Visiting Geta Bratescu in Bucharest is an unforgettable experience. Walking into the small room she uses as a studio in her flat, where she still works every day, my first impression is the heat. As she has got older she feels the cold more. My affable translator Marian Ivan, also Bratescu’s gallerist, tells me she gave up her old larger studio on the other side of the city partly because it was too hard to heat.
The room is dominated by a large table where she works on her collages and drawings. It is cluttered with many objects: an ideas wall with a postcard of Matisse cut-outs among a wooden spoon with a smiling face and a clown, one of Bratescu’s mottos. I comment on the name of her recent series, Play of Forms, saying this is a telling title. She replies “Yes, the word ‘game’ is important to me. In the arts field, no matter how difficult creation might be, it takes place through application, proficiency, boldness, passion and the joy of play.”
Recently, Bratescu has been besieged by curators. Her installation at the Venice Biennale in 2013 and subsequently in the Moscow Biennale the same year introduced her to a new audience from outside Romania. The displayed abject fabric collage works were stitched together from old clothes that belonged to her mother, Ivan tells me. “She wanted to find a purpose for them.” And then the great museums of the world and collections fought over them.
Born in Ploiesti on 4 May, 1926, you might think she would be slowing down. She is frail, using a walker to come into the studio and immediately sitting on her chair, but she is still making work and it positively zings with youthful energy. She now sends Ivan to get coffee mixing sticks from McDonald’s that she carefully transforms with pens to use in her multi-layered collages. She always liked to go to McDonald’s, Ivan says. “She used to go with her husband until his death – she liked that it was fast so she would not have to spend too much time away from this space”.
A series of recent cut collages hangs on the wall, ready to be sent to Liverpool for her forthcoming show. The tools are scissors and paper, the edges not crisp but showing on inspection roughness and spontaneity. I ask if it is important not to draw lines first. “I think you’re right, because the scissors carve in paper. If the scissors followed the traces of a drawing they would lack the freedom and force of drawing by themselves, of dealing with space just like the sculptor’s tool.”
Bratescu insists on seeing my quotations before publication. Hers arrive impeccably translated into English. I have been privileged to witness the prodigious exploration contained in this modest flat in Bucharest. “The works are here, in the studio, and they help me keep being myself.”
Geta Bratescu is at Tate Liverpool (www.tate.org.uk) from 30 June to 18 October
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