Dan Perjovschi gets his audience 'into the story' at the ROM
Ben Kaplan, National Post
Aaron Lynett, National Post
A pile of newspapers from all over the world sit on a small desk on the fourth floor of the Royal Ontario Museum. Dan Perjovschi, a 49-year-old Romanian cartoonist and graffiti writer, says he uses the news to inspire his work.
"What my drawings do is get you into the story," says Perjovschi, thickly built and long-haired, a craggy beard offsetting his black hooded sweatshirt and painterly funk. "I was intensely trained in communist Romania, but they train your hand and never talk about your heart --now is like my payback time."
Perjovschi's work is akin to that of a political cartoonist, a profession he took up when communism collapsed in Romania in 1989. Classically trained yet an outsider artist, his work brings to mind Banksy, Basquiat and Raymond Pettibon, and has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Venice Biennale and the Tate Museum in London.
"Everything I've been taught about art I've intentionally forgotten," says Perjovschi, who will be painting live on the ROM's walls through Feb. 21, while his provocative doodles will remain on display through Aug. 15. "What can you do with a still life? If you're a contemporary artist you engage with society. I'm much more interested in communication than skills."
Using a thick black German marker, his messages -- already referencing the Olympics, Avatar, Haiti, the Greek economy and the late British fashion designer Alexander Mc-Queen just two days into the project --begin life in a notebook, before going up on the wall in a single, spontaneous first draft.
"It's like jazz or pure improvisation. I'm more interested in freshness than impressing you with how wonderful an artist I am," says Perjovschi, who proceeds to push a ladder against a wall, and begin drawing with an energetic flourish. A spare marker dangling in the back pocket of his baggy jeans, Perjovschi, clutching a notebook, draws a burqa-clad woman beneath the caption, "Toronto is hot." He smiles and shrugs, and then moves his ladder to an opposite wall and draws a marijuana leaf next to the maple leaf. "Plants discussion," he says, before capping his marker and catching his breath. The work took less time than a TV commercial.
"Sometimes, I'm still surprised by how Danny twists around ideas," says Lia Perjovschi, an artist with dyed red hair who met her husband at art school when they were both 10. "Danny uses humour to cool people down, but it's as if he obeys by disobeying. It looks very easy, but it's a lot of hard work."
Indeed, Perjovschi says his work is intended to look deceptively simple. He gradually stripped every painterly impulse away from his art. He says the ideas he wants to convey are too important to be buried.
"When the revolution broke in our country, we were on the streets with bullets shooting and tear gas," he says, relaying stories of running from the police with Lia or else staging elaborate underground art shows in the woods. "I can be really nasty, and sometimes anger fuels my work, but I just want to give the impression that everybody can do this. Everybody has something to say."
Perjovschi's father worked in a factory while his mom taught kindergarten, and Perjovschi grew bitter as censorship wiped away the Romanian art scene. While his work doesn't expressly detail how he came of age under communism, he says a skepticism of authority and an eye toward the contradictions of power fuel his drawings and cartoons.
"You don't think freezing in your flat when they're cutting off your electricity will be unbearable, but when there's no way out you can become lost in your misery," says Perjovschi, who only found his voice as an artist after communism collapsed and he freed himself from the structure of classicism. Throughout art school, Perjovschi loved to entertain his friends with cartoons. It was only after his country became democratic that he was able to rediscover his original voice.
"Lia and I were involved in the transformation of the country," Perjovschi says. "I don't have any problems with the past. The past creates the energy of today."
- Dan Perjovschi: Late News will be on display at the ROM through Aug. 15. For more information, see perjovschi.com.