Diana Elena Chelaru, a Romanian-born painter from Tappan, New York, paints operettas of social life. The lights at the top of the canvas shine overhead like stage lights. The figures turn out towards the viewer, as if actors performing on a stage. And, the audience takes the bartender’s eye view.
In these bar scenes, the figures holding cocktail coupes or coffee cups show nightlife in its various stages of abstraction. The cliques, flirtations, and subtle mini-dramas that underlie these paintings, suggest there is a profoundness to “going out” that is entwined with Diana’s artistic influence of Byzantine Empire artwork.
As an art student in high school and in college, Diana Elena Chelaru studied Byzantine artwork. In the Byzantine Empire, art had a purpose: religious expression. The artwork that remains today often depicts haloed and enrobed figures arranged in forward-facing configurations and set against shimmery gold backgrounds. The artworks evoked a heavenly realm, completely removed from any earthly locales to kindle the otherworldliness of divine spheres.
Recalling her experience studying these artworks, Diana says, “I liked the stylized human figure and landscaping of Byzantine art.”
The surprising connection between religious artwork from the Byzantine Empire and the contemporary paintings of cocktail lounges by Diana Elena Chelaru illuminates the abstract and, even, otherworldliness of nightlife.
Byzantine influences are embedded in the compositional makeup of Diana’s paintings. Diana creates her own stylized figures and arranges them in tableau-like postures characteristic of Byzantine portraits. In several paintings, background or the bars are textured with shapes that recall mosaics. Where the Byzantine artists used shimmering golds, Diana uses mood-setting blue to create a nightclub atmosphere.
Beyond the compositional details, there is an enriching, albeit oblique, relationship between the values of Byzantine artwork and Diana Chelaru’s nightlife scenes. While bar scenes ostensibly emphasize the epicurean world, with its focus on food and drink, there is something deeper, which is illustrated by seamless transferal of Byzantine values. The blue lit life – a secondary life found after hours – is, in its own way, an afterlife. Through that prism, the abstract tableaux created by Diana Chelaru express their own otherworldliness and a spirituality (in more ways than just one).