest in my work because they like it, not because they think it’s a good investment.”
After a pause, he jokes: “Actually, no – you’d better scratch that. I’m really completely money motivated!”
Liz Kennedy – All Aboard the Big Red Bus
the Newsletter: 28th October 2004
You don’t get many of Avram Dumitrescu’s vehicles to the tonne.
The 28 year-old Belfast-based artist is currently showing his take on transport at Tullycarnet library in Dundonald. Avram’s Belfast-born mother Anne and Romanian father Costello met after his father fled from Ceausescu’s Romanian regime.
They met in the Channel Islands, where Avram was born. As a baby of only a few months old he was brought back to Belfast, where he grew up.
Big and bold is best for artist Avram, who spent six or seven summers working at American summer camps. For his Tullycarnet show, as part of Belfast Festival at Queen’s, Avram spent three summer months in Austin, Texas capturing machines that are much larger and aggressive-looking than those in Northern Ireland.
He painted fire engines, enormous trucks, and classic American cars, all fascinating to him for their size and grandness. The exhibition continues Avram’s visual exploration of vehicles to create dynamic, intensely coloured images. His paintings concentrate on details and exaggerate perspective to give a sense of speed and power, conveying the movement of the vehicles he illustrates.
He currently commutes between Ulster and the US, where his American girlfriend lives, but Avram’s determined to keep his local links. He is especially keen that young people go to see the exhibition, even if they’ve never been to a show before:
“I spent so many happy hours in libraries as a child. I would love other young people to go and see my work. It’s right next door in their neighbourhood.”
Transportation is being shown at Tullycarnet Library until November 13.
Janice Smith – A Visual Celebration: an interview with artist Avram Dumitrescu
www.culturenorthernireland.org – 23rd March 2005
Avram Dumitrescu was born in the Channel Islands, raised in Belfast, and now lives in Austin, Texas. His Belfast born mother Anne and Romanian father Costello met after his father fled from Ceausescu’s Romanian regime. Describing himself as ‘an artist who creates images that celebrate the subject matter by exaggerating perspective and intensifying colour’, his clients include Ulster Tatler, AV Browne, British Telecom, University of Ulster, South Eastern Education and Library Board, and many private collectors. The 28 year old recently had an exhibition Transport at Tullycarnet Library, a take on American car culture.
1) Your range of subjects varies, for example, from nature to transport. Can you explain how you choose your subjects and do they reflect your chronological development as an artist?
Having a wide range of subject matter is something I need as an artist – I like the variety. Tackling new subject matter is challenging, especially with the risk that it may fail. I tend to do warm-up sketches and then start producing more detailed works, usually finishing when I’ve exhausted the drawing potential of what I’m illustrating (or, if I’m outside, it rains or gets too cold or dark).
When I graduated from Art College I wanted to work in film but was unsure which part of that industry I wanted to concentrate on. After working at summer camp I traveled down to Florida to visit some friends. While there I was able to help out on a low budget film. I soon concluded that I wasn’t as passionate as I thought about that particular creative field which was quite dispiriting as that’s what I had focused on during the last year of my degree.
At home and when I traveled I had always worked in sketchbooks, visually recording my environment. It now seems obvious that I should have explored illustration earlier but it wasn’t until then I decided to go that direction. St Petersburg, the area of Florida I was staying at, had lots of wonderfully old gnarly trees, which I began painting as much as I could as well as some turn-of-the-century architecture.
Returning to Belfast a few months later, I applied for and was accepted onto a Masters in Applied Arts programme. To broaden my mark-making skills my tutors encouraged me to explore media I hadn’t looked at before. I learnt how to screen print and create monoprints, played with collographs and practiced these skills in the life drawing studios.
The two year course was very good and it was during final semester I chose to explore transportation – a theme that, like architecture, is something my environment surrounds me with. The final body of work I created interested Tullycarnet Library who were hosting a number of events as part of the Belfast Festival at Queens (the 2004 theme being Journeys and Migrations). Knowing I was going to be spending the summer months in America I agreed on an exhibition and created a huge amount of work that was mostly studies of American vehicles.
