Stefan Balanescu

- Artist

■ Career:

  • 1993 Born In London, United Kingdom
  • 2004 Attends Merchant Taylors School
  • 2015 Graduates The University of Sheffield
    (BA Japanese Studies with year abroad at Chuo University, Tokyo)
  • 2017 Moves to Tokyo to work at Japanese manufacturer
  • 2020-2022 Completes Japanese Painting (Nihonga) Course at Art School Bigakkō, Tokyo
  • 2023 Attends Musashino Art University Correspondence Course in Painting
  • 2023 Receives Entry Scholarship for Musashino Art University Correspondence Course

■ Group Exhibition:

An Introduction to the Artist: Western or Eastern? Painting the Culture of my Experiences:

I grew up in London, and was educated in languages at school and university in the UK.

I then came to Tokyo to work for a Japanese manufacturer in 2017, and paint my life there on canvas.

Speaking Japanese at native level has meant I have been socially and strategically integrated in a way extremely similar to Japanese employees at my company.

I am half Romanian and half British, so I already had a somewhat multi-cultural upbringing, but adding an Eastern Asian element to that mixture vastly broadened my outlook.

The contrasts between my life experiences in Japan, and in the UK, continually cause me to re-think my personal interactions, my senses of beauty, order, time, stress, cleanliness, and many other things, but, ultimately, the meaning of my life, and the way I want to live it.

Some people call that process culture shock, but I think of it more as cultural enrichment.

My values are Japanese, British, Romanian, but also individual and open to change.

My current paintings of Japan are each an episode of that experience. Intimate, physical cut-outs presenting a distillation of the Japanese customs I fondly adopt day to day, and of some scenes and stories that after many years in Japan I am so very used to seeing or hearing and that yet still leave me with an odd feeling. They are snapshots of society that I feel wouldn’t be painted by someone, Japanese or otherwise, without my particular background, first-hand insights, and epiphanies in Japan.

Japan is often myth-ified and bizarre-ified in Western culture.

Magical tea ceremonies, hotels staffed by robots, Harajuku girls in manga-like outfits and tattooed yakuza gangsters with samurai swords lurking in neon-lit streets.

However, much of that story, is just a collection of the greatest hits of pop culture, compiled and propagated to encourage people to watch movies, visit the country and/or spend their money on Japanese things. A bit like how people in the UK are supposed to always be having afternoon tea, going to rock concerts and driving Mini Coopers, or Aston Martins.

In reality, my life in Japan has been much closer to a 21st century version of Akira Kurosawa’s film “Ikiru” ((C)1952 TOHO CO., LTD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.), or to the office workers in the films of Yasujirō Ozu. At the company, you are always just busy with something, whilst months and years disappear before you. The famous centuries’ old seniority based hierarchical social and corporate structures are still very alive, and for office workers, or ‘Salary Men’, the institutions of company and family are well looked after, but the work itself often feels deeply administrative. Drinking with clients is also a hugely important part of the job.

This salary man life I am currently painting is full of human drama. At times it feels stale, or disquieting, but it is also humorous, full of creature comforts and a certain sense of safety.

When thinking “Japan” and “art”, one might think of cast iron kettles, intricate katana hilts and ornamented lacquer boxes; the wonderful pursuit of “kodawari”, which means the craftsman’s pride in each production process. These are the select details and quality criteria that the craftsman deliberates upon and must be executed exactly before a product or artwork can be finished. However in both Japanese art and Japanese society, these details exist in tandem with “aji”. The natural flow of the ink, and the lumps in the paper, the changing tones of the glaze and curving lips of the bowl. These are the imperfections left to create a unique quality, which give an object or space beauty.

In my paintings, I try to capture the rich, scruffy context, and the details of a scene as I see them. I use a variety of mediums and supports experimentally. Oil on canvas for sweaty, close interactions, or, for stiffer, closeted scenes, Nihonga (Japanese traditional painting) techniques. Japanese ink, earthy pigment mixed in Nikawa glue, and metal foils on washi paper.

I love color, which can drain the life from a face, just as well as it can fill one with vigor. I enjoy allowing lines to warp, and create their own dimensions within the shape of an object. I don’t think we ever really see in straight lines.

“The West” and “the East”, or different countries’ cultures, are often talked of as if they are mutually exclusive, but I don’t think that is the case in an individual’s character, experiences, influences, or identity.

They can be fantastic combinations of different cultural features.

I hope that my paintings and the figures in them encourage the viewer to reflect on their own surroundings, lives and customs, their cultural roots and curiosities, and also to consider travelling outside them.