Portrait of an Artist

BUDAPEST–At first I think Alexander Tinei’s Budapest studio is an art installation. There are empty soda bottles thrown aimlessly about while various paints, brushes, canvases and tools of the artistic trade are strewn from room to room. Dozens of his drawings, sketches and paintings dot the walls and floors, including a portrait of Saddam Hussein and another of Frida Kahlo with the words “Do you love Frida Kahlo?” scrawled over the Mexican artist’s face. But this chaos seems to be emblematic of how he works—and also the fact that the Moldovan-born artist may just be too damn busy to clean. This summer Tinei—who was born in 1967 in Causeni, Moldova and studied art at the Chisinau Repin State College of Fine Art—has taken part in several shows across Europe including a show with his friend, Ukrainian artist Bazil Duliskovich at the Erika Deak Galeria in Budapest, the Venice and Prague biennales and shows in Milan and Basel. “Every line he makes is full of emotions and knowledge and deep understanding,” Deak tells me when I ask her what makes his art unique. “Not only in terms of his craft but of art history and life and that comes across in his works.”

I first met Tinei at Deak’s gallery in central Budapest, when I went to interview her about the art scene in the city. She told me that when she first met him in 2005—on the recommendation of Budapest artist Attila Szucs—it was on a studio visit. At that time, she says, his paintings were not so great but that his drawings were fantastic. The next year she held a solo show of his works in her gallery and she has worked and represented him ever since. Deak says that what struck her about his works was his sensitivity about his materials. “He had a rather strange vision and the way he used paper, pencil and cut-outs was very fragile and yet telling,” she tells me. “His soul is transparent in every single work he did.” And you can see that personality in his works to this day.

nick-caveMany of Tinei’s pieces are an interesting juxtaposition of the grotesque and the beautiful: a young soldier looks intently out of one portrait, his searing eyes painted blue while another piece captures an intimate moment between a couple who are lying on a mattress with blue streaks painted down their arms and legs. It is the use of blue lines that Tinei has taken on as his trademark—something he began doing in 2007 and in a sense is reminiscent of the blue lines that Polish artist Edward Krasinski used to bring some sort of order to his chaotic installations. “I find Alexander Tinei’s work to be very affecting – he makes iconic images that stay with you, and that are never fully resolved in your mind,” Matt Price, a British art critic, tells me in an email. “It’s perhaps a combination of something dark, unsettling even, with something more curious and playful. Tinei’s works are almost always exceptionally beautiful, but there is also an ugly, sickly quality that is engaging, appealing and disconcerting in equal measure.”

Tinei himself is a rather engaging character. Our interview—which takes place at Deak’s gallery, walking down the street and later in the studio—is literally and figuratively all over the place, with Tinei jumping from one topic to the other without any obvious segues. At first we start talking about his background and he tells me that he moved to Budapest because there was no way to survive as an artist in Moldova. “No one knows about Moldovan art,” Tinei, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, says as we walk around his studio and he shows me some of his most recent paintings. “There is no contemporary art per se in Moldova. Contemporary art ends with Matisse and Picasso. So no one knows about Gerhard Richter. One of my artist friends, when I mentioned Richter to him said ‘Isn’t he a piano player?’” Tinei says his move to Budapest was inspired by his friendship with an American expat, Vincent Morabito, who was working on business and agricultural reform in Moldova in the early part of the 2000s. “I am alive because of him,” says Tinei. “He has the heart of an artist and he was buying art pieces and sharing money with artists.”

As Tinei tells it, Morabito convinced Tinei to come with him to Budapest to open a gallery focused on Moldovan art. They worked together for two years but once the gallery folded and Morabito moved on, Tinei admits he was lost for a time, existing on handouts from friends and a very forgiving landlady who didn’t collect rent from him for several months. It was during this time that Tinei discovered God and became a Christian. “I asked God for a miracle because I knew I could not borrow money from people, I had no family here,” he says, reflecting on the difficult time. “I went to the church and I sat in silence. He answered me saying ‘You will break through and be an artist.’” Soon after that, five of his portraits were purchased by the Frissiras Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens. “That is how God helped me,” he says. “I paid my landlady back with that money.”

sasha-studio2Since those tough days, Tinei’s career has continued to grow from strength to strength. Deak says that his paintings are now being purchased by some of the most important American and European collectors and he will be included in the latest edition of the contemporary art anthology “Vitamin P”, which will be published this autumn. Price, who is contributing to the book, says Tinei is a part of what he calls the “neo-painterly confidence” that has come out of central and eastern Europe—especially from Romania—in the last few years. “It is an academically informed approach to painting that is accompanied by an avant-garde energy and an uninhibited engagement with current trends in culture, society and politics. This perhaps goes some way towards explaining the interest from both within and beyond Europe today in the loose peer group of austere figurative painters of which Tinei is a valuable part.” Thanks to Tinei’s success, Moldovan art is starting to come out of the shadows.



1st photo “Family” courtesy of Erika Deak Gallery, 2nd photo “Bad Seeds” courtesy of the artist, 3rd photo of Tinei courtesy the artist

2 replies
  1. Ari S Kupsus
    Ari S Kupsus says:

    Great article Sasha! You are a master painter and deserve all the fame.
    I am very proud of what you have achieved.
    Wishing you all the best!

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