The mining township of Baia Sprie is located in the Northern part of Romania, Maramures County, at the truly picturesque foothill of Gutin Mountain. The old neighbourhoods still speak about life that is long gone, a past that is apparent in the stone houses and narrow streets. Dan Les–the ceramist– lives and creates works of art in one of these houses which has been passionately furbished up in tune with the creative atmosphere that is throbbing within.
I have met Dan for the first time in the small yard of his workshop on a summer’s day. He was wearing a white traditional and generously sleeved peasant shirt; he was barefoot, his hair-dishevelled while his eyes were full of life and energy that made him look more like a character inhabiting Kurt Hielscher’s old photographs depicting Romanian villagers than the popular ceramic artist I had heard about on T.V. His strong handshake was meant to seal tight a relationship that has been reaching out beyond our lives for some years now. Through our travels I have discovered a truly special individual.
Dan Les is a self-proclaimed supporter of the Dacian ceramics; the materials used, the vessels that he gives life to keep the production techniques unaltered, from the thorough preparation of the clay until its final firing process stage, from the fluid shapes to the final use of his products. Eating together with your loved ones using traditional clay pots and wooden spoons is for Dan Les, the artist, a reality he willingly shares with anyone who enters his home. This is why the great majority of his works of art do not necessarily have the value held by creations exhibited in a museum but rather breathe out the daily usefulness characterising our day-to-day existence.
From plates to pots, from mugs to wine amphorae, lamps, oil containers, water or palinca jugs- all of these are meant to vividly remind us of the artist’s unique trademark; even more importantly, they are meant to preserve and keep safe an array of Romanian traditions and customs that are threatened into disappearance by the steadfast internationalization invasion.
For all of the above-mentioned reasons, the artist’s spirit has naturally expanded over this universe that shapes up his existence. The workshop-houses that he lives and creates in keep unaltered the bygone atmosphere, the old furniture, the tools and objects that have long disappeared. These artefacts have been passionately collected and therefore contribute to the creative vibe that is prevalent in the artist’s work.
Dan Les’s world springs out of the very core of our common past. His universe is alert and dynamic as it is created not through the eyes of the unreconciled adult but through the very eyes of a well behaved innocent child who is permanently and curiously searching for new meanings. Hence, the artist’s clay statuettes are so full of life that is woven out of humorous sarcastic anecdotes. His characters are often given a seemingly caricature-like dimension so beautifully transmitted through their facial expressions and postures. They speak of life in the countryside, of our childhood spent at our grandparents. Nostalgia catches up with you as one becomes painfully aware of this reality: our past is fading away, it is indeed threatened into oblivion. Works of clay pull it back for us to keep close a little bit longer.
In this newly created universe, on Dan Les’s village lanes these barefooted characters are walking freely. The shepherd is quietly hiding away in his sheepskin overcoat, the potters are selling their vessels while carrying them on their backs; the sounds of the anvil coming out of the smithery are mingling with the swineherd’s high-pitched songs as he is starting a fight with the mayor himself; the cattle are coming home slowly, the fragile wise grandmas and grandpas are lovingly looking at each other. They are all living the good life because of the very miracle of engaging in simple things, without making any commercial efforts that would taint this consumerism free hustle and bustle.
Through his creations, Dan Les does not only intend to save moments suspended in time or traditions belonging to the archaic Romanian village; more importantly, he wants to bring them back to life through the characters’ stories that are told with pride and joy. Each vessel, each character has a story to tell which the potter willingly shares by reliving some unique happenings in his childhood. The time you spend alongside him turns into mental notes you inadvertently want to make as you share life with a gifted and unique human being and craftsman.
Dan Les’s world is characterized by a unique rhythm. Despite an active, lively spirit, Dan is desperately searching for a return to the simple life, to the clean quaint beat of the Romanian traditional village. The old clocks he so enthusiastically collects from old miners’ houses he has saved from disappearance tick away peace and quiet, the hands of time run away from the daily hectic responsibilities of our crazy lives and the ever-present procrastination of turning to introspection and self-analysis. The need for inner searches, for finding answers to vital existential questions is prevalent in many of his endeavours and they are also deeply ingrained in the messages his ceramic art transmits.
Fascinatia Mestesugului /Fascination of the Crafts is in a permanent search for authenticity, unaltered tradition, habits, traditions, crafts, stories and anecdotes; it is looking for special human beings who keep and pass on the old teachings. Despite some difficulties encountered along the way Crafts Fascination is a long term project that gives evidence to the very essence of our Romanian spirit. Beyond time references, well-chosen words, moving images and camera shots, this is a story with and about living spirits. These spirits are solidly rooted in our past, genuinely shaped by our present towards a mutually negotiated future. Only by keeping traditions pulsating alive in our minds and hearts are we able to salvage our own identity.