A Visual Celebration

An interview with artist Avram Dumitrescu

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 travelled 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.