2) Can you explain the actual process involved in creating one of your paintings?
The length of time I spend on a piece depends on what it’s for. Many of the illustrations I’ve created for the Ulster Tatler, for instance, have had a fairly tight turnaround, ensuring I don’t have the time to overwork a piece. Generally, the magazine will either email or call with the name of a town feature they’ll be doing. I’ll then have a couple of days to provide enough illustrations for the article.
I’ll travel up to the featured town and spend the day drawing as much as I can. I tend to concentrate on the architecture; some of the more famous landmarks and then I’ll pick out several quieter streets to focus on. Depending on how much time I have, I’ll try to paint the illustration on the spot but during winter it isn’t easy to sit sketching while being rained on or having light fade in the afternoon. So I’ll make colour notes, and finish the work from home.
Artwork for a gallery exhibition develops organically and tends to begin in sketchbooks as I try to understand and refine the theme I’m working with. I’ll then move onto paintings and create as much work as I can so that I can be selective for the final display of work. As much as I can I try to work from life to retain life and freshness in the piece.
Composition is the most important element for when constructing a piece of artwork. I need to walk around something to get a feel for it before I start work.
As for medium, I’ll mainly use watercolour, acrylic or a monoprint.
3) Your family background is very interesting and you have expressed before an eagerness to maintain your local links. Can you tell me a bit about what it means to you to be an artist based in Northern Ireland, and what do you think of opportunities for upcoming artists here in general?
I recently got married here in Texas but I still want to continue my links with Northern Ireland. This is where my family and friends I grew up with are, it’s where I began establishing myself as an artist, and it’s somewhere I love to paint.
I feel that due to the size of Northern Ireland strong work will become known faster than in a much larger city. Northern Ireland is large enough to have a very healthy art scene but also small enough to make progression relatively easy.
I benefited from excellent education here at grammar school and at art college and after formal education the transition to working in the real world was really helped by the Northern Ireland Visual Arts Forum.
The experience I’ve had with finding markets for my work in Northern Ireland has been mostly through seeking out freelance illustration commissions. After contacting almost every local magazine, I gathered samples of work and posted them off to interested publications. After six months the Ulster Tatler asked me to come in with a portfolio. They liked my work and so I started freelancing for them.
For exhibitions I’ll visit galleries that look as if they’d be sympathetic to my style and then arrange an appointment to show a portfolio.
For exhibitions I’ll visit galleries that look as if they’d be sympathetic to my style and then arrange an appointment to show a portfolio. My last exhibition, Transport, came about when I was approached during the summer exhibition at art college.
4) Tell me a bit about your experiences of working as an artist in America, and how this differs from working in Northern Ireland?
It’s been much easier to work outdoors – at least it is down here in Texas! When I graduated from my Masters in Applied Arts in summer 2004, I flew out to visit my girlfriend (now my wife) Megan in Austin. I had been approached to create a series of paintings on the theme of transportation for one of the Belfast Festival at Queen’s exhibitions. So, being in America for several months, I took full advantage of the environment and created as many pieces as I could celebrating their forms of transportation.
The first time I traveled to America to begin working in a Maine summer camp I was taken aback by the different environment – I’d been sitting on a plane for six hours, exited the airport and was amazed by the heat, noise, giant buildings, massive yellow taxis and vehicles. Speaking the same language makes working here much easier than if I moved to any non-English speaking country. I think the language has helped the transition from home to here, especially as while it being a different culture it’s also quite similar to Northern Ireland.
5) Also, of course, your plans for future work?
All kinds of things! I want to illustrate as much of Austin’s architecture as I can. I’d love to return to Santa Fe to do more Adobe architecture, and I’ve wanted to paint the casinos in Las Vegas. Overall, I want to visually celebrate this land I now live in.
“Talk at Ten” with Tom Michael
Marfa Public Radio – 10-1030am, 31st August 2006
Talk at Ten Transcription
Originally broadcast 10am, Thursday 31st August 2006
TOM MICHAEL – This is talk at ten, our morning news and information show and I’m your host today Tom Michael. I’m here with Avram Dumitrescu and he’s an Irish artist living in Fort Davis who has a show this weekend in Alpine. Welcome to the program!
