“Disegno: Drafting on a Figure of Thought” | A dialogue essay between the artist Ana Maria Micu and Vlad Ionescu

“Woman, Scaffolding” a solo exhibition by Ana Maria Micu runs at Mind Set Art Center in Taipei from 16 March – 27 April, 2024. The exhibition is accompanied by “Disegno: Drafting on a Figure of Thought”, a dialogue essay between the artist and the art theoretician Vlad Ionescu.
A relevant fragment from this text is reproduced bellow and you can read its full length on Micu’s website.

Ana Maria Micu: After a series of accomplished tasks, when you give yourself a comprehensive look to internalize the satisfaction of things brought to a successful conclusion, a moment comes up which is interrupted by the thought that there is something left to do, and that something missing is an artistic act.

Vlad Ionescu: Probably that’s the paradox. That something is missing appears to be essential in artistic creation. There is no search without something missing. There is also no artistic research in modernity without the knowledge of history and the acceptance that – from a certain perspective – everything has already been done. But the real question is whether what’s felt as missing has ever been there completely. An intuition, a sentiment is a driving force for an artist, not a clinical or historical fact, a given to be filed and done with. Furthermore, the “artistic act” never completely depends on you. This does not just mean that the artist cannot control the viewer’s attention, art history, art criticism and the entire “life” of an artwork. It also means that the artistic act is never completely a question of artistry, of craftsmanship but also of the emergence of aesthetic ideas, associations, other artworks, an impact on the changing interiors where the work hangs, etc.
In other words, an artwork lives on as long as it generates aesthetic ideas in the sense of Kant, reflections without a definite rule or definite conclusion. The struggle seems to be how to manipulate this missing artistic act since it is hypothetically always missing, it is never completely present. It’s a modern problem: looking at the Flemish masters of the 15th and early 16th century, one might wonder whether their artistic act was of a different nature. Making a convincing image was the goal, the “debilitating struggle” was the combination of the visual with the theological. However, there is something sublime in the way these images passed through history, have shifted through different contexts, have been “rediscovered”, that is, how they drew the viewer’s attention, how they changed her sensibility once more.
The cult of the Virgin Mary in the Middle Ages that inspired many an icon has both a theological and a cultural outcome, like the tenderness and sensibility in the relationship between a mother and child. In the Western culture, images have no control over their agency: what starts as a religious story can also affect the emotional and affective relationships between the people who carefully look at images and worship them.
The modern artist has, of course, different challenges. The canonical tendency here is to think that the modern artwork concerns the “depth” of the artist herself and that the canvas is originally a blank page. This subjectivity of the modern position has been endlessly discussed, from Hegel to Deleuze. Regardless, the point is that there is always something missing in a living, creating subject. This should be seen as a constitutive lack, as a human condition more than as a loss at a given moment in time. It is important, however, that this condition turns into a productive process. It ends only with the end of an oeuvre, the indifference of the public or – more recently – the shifting attention of the curator. 

Ana Maria Micu, “Left Hand”, 2022, oil-based charcoal on toned canvas stretched on wood panel, 78 x 118 x 4 cm., and digital photograph on ceramic plate, 24 x 30 cm., variable placement.

Ana Maria Micu: I love the way you acknowledge and describe this constitutive lack, as belonging to our human nature. In my case, this is not something that I once had and lost, but I never had to begin with. I associate it with a longing or curiosity that, although almost indecipherable, can never be satisfied once and for all. When I draw, in all the early stages, I feel like I am solving and discovering something. What use could such knowledge be? Is it a genuine act of knowledge? Can it be analysed in comparison with other forms? Can it be improved? Observational drawing produces evidence of observation, which ends up being different from the observed object. This degree of difference fascinates me.
Ideally, my work would be an overlay of the reference image with the drawn image, as I suggested in Left Hand (2022) and Distant View (2022), where the photograph is a printed ceramic plate that can be positioned subjectively on its drawing. The Grid Method that I use to reproduce images, in painting and drawing, is in a significant way similar to the method of archaeological excavation, where a site is first divided into quadrants. 

​Ana Maria Micu, “Distant View”, 2022, oil-based charcoal on toned canvas stretched on wood panel, 78 x 118 x 4 cm., and digital photograph on a ceramic plate, 24 x 30 cm., variable placement

Vlad Ionescu: Or the perspective machine published in Albrecht Dürer’s manual from 1525, or the modernist grid and its striated space, all devices that give us the “right” form. However, there is no reproduction that does not also produce and shape knowledge. This might seem a common place, but art history teaches that the creation and the understanding of images – what you call making and knowledge – have gone hand in hand, certainly since the Renaissance. We could refer to the role that the drawing (disegno) played in the Vite of Vasari: it justified both the knowledge and the practice of art, activities that were integrated in the emerging academies and were supported by the royal authorities. Already here, a certain conceptualism enters the picture, as Georges Didi-Huberman showed when he returned in his book Devant l’image (1990) to the writings of the Renaissance painter Federico Zuccari. The latter absolutized drawing as the realization of the idea. Drawing emulates the divine creative act and so puts the artist on a creational level. Simultaneously, drawing is referred to natural objects but also to the past painters whose Vite Vasari generously described.

