Madalina Nicola - Paintings

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Works of fine art are expressions of an artist’s life and values. So it’s no wonder to find in Madalina Nicola’s paintings beauty, spirituality, and the triumph of mind over body.

Gallery and Studio described her paintings, earlier this year, as possessing “Chromatic effects of an almost Turneresque radiance.” Indeed, color is crucial to Madalina Nicola’s process of creation. She begins by focusing on a powerful emotion, which she visualizes as a work of art. Then, she invents colors, mixing and testing on a blank canvas until she finds the right hue, transparency, and intensity.

Building layer upon layer of glazes, in similar or contrasting shades, the artist recreates her memory of the emotion she strives to depict. To enhance the surface’s texture, she sometimes mixes sand with gel medium or paste before moving to the glazes. The process of making art is only interesting if the result is successful. And Madalina Nicola’s work is increasingly splendid.

The young artist’s most recent work, for example Peaceful Gardens, Windows of Dreams, and Inner Peace are lyrical, mature paintings that show a sophisticated sense of color, composition, and allusion. A stand of leafless trees is framed in the center of a burgundy and gold painting, Inner Peace, presenting a theme explored in several pieces. This image becomes a repeated pattern in Peaceful Gardens and Windows of Dreams.

Through repetition, the symbolic significance of the image becomes less important than the marvelous use of color and glazes to create an activated plane of decorative exuberance. Multiple stands dance across the painting. But there is no chaos in the compositions, first because the tree is such a reliable, recognizable figure. Trees offer an element of landscape into the compositions. Second, the irregular tree groupings are balanced by a quilt-like organization of finely calibrated hues. Tan, ocher, and burnt orange in Peaceful Gardens, violet, turquoise, and marine blue in Windows of Dreams, Madalina’s sensuous palette creates an essential unity especially engaging in her patterned works.

An aspect of the tree symbol is most prominent in Celebration. At the center of this deep red and burgundy triptych is a black branch. Madalina explains that she was inspired to paint the image when she saw a branch on the ground, separated from a tree, and realized that rather than signifying an end state, a dead thing, the branch would go to the next level of its destiny. It had achieved freedom from the tree.

This unusual interpretation echoes Madalina’s life. In 1994, at age 24, she left her home in Eastern Europe to join her husband in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She had painted since she was a child, receiving awards and recognition, but a tendency to get sick prevented her from devoting herself fulltime to art.

But within months of her arrival, she began experiencing excruciating pain in her face, a pain which moved to different parts of her body. Doctors couldn’t explain it. She lost all energy—and stopped leaving the house.

In 1998, a new ailment emerged: Unable to climb a set of stairs without becoming exhausted, Madalina had developed asthma. Migraine headaches began, on top of fibromyalgia, a disorder of the joints and muscles, a condition the Nicolas identified as a result of a visit to the Mayo clinic. Overwhelmed by sickness, distressed to have lost the power to paint, Madalina Nicola spent six months in bed.

It didn’t happen overnight, but between 1999 and 2000, with the help of alternative treatments, a gradually intensifying exercise regime, prayer, and a return to painting, Madalina recovered. At the depth of misery, in 1998, she had largely abandoned art, but beginning in 2000 she returned to the studio. “Emotionally, and physically, I realized the progress I was making while painting. I began to experience beautiful thoughts again. I began to dream again.”

Today, the artist is as fit as an athlete, working out with a trainer and painting every day. She explains, simply, “I was given a second chance.”

The paintings on exhibit at the Alex Gallery are largely from the last three years when the artist had conquered illness. Although, in Hidden Shadows (2002), an early recovery piece, we see the artist’s characteristic layering of color, glazing, and texture to achieve translucence and immateriality, as well as the use of decorative elements of color to activate the picture plane.

Paintings from 2003 such as Restlessness, Golden Light, and Research for an Answer exhibit a certain essential similarity in terms of the painting problems they address: Madalina strives to create a dynamic surface while using color to order and infuse the composition with emotion. In Summer Joy (2004), the artist allows an organic form in peaches and blue-greens to emerge out of billowing light—like a bird’s eye glimpse of verdant land through clouds.

Knowing the incredible experience she has had, one can’t avoid reading Research for an Answer as a blend of confusion and hope, with swirls of tan, green and black punctuated by the light impulses of knowledge. Golden Light is an affirmative piece, all warm toffee and (birch tree leaves), it confidently conveys reengagement with the natural world.

Just two years later, we find Madalina refining and deepening her art. In Autumn Wind (2005), the artist harnesses her command of chromatic relationships and projects a daring composition that looks and feels like an autumnal blast of frigid air.

Her work is especially accomplished on a large scale. The diptychs Reflections (2004) and Meditations (2004) demonstrate how, by painting across an imaginary boundary defined by a work of art’s edges, the piece suddenly explodes into the space of a room, redefining the physical environment. The viewer’s eye creates this effect as soon as the viewer seeks to unify the two painted parts; the energetic painterly elements push the eye beyond the composition itself.

Painting at all, after Madalina’s journey through illness, would be a remarkable achievement. Painting with such grace and exuberance is miraculous.


_ Eleanor Kennelly

Eleanor Kennelly is an art critic based in Washington, DC who has written for Art and Antiques, Art & Auction, ARTnews, and a variety of European publications. She served as the staff art critic at The Washington Times.


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