AVRAM DUMITRESCU – Thanks for having me Tom, much appreciated.
TOM – Now Avram, you grew up in Belfast, Ireland, actually you were born in the Channel Islands, right?
AVRAM – Yes, I was born back in 1976, when disco was still hip and my parents met there a couple of years before that. I came over to Northern Ireland when I was three weeks old and I was raised in Belfast.
TOM – You were born in the channel Islands – does that make you a British citizen?
AVRAM – Yes. I have a British passport and [over here] it’s easier to explain that I’m Irish, especially raised in Belfast where nationality is such a loaded topic.
TOM – Avram has a show at the Rinconada Gallery this weekend. It’s open through mid-October and you’re showing drawings you’ve done out here and elsewhere, correct?
AVRAM – Yes. My wife Megan and I came out here at the end of May and after a little bit of time getting settled I, like so many other people, had such a strong reaction to the landscape. It’s such a beautiful, beautiful area. It’s unspoilt – the fact that the biggest chain is hundreds of miles away. My reaction was to capture it, get it in some way so I’ve been going out as much as I can, working on mountains, architecture, trying to get a feel for the place.
TOM – So what is your medium? You work in acrylic and watercolour?
AVRAM – I can work pretty small, say a 10 by 10 inch canvas and go up to, say, a 30 by 40 inch canvas. I’ll work with acrylic, I’ll do watercolor, do a little bit of print-making. [When I go out painting] I’ll have a selection of materials with me as it depends on how you feel that day, what you’re trying to capture. So maybe a delicate watercolor would work one day or a much bolder acrylic would work another day.
One of the things I’ve noticed through doing my artwork out here is that there’s so much to the land. My first month I barely had to leave our porch to get drawing material, there was so much in the way of plants, rocks etc. A lot of the work in the show is based on the drive between Fort Davis and Alpine. I’ve almost caused the car to crash several times when I’ve been staring out at the mountains. It’s pretty breathtaking scenery. I would go out in the morning, as early as I could, just before the sun had come up, and with my materials just start sketching whatever appealed to me that day.
TOM – We’re speaking with Irish artist Avram Dumitrescu who is currently residing in Fort Davis. He has a show this weekend at the Rinconada Gallery in Alpine, which is near Baeza’s Grocery store and the True Value. It opens on September 2nd – there’s an opening from 5-8pm and it’ll run through mid-October.
An adobe building, a broken down truck, a hillside, you’ve certainly incorporated a lot of the local area into your work. Do you do a lot of figurative work?
AVRAM – That’s something I really should do more of. What I’ve found myself drawn to more is inanimate subjects-
TOM – What do you mean ‘you really should do’?
AVRAM – I’ve always found that, and I’ve read so many times is that the most difficult thing to do as an artist is to capture the human form. I prefer mechanical things, architectural things, but at the same time I’ll try to give [the subject matter] more life. I always try to introduce movement, which sounds like a silly concept but over the weekend I had been at the Sul Ross library, looking for a couple of books, when I came across a section on Art Deco, that highly stylized artwork from the 30s and 40s. It was a revelation – when I was looking at the photographs and designs of trains and automobiles from back then I compared to a series I had done last year and I thought wow, there was quite a similarity. I think I was picking up on Art Deco’s fascination with the shapes, the lines and the movement.
TOM – Where did you attend college?
AVRAM – The University of Ulster at Belfast, and they had a great library, and when I wasn’t working on assignments I’d try to immerse myself there. I’d pick books at random and try to take in as much from fashion, from sculpture to painting, drawing, print-making, anything at all. I think the wider range of influences you take in the better it is for what you produce and what you create.
TOM – Your work is realistic although you describe it as exaggerated. For example, you might see a building front or a cityscape where the lines are cartoonish or exploded but it’s easily recognizable and it’s very colorful too. There seems to be an immediacy in your work and a lot of color and movement – is that what you’re comparing to the Art Deco movement?