​Ana Maria Micu, engaging activities, … Back to All NightCrawler, 2023, charcoal on toned canvas, 150 x 175 cm.

This is a unique moment because – as said – it explains the making of art as inherently bound to the understanding of the past, first to the knowledge of the past, the entire understanding of past artists, and then to aesthetic experience. So, the questions that you raise are as old as the notion of art as we have known it for a long time, namely as a practice that is more than craftsmanship, that is self-aware of the archaeology of the painted, sculptured, built artefact. Furthermore, today, the practice and knowledge that it brings about has a performative side to it: it is precisely the automatic making of images, their mechanical reproducibility, that demands an intense and critical study of how images are made and how they are perceived. Precisely because figurative representation has become a technical automatism, drawing is fundamental – it is the ideal tool to understand the production of knowledge that image-making is capable of.
If we drew more, then maybe we would peruse images on screens more slowly, less ferociously and distractingly. In your case, at least to some extent, drawing seems to ‘perform’ and ‘re-stage’, a foundational act of looking and understanding, arranging, and creating the perceived object. It’s similar to the reason why a child memorizes and recites a poem or a song.
The child’s performance is not just an act of memory but a way to dramatize language, its intensity, the figures it creates, and their emergence at a given moment, a moment that demands the attention of the listener. Your work provides – at this level, but there is more – an archaeology of perception that echoes classical phenomenological issues: the relation of the eye and the hand, the emerges of vision as contrasted to mere visuality (or capacity to see), the surplus of visual sensations, etc.  

​Ana Maria Micu, an existing configuration, … You then continue creating, 2023, charcoal on toned canvas, 175 x 260 cm.

For Zuccari, the act of disegno had divine powers because drawing meant literally producing the imagined or represented object. There is no Annunciation without the drawn setting of a Fra Angelico or Fra Bartolomeo: drawing meant also inventing a scene, an interior and two bodily gestures, one of Gabriel and one of Mary. Maybe today, when the production of images is automatic and mediated by other mechanically reproduced images, drawing condenses the act of looking and what I would like to call the ‘arrangement’ of objects, thinking of them in a certain setting, interior or order. Their drawn representation captures a specific type of attention, a notion that is central to contemporary life: it combines recognition or reading what is seen with an understanding of the way in which objects appear as a specific place.
That is the vocation of your work: beyond a strong craftsmanship and a figurative iconography, between the making and the reading of images, they should demand something of the viewer and your work – if I understand it well – demands an attention for a philosophy of the interior. We shall return to this point. Your drawings and their modulations in other media are quite bound to this emergence of a sense of place. Not just space in the geometrical sense of the word, but space understood as a meaningful arrangement of an interior – what I’d like to call a ‘place’ where plants grow along with drawn lines and drawn lines refer to the growing plants.”

Read the entire dialogue here.

Ana Maria Micu, with impregnation. … The depth of our psyche knows, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 175 x 115 cm.

Ana Maria Micu is a visual artist based in Botoșani exclusively represented globally since 2018 by Mind Set Art Center, Taipei. She works primarily with painting, connecting two or more images with reference to personal experience and her close environment, in non-linear presentations of scenarios she identifies as minor acts of living. Micu graduated from the MFA of the University of Art and Design of Cluj-Napoca in Romania in 2004. In 2011, Micu’s works were at the Fourth Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art. Her 2020 painting, “workers, will still be … to stay” has been collected by the National Museum of Contemporary Art (MNAC) in Bucharest, Romania. In 2022, Micu held her solo exhibition “Left Hand to Distant View” at MNAC and in 2021 was included in the group exhibition “The Poetic Realm” at Yu-Hsiu Museum of Art.

Vlad Ionescu is associate professor in the history and theory of art and architecture at PXL MAD School of Arts/ Faculty of Architecture and Arts, Hasselt University, Belgium. Originally specialised in formalist aesthetics and art history (Riegl, Wölfflin, Worringer, etc.), he is currently working on the relationship between art and architecture. Besides co-editing and co-translating Jean-François Lyotard’s “Writings on Contemporary Art and Artists” (Leuven University Press, 7 volumes published between 2009-2013), he is the author of “Applied Arts, Implied Art. Craftsmanship and Technology in the Age of Art Industry” (A&S Books, 2016), “Pneumatology. An Inquiry into the Representation of Wind, Air, Breath” (ASP, 2017), “Waiting Rooms of Architecture”, with Malgorzata Maria Olchowaka (VAi, 2023), “Felix Aestheticus. Pour Herman Parret”, edited volume with Sémir Badir et Nathalie Kremers (Peeters, 2023), and many other essays on the aforementioned topics. In 2017 Vlad Ionescu was Laureate of the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts, Class of Arts/ Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België voor Wetenschappen en Kunsten/ Klasse Kunsten. 

Share on facebook
Share on whatsapp
Share on email
Share on pinterest

Do you love our content and value the work we do? Support it! Donate!


Discover the contemporary art scene in Romania!

Sign up to receive Empower Art& Artists’ monthly art news update!