Fifth-year visual art and art history student Emanuel Ciobanica’s solo, mixed-media exhibition Exoskeleton, currently on view in York University’s Gales Gallery, explores the concept of healing physical and psychological trauma. Ciobanica created the works in the show over the past 18 months in a self-directed studio course.
Exoskeleton considers the skin’s adaptive nature as it builds a hard, protective layer when dealing with a physical injury. It maps the process of recovery as the body reacts to trauma, and the way it can become stronger as a result.
The 10 large-scale, raw canvases on display have been folded, protectively encrusted with tinted wax, and finally painted and airbrushed in rich, jewel-toned acrylics.
The works are essentially stylized skin grafts that strive to convey, through colour, texture and dramatic contrast, a sense of personal tension and transformation within a toxic environment. Most of the pieces have an eye-tricking effect that is meant to create mystery, change perspective and provoke inquiry.
Ciobanica starts each work with a private note, written only to herself, in the centre of the piece. The title for each painting hints at the contents of the note, but only the artist knows what it says, as the note is covered and concealed by the wax.
“My notes are about what I’m thinking in relation to the work,” said Ciobanica. “They are my starting point and inspiration. The series explores healing, and through these paintings I’m both communicating with myself and also sharing my experiences with the world.”
The series title Exoskeleton is apt, as the waxed portion of the canvas has a hard and hollow feel, like armour or a carapace.
“The wax can crack or flake, much like healing skin would,” said Ciobanica. “I chose wax for these impermanent qualities, as it adds interest to the work with different colours revealed in the layers.”
Ciobanica is the recipient of the 2014-15 Willowdale Group of Artists Painting Award in the Department of Visual Art & Art History. The award recognizes exceptional achievement in painting by an upper-level undergraduate student who is continuing to study the medium. The recipient receives $1,250 and the opportunity to present a solo show in the Gales Gallery.
The Willowdale Group of Artists is a community-based association dedicated to the art of painting. They have been supporting visual art students at York since 2000. Members meet weekly and participate in regular workshops, life drawing sessions and demonstrations, as well as annual group exhibitions.
“I’m very grateful to the Willowdale Group of Artists for their support,” said Ciobanica. “It’s such an honour to be recognized through this award. The work I’ve done in the studio culminating in this exhibition has provided a great opportunity to focus, bring the series together, get feedback and showcase the result in a professional setting. The Willowdale Group’s generous donation has gone towards materials and my studio practice. Overall, it’s been an important boost and stepping-stone for me.”
Ciobanica has been passionate about visual art from a very young age. Growing up in Romania, she studied classical European artistic technique and placed third in the Apanova International Painting Competition when she was 11. In 2007, she won a painting composition award in Romania’s national art contest titled From Real to Surreal. Her numerous public art commissions can be seen across the Toronto, including at the intersections of Eglinton Avenue and Weston Road, and at Lake Shore Boulevard West and Mimico Avenue, as well as underpasses at Keele Street and Dundas Street, and Bloor Street and Mount Pleasant Avenue.
Exoskeleton opened on Feb. 1 and runs until Feb. 12 in the Gales Gallery, located just off the lobby of the Accolade West Building on York’s Keele campus. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 10:30am to 4pm.