I think so. My problem is that when I sit down and try to think about what I do is when I start confusing and contradicting myself. But that seems to be the essence of it, when I sit down to create a piece of artwork what I’m doing is bringing attention to something you might easily overlook. I remember there were certain ugly buildings in Belfast that generally weren’t liked but I’d sit down with a sketchbook or canvas and try pull out some beauty from it and some of the time it worked.
TOM – So you won’t necessarily be sketching the Courthouse in Fort Davis or the great landmarks, you’ve be looking for –
AVRAM – Not necessarily. In this exhibition there are landscapes, architecture from Fort Davis and Alpine and quite a large series on architecture in Marfa. I bumped up high-contrast shadows as you’ve got, not an austere look but Marfa does have very different feel from Fort Davis and Alpine. With Marfa you have very clean lines, stark shadows. I didn’t consciously think ‘right, this is what I’m going to do: I’m going to create an artwork to give this particular feeling’. That’s what just came out. A lot of it is subconscious.
TOM – We’re speaking with Irish artist Avram Dumitrescu and he has a show this weekend opening at Riconada Gallery. So you’re saying people will recognize, perhaps, some local places or geographic places?
AVRAM – If I’ve done my job correctly then yes, they should recognize the places. When I was doing my Masters at the University of Ulster I had gotten some work with a magazine called The Ulster Tatler. They would phone me on, say, a Monday evening and say, “Avram, we need for a feature on Friday –“ a city somewhere in Northern Ireland. The next morning, provided I didn’t have any classes, I’d take a bus up to this place and with watercolor and sketchbook I’d give myself that entire day to sketch, draw, photograph and make color notes. My aim for this with the article was not to get every building or get it completely accurate like a photograph but to get a feel. I tried to get what was important and that’s what I was trying to do with the Marfa series and this recent work at the Rinconada Gallery. Not make everything photographically realistic or get every single famous landmark – just get what makes these places.
TOM – Working for the Tatler, that periodical, did that increase the speed of your work or is that generally how you prefer to work.
AVRAM Yes, I –
TOM – Because you had to deal with journalistic deadlines.
AVRAM – That was definitely a wake-up call. It’s nice being in the insulated college where you might have – though my first tutor at art college was a shock. He’d give us two days to complete a design project. I think my work has always been quite immediate and fast. I have friends, like an artist in Austin called Nick Henning – he can spend months working on illustrations and paintings and I’ve admired him because I don’t have that patience. But I think that’s once facet of an artist – it just depends. I try to get an immediate…
TOM – You mentioned your tutor at Ulster. Were there certain people in your career who inspired you?
AVRAM – The people who have had most influence have been family, giving me unending encouragement, and Megan, she’s always encouraging me as well. Art college had some fantastic tutors. When I was doing my Masters I had a gentleman named Mike Catto – he was very tough on me and rightly so. By being hard on me he got some very good work and I had a lady who had just started, Christine Blaney. She had done some children’s books. She was very sweet but also pushed me as well. It was good to have the balance of scary and nice. What I liked at the Masters level was they gave me so much direction and that’s how I got to where I got. They’d prod me if I was going off on the wrong direction and they encouraged me to work. So far tutors have been a great influence on me, and family and friends.
TOM – I seemed to have read somewhere you mentioned the Northern Ireland Visual Arts Forum?
AVRAM – Yes.
TOM – Is that an arts council, like a regional arts council?
AVRAM – Yes. I want to say they were a registered charity, though I may be wrong. Once I’d finished my Masters, there were some people there, I’d walked up to them and asked for advice. They’d sat me down and showed me how to do a lot of the promotional side of it – press releases and how to sell myself as an artist. Because that’s a very essential part of – it’s one thing to be out in the fields creating things all day but you need to know how to deliver it, such as a website. You do have to sell your artwork and yourself.
TOM – In fact your degree was called Visual Communication?
AVRAM – Yes
TOM – So was it different requirements from say a Fine Arts degree?
