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Beyond the River of Darkness Grows the Light of Love; An Interview with Costin Chioreanu

Written by Katla.

About a year ago I received a message from a friend of mine saying that for one day, there would be a special underground gallery exhibiting a very talented Romanian artist in the city where I live. I was quick to take the bait and set off to see this stranger in town.

The exhibition literally was underground- following my friend’s cryptic instructions I soon found myself roaming a maze-like basement of what used to be a factory. The hazy instructions lead to a small room where the contrast of the black walls, dim lights and candles was radical to the buzzing fluorescent of the white corridors outside. Dream-like music floated in the air, transforming the surroundings into something almost organic -a slowly beating heart in the otherwise quiet factory of time and place quite detached. Strange tomes were casually piled on the floor — titles on hallucinogens, the occult, dreams. The atmosphere was solemn yet a little eerie. A few people sat on chairs in the middle of the room, gazing at the artworks in front of them as if transfixed. I soon begun to understand why.

There were a dozen or so grey-on-black prints on canvas along the walls of the gallery space. The pieces sprouting dark figures, obscure landscapes, birds and bridges reaching towards the unknown soon won me over. The ink work that resembled roots or thorns combined curious, strange, thought-provoking and organic in a surreal fashion. Although small in numbers, the collection was still diamond-hard and quite fresh from what one usually sees when visiting exhibitions.

I soon got talking with the talent and found my hunch was spot on. Not only insightful, interesting to talk to and extremely productive, it was also clear that Costin Chioreanu is a name I would not soon forget. Artist, graphic designer, musician and one of the most interesting people I’ve had the pleasure to encounter as of late, Chioreanu seems to be capable of just about anything. Fans of metal music are probably quite familiar with some of his album cover art and commissions for bands such as Darkthrone, Mayhem, Ulver, Hexvessel and Absu to name just a few but I am itching to learn more of Chioreanu’s personal artworks, ideas and views on the spiritual aspects of life, to know what goes on behind closed doors when the artist has free reign. What strange visions does the world reveal to Costin Chioreanu?

The artist was kind enough to spare me a few moments from his sleepless night and we plunged fearlessly into the depths of Costin’s world, scratching at the structures of his personal universe.

The “creative gene” has been following Costin Chioreanu for as long as he can remember. He began to draw album covers for his tape collection at a young age so moving onto making pictures for bands as commissions must have felt like a very natural move. His experience on the field of album cover art is impressive indeed and seems to cover most of the big names of underground metal scene. As I look at his drawings, however, I see something more behind them than mere album cover art. Chioreanu has a vision, some devil of a secret he is chasing. It seems to me he is not trying to make drawings by adding ink on paper but rather, to open windows to hidden places. The artist believes that creativity is definitely something a person is born with but which doesn’t automatically make them more talented but rather, more “informed”.

More informed, and perhaps with a lot more questions for the universe in general. There seems to be quite a bit of self-reflecting and thought behind Costin’s art and not all of it is bright and easy. He mentions “There Are No Shadows On Our Maps” project to be inspired by dealing with inner struggles and great deceptions concerning himself and the people around him. The base for the exhibition was a book titled The Complete Infinite by Gina Sandulescu.

“It is a project that changed my perspective about myself completely, as I had a lot of terrible things to learn about my past. Beyond the river of darkness grows the light of love.”

The book contains 10 illustrations by Chioreanu, especially made for this project. It will be published as a limited copy of 100 at the opening night for the exhibition (August 17th). The drawing style is rougher, more aggressive than in earlier works and leans more towards abstract.

The Complete Infinite-series, Ink on Paper.

No matter how abstract, dream-like or strange the art would be, Chioreanu doesn’t trust on drugs or alcohol to do the job for him. Quite the opposite. He rather does all the hard work by himself, believing in the importance of keeping the mind alive and awake.

“I would not be able to live thinking that art was produced by a pill or something external, something that actually guided my mind the way it wanted.”

The drawing process consists of good old-fashioned sketching, staying alert and thinking. Chioreanu explores several aspects that reach outside the world of paper and ink. He even tries to detach himself from his human side, perhaps in order to obtain a grain of knowledge from the depths of his soul.

