Walking into the Romanian Cultural Institute in Belgrave Square, you’re currently confronted with a series of bronze sculptures. They’re not big – the tallest must be about two or three feet high – and they’re not particularly grandiose either. With their featureless faces, plump, geometric bodies and round, oversized heads, they resemble prehistoric figurines. They manage to be both childlike and elegant, and beautiful in their simplicity.
Sculptor Virgil Scripcariu, who lives in the small Romanian village of Piscu, is heavily influenced by rural life. His works (both the bronze sculptures that fill the entrance hall and the red and white lino prints in the next room) depict ordinary people,
If Scripcariu’s work exemplifies innocence, then childhood is a key part of this. One sculpture, “The First Step” (or “Primul Pas” in Romanian) takes on mythology and mixes it with the magic of childhood toys. A small child – only 76cm in height – with a hobby-horse strapped to his back resembles a centaur – the artist thus mingling the mythological and the corporeal, with touching results.
The importance of childhood and, particularly, the relationship between mothers and sons is most clearly evident in the 2014 series Supermam. A range of sculptures show this relationship in all its stages, from the pregnant woman fiercely defending her unborn child from a creature with a lance, to the grown son, clad in polished bronze superhero’s cape, carrying his mother over his head. It’s clear from Scripcariu’s own biography that family and heritage both play an important role in his life. He lives with his wife and six children (who were present at the opening of the exhibition) and organises community projects in Piscu, whose once prevalent pottery industry is dying out.
Scripcariu’s social conscience and his art are perfectly fused in his series of wooden trees. Learning that a cherry orchard was to be cut down to make way for urban developments, he managed to buy some of the felled cherry trees and transform them into works of art. He bisected the trunks and plated them with metal, creating a forest of hybrids: half natural, half industrial. The resulting forest – some of which is on display at the RCI – is a sobering reminder of man’s destructive effect on his natural surroundings.
Again, this fusion of rural life and art is present in some of Scripcariu’s most unusual works, to which visitors on the exhibition’s opening night were treated: sculptures and reliefs carved out of bread. The particular work shown at the exhibition was a woman’s face. With its delicate, intricate and lifelike features, it couldn’t be more different from his simplified bronze works, and is a testimony to Scripcariu’s versatility. You could almost believe the work carved out of stone or marble but for the traces of flour it leaves on the clothes and hands of anyone who touches it. The introduction provided by the centre explains the choice of material thus: “the portraits become perishable, ephemeral objects, just like the pottery craft itself. Coming from the grain, the dough also speaks of nourishment, growth and life.” The artist, we were told, had filmed one of his daughters crumbling up the portraits and feeding them to nearby pigeons.
Scripcariu is an artist clearly keen to bring human beings, art and the natural environment back together. His art and his community outreach projects are well on their way to doing that.
Virgil Scripcariu: The Secret Soul of Bronze (22/05/15) was part of the ongoing programme of cultural events at the Romanian Cultural Institute, London.