AVRAM – It falls between design and fine-art, it would be a medium of both. I liked the degree because it gave me such a wide range, from print-making to drawing to design. When I went back a couple of years later to the same university I concentrated on illustration and saw myself going towards fine-art and that’s where I am at the moment.
TOM – You’re listening to Marfa Public Radio. This is Talk at Ten. Our guest today is Avram Dumitrescu and he is living in Fort Davis. He’s an Irish native and grew up in Belfast. How did you get to the States?
AVRAM – In the late 90s I wanted to, like so many people, wanted to work at Summer camp. I had done a little of that in Belfast. I applied, came out and had a blast of a time. It was great, met some good friends and –
TOM – Where were you?
AVRAM – It was Naples, Maine, way up north. I’d hear they’d get nasty ice-storms but during the summer it was – my last year there (I had done six summers up there) it was triple figures, we were in wooden cabins with the kids with no A.C. It was an endurance, especially for someone that grew up in Belfast where it rains 400 days a year.
I would generally travel afterwards and meet up with friends. A good friend of mine, John Stein, he had taken a year out and gone to a college down in Florida and that’s where Megan, she had been at Rice [University] –
TOM – Now, Megan Wilde is your wife?
AVRAM – Yes.
TOM – And in the spirit of full disclosure she was an intern here this summer at Marfa Public Radio. I was eyeing some of the sketches you did here in the studio.
AVRAM – Well, Megan had come in one Saturday to work on some stories and I didn’t want to leave her on her own as it was late and it would have been boring for her so I came in and was able to sketch.
TOM – I sidetracked you there so you met your wife Megan here in the States.
AVRAM – Yes, she was at the college. I was very interested in her but I was very slow and didn’t make any moves and I was about to go home, fly back to Ireland, and then 9/11 happened.
TOM – So you were stuck here in the States?
AVRAM – I was in Florida: every flight was grounded. I was meant to be flying up to New York, I think on the 11th of September, so I couldn’t do anything. I was there for another week and we kept in touch and when I came back the following summer we started dating. For the next three years we dated and it was wonderful but it was tough as well because it’s not exactly cheap as well flying back and forth. Whenever I had time at holiday times I’d fly over. We were eventually married at the start of 2005.
TOM – So where you living in Dallas or Austin?
AVRAM – We were in Austin and that was such an interesting city. It seems to be a very young city. And that’s where I started learning to drive. I glad I did that there – it was a little frightening at first and that’s another reason I like West Texas so much. It’s much easier and in our four months here I’ve yet to hear anyone use their horn in anger. In Austin I would see people drive backwards against the flow of traffic on a freeway. I saw some frightening things there. I’m so glad it’s much easier driving here.
TOM – We’re speaking to Avram Dumitrescu. He’s got a show this weekend in Alpine. He’s living in Fort Davis. He’s a native of Ireland. He moved to Texas early 2000 [actually late 2004]. And you said you learnt to drive in Austin. In fact that worked into some of your paintings. You were doing a series on car culture? Tell us about that.
AVRAM – It was a couple of years ago. I had just finished my degree, sorry, my Masters, and the Art College had this great self-promotional thing – the whole building was turned into a giant art gallery. It had this built-in thing of people who would come year after year. I had been offered a show through the work I had there. So when I returned in the Fall I had done summer camp – sorry, I had been with Megan so I think I did a large series of paintings of old classic cars and vehicles. If any of you have been to the UK you’ll notice the streets are much smaller, the vehicles are much smaller. Over here it’s as if vehicles are on steroids. They’ve got these giant bulges and they’re just large, large beasts. I was taken with this and – when someone asks me to describe a car, I’ll give you the color and don’t know the name of it. I think the truck I drive is a Chevrolet … I know it’s red. It’s definitely red.
TOM – And you attended you attended these things called, what, cruise nights?