“I think it is difficult to judge yourself from an inhuman perspective. Actually, you become a judge of some particularities of being human, which are not so exciting. I am talking here about how our mind works, how we are creating worlds where we can be the “good” ones and worlds where others are the “bad ones”. The truth is that we are all bliss seekers, so that’s what we actually do during life, no matter what the context. “

Words hold meanings to Chioreanu too. He began to consider them as possible tools for making “the illusion of humanity” possible. But as with everything, words can be used to achieve several ends. The artist says he thinks they can be useful for higher purposes but adds that they have been somehow misused, as “humanity is excited by the mirage of senses and flesh.” This is an interesting point of view, as words do for sure hold power. We become attached to our name, verbal communication and some even suggest that god himself is a word. Does Chioreanu mean to break free from these chains or to discover the ultimate word?

From the “Too Late for Rainbows” Series.

Also music is ever-present, helping to focus on the task at hand until the work is finished. It’s a bit like a zoo cage keeping everything in, describes the artist. Chioreanu does not only settle for drawing album covers and personal artworks, listening to music and playing in bands but also composes music for his exhibitions. He believes in the experience as a whole, something that impressed me when I visited his exhibition Where Purgatory Ends (2011). There the soundtrack was composed as a collaboration between Chioreanu and Rune Eriksen (Mayhem, Aura Noir, Ava Inferi) and really made the space come alive.

“It was a very dark project, and the collaboration with Rune Eriksen was absolutely perfect. He was the perfect person for that, the best guitarist I’ve met in this life and maybe the only person who can create so descriptive sonic imagery for the unseen.”

As music does go hand in hand with these drawings on many levels, it seems the two should not be taken apart. They compliment one another, further explaining the thoughts behind the ink. For this reason, there are links to several tracks at the end of the article.

With Rune Eriksen, Chioreanu on the Right.

Other people don’t really inspire Chioreanu. As an introvert, he finds more sources for his artistic work from his inner self. It’s not a question of looking down on others or feeling superior, but rather an analytical quest for obtaining objective knowledge. Insight comes from personal experiences, revelations and dreams rather than from socializing and collaborations. And when one thinks of this it does make sense — if you do not have that spark within already, other people cannot give or teach it to you. Art is a highly subjective experience, the key to understanding self and our surroundings-be it on a psychological or a more mystical level.

The creative process can be painful at times and rightly so. It is often true that the path towards light runs through dark and murky places. In order to become a saint one really has to have visited hell first. It is the knowledge of both black and white, the opposite aspects that separates exceptional minds from “mediocre” ones. Daring to really take a look in the soul’s mirror and to accept everything within with honesty takes guts. Chioreanu seems to be exploring just this. The result manifests in his work as a mystery that continues to fascinate me.

There’s more to a good drawing than the mere productive phase of finishing a piece. The work of art should never be something one simply puts away and forgets about after it is completed. The relationship between the artist and his creation is a highly intimate one, a relationship that is both raw and delicate. When working for hours, weeks, months (sometimes even years) on a piece, theme or color it inevitably becomes a manifestation of one’s inner, most secret self. For this reason artists can be very sensitive or protective when it comes to their work. Chioreanu has never exposed his original work but has always been exhibiting prints. All of that is about to change on his upcoming exhibition “There Are No Shadows On Our Maps” (opening August 17th, 2012) where for the first time audience is able to both see and purchase the original artworks. Chioreanu confesses to be quite stressed over the event.

“I think I am extremely attached to my artworks, as they are proofs, testaments of my inner quest and of my own life and experience. I am not painting a tree without any riddle behind it.”

In my opinion, Chioreanu has a bright future ahead of him. For so long as there are shadows, there also must be light and those who tirelessly seek the answers. If we don’t see this, we shall fall headfirst into the pit of imbalance and from there, to destruction. The importance of all art and artists, the “quest for the holy Grail” is to lift the veil from the face of mystery, to know thyself and to begin to shape and to understand the structures of the universe. To discover that light of love that lies beyond a river of darkness. As Chioreanu sums it up:

“Open your eyes and find yourself, as everything around is not what you think it is. The same for what is inside. What we know is what we learned from other people, from society. This is not the truth. The real truth is more painful than you can imagine, and cannot be seen as long as we keep our minds connected to the imposed standards. Good luck!”

There are No Shadows.

Upcoming / ongoing exhibitions:

  • “Five Phases of Ioh” Exhibition and live painting by Costin Chioreanu, October 20th, with a live ceremony from the Finnish ambient band Arktau Eos. (Bucharest, Romania.)
  • Roadburn Festival 2012, art exhibition. (Tillburg, Holland)

“Where Purgatory Ends” Soundtrack by Costin Chioreanu & Rune Eriksen:

Absent Abstract Above
An Empire Beneath Oblivion
Phantasma and the Midnight Stalker

Music for “Too Late For Rainbows” exhibition, composed by Costin.