P.S. With Victor Brauner (This Is How I Would Like To Write)

With immense delicacy and great scrupulousness he [Gellu Naum] would each time talk about Victor Brauner – the friend from his youth years he had met on the occasion of an exhibition opened at Mozart Hall in Bucharest. It was 1935. The twenty-year old youth, Gellu Naum, was entering an art gallery captivated by what he had seen from the outside ("mind you, at that time – 19 years – I was not interested in painting, in what all the Romanian Picasso-s, not to mention the others, were doing," he had told me). He looks at the paintings and tells the unknown man who approaches him asking how he found the exhibition: "This is how I would like to write." The unknown man was Victor Brauner. From thereon they would be inseparable. Fate, history, at a later stage, would separate them when the one remained in Paris and became a great Romanian-born French painter, the other stayed in Romania, prisoner of the "Blind Men's Castle" (as he would entitle one of his prose works). Every evening they met at Brauner's studio, in Bucharest, then, in Paris. "We talked about all kinds of things. At times someone would knock on the door. We wouldn't open to anyone. Victor, sketching in pencil on the sheets of a note block, would hand me one and laughingly ask: "You want me to turn you into a millionaire?" Once he showed me a picture of him and Brauner: "Look at him, how handsome he was, like a …posy of wood lilies – he said, then he laughed, somewhat confused by his own weakness (whereas I was assaulted by the memory of two verses from one of his poem: "O, of course, I apologize, I profusely apologize/ for this melancholy instant.") He was very cautious, so it seemed to me, every time he talked about Brauner and he would pause from time to time leaving one sentence in the air. I always kept thinking he did not want to reveal certain things, he was always hiding something from me. On one single occasion he told me, as if it were a great secret, as if he did not want anybody else to hear: "Victor had understood, he knew. He was one of the few who did. There is no doubt about that." Their friendship was based on a similar life philosophy of life (and of death), with many and bizarre coincidences. For instance, he once told me how he had had a portrait of Brauner framed. When he came back to take it, the artisan muttered something and excused himself: those stupid apprentices had cleaned their glue brushes on his paper, but, never mind, he'd pay for it. I was amused by Gellu Naum's reply given to the naïve artisan: "It is I who will pay you back. What can I do now? I'm thinking about … putting you out!" In the end, the drawing was recovered due to a young friend, an artist. The very moment he entered the room with the framed and restored portrait, coincided with the exact hour and day recorded by Victor Brauner in the lower side of the portrait two years ago. And, on exactly the same day he would be given a postcard with Motan de la lune.Their friendship prompted a great curiosity in me. I tried to find out everything which could be found out, about Victor Brauner. The initial similarities in imagery between what Brauner expressed on canvas, aided by color, and what Naum expressed, on paper, through the medium of words, were to metamorphose into other similarities – in structure, attitude, 'way of life.' The two friends, with two so diverging existential backgrounds, one gaining recognition in Paris, the other trapped in a type of captivity in a communist country, which was to last for ten years, experiencing this segregation, continued to pursue the same path, grow into, each in his own way, devotees of knowledge. It is irrelevant that one of them was using words and the other was using colors. Both were explorers of the vast unknown, both were initiates in the laws of vision and in the species of invisibility. "My painting is autobiographic," Brauner said in 1952. "My poetry is autobiographic," Gellu Naum might say. "I am/various structures clustered in one being," said Brauner. "Identical and varied," could Gellu Naum interpolate. "My only source of inspiration has always been the secret being," Victor Brauner asserted. And, perhaps, the same thing might be said by his friend, Gellu Naum. "All that I wrote was the voice of my eye trapped in its words," he specified in a poem. "All that I painted was the voice of my eye," Victor Brauner might have said. Both made use of the imaginary, with its symbols and archetypes, in the pursuit of piecing together a personal kingdom of signs. Both are, at least to my mind, alchemists of a certain nature for the 20th century. To show the analogies between their creations, suffice it to mention a few titles of poems and paintings (titles which make reference to an language of alchemy): Double Cognition of the Flat Stone, Black Fire, Zimzum, The Double, Athanor, Vegetal Phoenix, The Metamorphosis of Things, On the Identical and the Distinct, The Antenatal Brother, Lead Composition of Fiancées, The Fifth Element, Explosive Snake, Double Time in Simple Elements (Gellu Naum) and The Oblation of Contraries, The Four Elements, The Genesis of Matter, Progression of the 'I', Dream World Transmutation, Expulsion of the Double, Hermetic Engagement, The Esoteric Animal, The Philosopher's Stone, Depolarization of Conscience, The Inward Life (Victor Brauner). Both single-handedly initiated that personal alchemic quest, at the end of which or during which on transcends into 'self-realization'. In watching a canvas like Tableau autobiographique ultratableau biosensible, a genuine 'imagery confession', I thought that this is how Gellu Naum's entire poetry would look like (if one were to search for a visual emblem for it), as far as it could be reduced to a single dimension, to one face of the surface. On reading Certain verses by Gellu Naum, I sensed them echoing the imagery in Brauner's paintings: "We, bird and man on two thronesprolonguedly chatmy lover with untroubled gestures conjuring upconsoling archetypes of the night." (Eagles on Vacation) A poem entitled Rotciv constitutes itself in the very 'portrait' of Victor Brauner, similar to how I myself see him, withdrawn "amidst totems/in an opaque aquarium": "Magus and nosegay in a perpetual vacillation with steps of chaos intranquil fields those translucid facemasks of his had vacant seats shops with foxeshomely booths and coffee shops in a neverending slumber he was smiling to the neighbor-engraver and to the morning milk andtapped his tooth and lit the ritual fire in his tin stovefor the apparition of chimeras his fingers reached for the uncertain spots of sacrilege his nervesfingered forsaken fields the seeds of the innocuous trapped in our confines hallucinating no-go areas ubiquitously betrayed loved ubiquitously (on the white bosom ofthe grand lover a mouse dozed nocturnal bat feet of the consoling one hidden in boots) for the formula of fire he had chosen the versatile solid taught theMaya how to draw and withdrew amidst totems in an opaqueaquarium at the end of the world a silver dog whimpered." Excerpted from: The Redemption of the Species. On Surrealism and Gellu Naum, The Romanian Cultural Foundation Publishing House, 2000

by Simona Popescu (b. 1965)