AVRAM – Yeah. I met a really interesting guy called Cliff and I was trying to find collections of classic cars. I think it was in Oakhill in Austin on a Saturday evening we’d go up and I’d have sketchbooks and I’d sketch the cars quickly, make color notes, and them paint them the following week. I managed to get an exhibition out of it. It goes back to some of the train work I was doing back for my degree. I didn’t try to make the work highly rendered or photorealistic or anything like that. It was more the essence of it. It was much looser than a lot of car art you’ll see.
TOM – There’s an immediacy to your work, you definitely work in some traditional realms and landscape, and you said figurative. You grew up in Belfast, Ireland, an incredibly political and decisive place during all the sectarian violence and your father fled the Ceausescu regime in Romania. He met your mother and married her, she was a Belfast native, an Irish native. You’re surrounded by all these politics yet you eschew that in your work. Is that purposeful, is that something you’re not drawn to, did you attend university where students were drawn to that?
AVRAM – I think it’s very easy to be sucked into that. It’s almost like an un-winnable argument. Both sides, Protestants and Catholics… it’s something I’ve never felt too qualified to speak about because I’ve never fully understood it. It’s… it’s just sad.
TOM – Certainly that was part of your growing up, you know, the violent situations throughout the city. But was it just so complicated and gargantuan that you didn’t feel-
AVRAM – Well, I think a lot of it was that my parents didn’t want to have anything to do with it. And you would see, almost every night on television someone had been shot, or somebody had put an explosive device into a shop, something like that. It did get bad, it did influence your life. I remember back in the late 90s, to get back up and down the town there were these black taxis. They were the London black cabs that were near the end of their life and they were brought over to Northern Ireland and you’d use these to travel. They’d go along pre-determined routes. It got to the stage where people would drive up and shoot into the vehicles and… it wasn’t fun. It’s gotten so much calmer now, so much better.
TOM – When did that break happen?
AVRAM – Again, it’s difficult to say because one of the reasons I haven’t been influenced is that I’ve done a lot of traveling, my summers were spent in America but… recently, I’d say recently.
TOM – You said you and your parents in some ways avoided it yet they were politicized in that they brought humanitarian aid back to Romania, your father’s homeland, correct?
AVRAM – This is a slightly involved story. My mother left Belfast when she was young and she had traveled over to Germany with her sister and some of their friends – they wanted to get some work there. This was in the early 70s and when they arrived in Germany the place they were going to start working – it was an electronics factory – they had been told the place had gone on strike for three weeks. They didn’t know what to do, they didn’t have too much money. At the hotel they were staying at somebody said ‘there’s plenty of work in Jersey’ which is one of the Channel Islands. They put all their money together and flew over there and did a whole series of jobs and that’s where my mother saw my father. His father was a big band player and he came from a pretty well-off family…
TOM – In Romania.
AVRAM – In Romania. He wanted to see the rest of the world and with it being under a Communist regime he couldn’t get away. So they did a lot of touring – my dad was in this Romania folk music band and he played the double-bass and traveled all over Europe. They came to Guernsey. They played at hotels and my dad was speaking to some Italians that had owned the place and he said look, is there any way you could help me get away – I just want to leave Romania. They said, we can’t do anything here but if you can get to the airport and get to Jersey… So, my dad waited until, I think it was the last night and, to give you an idea there were, I don’t know how many people in the band were secret police but they could shoot you.
TOM – Oh my gosh. So he had made the decision to defect. We’re talking about the 80s, right?
AVRAM – This would have been 72.. the early 70s.
TOM – So he had made the decision to defect but he couldn’t tell anybody in his band?
AVRAM – He couldn’t tell anyone because another one of his friends had been.. they had run over him with a car. It was just dangerous. So what he ended up doing was, the last night my dad said he was going to do some laundry and he wasn’t feeling too well. So they were all out drinking and having a whale of a time. So he did his laundry and he had put on three shirts and two pairs of trousers or pants because he couldn’t carry anything and he just had 11 pounds twenty, which was just under $20. So that would have been the equivalent of $100 today – that’s all he had in his pocket and he still had to get a plane ticket to fly back to the other island. He waited until everyone was asleep – that was the benefit of alcohol, it had them all subdued. So he climbed out the window and it was 4 in the morning, pitch black, and he started running and walking but he realized he didn’t know what to do and every time a vehicle came by he hid. He was worried they had already detected what had happened. So he eventually saw – I don’t think I’ve seen them over here – they’re electric milk floats. The milk industry has these vehicles, they go maybe a top speed of 10 miles per hour but in England and Ireland-
TOM – So these are delivery vehicles, slow moving…
AVRAM Very slow because they’re carrying bottles of milk. So my dad saw the guy and pulled him over and said, I’m trying to get to the airport, but he didn’t have any English. So he was trying to explain and what he ended up doing was, put his arms out like that and was [makes airplane sound] making plane sounds.
TOM – So he was trying to commandeer a slow-moving electric milk truck?
AVRAM – Exactly, so the guy said, yeah come on, so he got my dad up the road a little and was able to stop a truck and the trucker was going that way, and got him off to the airport. So my dad got to the airport and he was starting to get a little apprehensive because the guy he was waiting on hadn’t turned up. But then I think he realized he needed to buy the ticket and get over there but he was still apprehensive in case the secret police came. And he noticed a policeman walking up and down and his thoughts were, well, he kept staring at the policeman and thought if these secret police come in I’ll go up and I’ll punch the policeman in the jaw and that way he’ll have to arrest me and I’ll claim political asylum. But the plane came in time and nobody chased after him so he was able to fly to the other island, he met up with the Italians and they took care of him, they brought him to London and he was able to get political asylum that way. His mother was still over there and I think they lived in a bigger house and she’d been forced into one of the small flats, the big tower blocks they have in Romania. My dad Costello and my mum Anne they were able to fly back – no, sorry, they drove out in the 90s after Ceausescu had been…
TOM – Deposed.
AVRAM – Yep. The new government had been put in with a change to democracy, so my dad was able to start bringing out humanitarian aid. He ended up, I don’t think they do it as much now, at the height of it they were helping forty different old-people’s homes and orphanages, there was a lot of need there.
TOM – We’re speaking with Irish artist Avram Dumitrescu and we’re talking about how his parents met. You said Anne and Costello is your father’s name? Maybe he was destined to arrive in Ireland with an Irish name.
Avram has a show this weekend at the Riconada Gallery in Alpine and he’s showing a lot of the work he did here in the region and a lot of times when people first arrive to the region they have such a fresh perspective on the buildings, on the landscapes. And I imagine there’ll be some freshness and immediacy and especially in the speed in which you work. You said you get out in the mornings and start working. Why is that? Is it just heat related?
AVRAM – Yeah. I fry in the heat. I am no good when it gets warm. Megan laughs when she sees what it does to me. I’ve been trying to get up as early as possible. I found out there’s a big balloon festival so I’m hoping to be there at seven tomorrow morning and I’ll be out sketching for a couple of hours before the sun heats up. It has gotten much more pleasant now but this last month was warm.
TOM – In Fort Davis you are in one of the coolest towns in Texas. I imagine working in Austin and in Dallas was an early morning venture as well.
AVRAM – Absolutely. I remember seeing close to the 4th of July the city had put up [a sign saying] it was the coolest 4th July in Texas and I could believe that. In Austin on Christmas day it was 80 degrees and I think the only other one in the family who would have had an experience like that would have been my brother. He was in Australia and he was doing a year working there and he couldn’t get over having a barbeque, a Christmas dinner on the beach.
TOM – What do your friends back in Ireland think, here you are in West Texas in the desert, sketching the desert, you’ve married a Texas woman, do you go back often?
AVRAM – I haven’t been able to get back recently but they have.. they saw it coming. I’ve had this fascination with America. It’s nice going to another country where it’s, I should learn Spanish, there hasn’t been the challenge to learn another language so that makes it easier, so yes, they’re pleased for me.
TOM – We’ve been speaking with Avram Dumitrescu. He has a show this weekend at the Riconada Gallery in Alpine. It’s playing through the middle of October. Thank-you so much for joining us.
AVRAM – Thanks very much, it’s been fun!