Romanian-born Grebu is well-known internationally as an artist whose work describes life’s comic and tragic aspects. His paintings and drawings are inspired by autobiographical events and emotions and explore his disenchantment with modern civilization. The artist’s subjects range from biting commentary on contemporary society to humorous metaphors for the wonders of creative life. He explores such timeless subjects as the battle of the sexes, man’s inhumanity to man, aging, automation, materialism and totalitarianism. Grebu has a strong, expressive drawing style, used in combination with vibrant pastels, gouaches, watercolours and mixed media. His oils exhibit forceful surrealistic elements. Whether drawing or painting, the artist’s satirical work mirrors the foibles and follies of the human condition, both personal and cosmic. An escapee from communism, he considers himself to be an international artist. He has exhibited his unusual and complex work around the world. In summing up his philosophy, Grebu emphasizes that “… a sense of humour is a strange alliance between tragedy and comedy… my bitterness does not begin to match the depth of my joie de vivre“.
- Could you give us a bit of background about your work and education, and how you started working as an illustrator?
In fact, I am a painter who does “also” illustrations…a lot. How comes that?… Well, I’ve studied painting (only painting) at the “Fine Arts University” of Bucharest. But, during my high-studies, I was hurt and pushed by a very bad and serious family crisis. My father was thrown in prison by the communist regime and I was forced to look – desperately – around, for some “lucrative” collaborations. And…I’ve got them, pretty fast…A little vignette here and there, for the “humour” and/or the “children’s” magazines… So, this was the reason and the way and the beginning, to penetrate – by the little back-door – this so different and distant world for me, for my preoccupations or – as a painter – my subjective interest. The ILLUSTRATIONS world! And, so on I did it. First, in parallel with my painting studies, then – after ending them – more and more, with a nascent interest, growing passion, dedication and – finally – with pleasure. But also with my ambition-first…To be better and better, ‘till one of the best, across so many years of an enormous professional activity as an illustrator. Proud to became (forgive me, please…) internationally well-known and consequently appreciate. Published by the most prestigious press-publications and publishing-houses, in Europe, America and Asia.
- What is a normal day at the office for you? I assume it might start with a coffee?
There isn’t – for me – a “normal” day in the office, since there isn’t any more an office, either… As a freelance during the last 10 years, my days aren’t customary, regular, but in function of…what (and if…how much…?) kind of work, I have to do. Very diverse, every day. Some days more… Others, less…and I will go back painting. Each one could and should be the start – of course – with a cup of coffee, but more often – at my age, alas! – does start with some usual drugs and a lot of water. A very commonplace…isn’t it?
- Besides hard work and talent, what other traits has led to your success?
Besides talent and hard work (presumably components of my “fibre”, I’ve had permanently did my most and best, as to accumulate a “general-culture”, very important help and supplement for documented and accurate ideas. As well – of course – improving my technical skills. And about those “skills” I should say that the fact of being “…a painter who illustrate-too…” helped me a lot to use as several different techniques needed by each subject. I’ve never was the “prisoner” of a unique technique – named wrongly STYLE – as most of the “only-illustrators” are using. Another important component for success is punctuality and keeping my/your word, and handling over, to the client – the work – on time. But, the most important side which separated me from the bulk of other potential contenders was and still my imagination, combined with the logic of my thinking. I mean my original, unique IDEAS, who are – truly- famous. Many critics and specialists in the illustrations area have written a lot and often about my unique (and so many) original ideas! Symbolic ideas, that’s my STYLE!… Many other illustrators, some of them quite renowned and successful, were, let’s say – with modesty – “inspired” by my ideas. And, by the way, I even taught a class of “how-to” reach those symbolic ideas, at Parson’s School of Design and Columbia University, where I was – sometimes ago – professor
- can you remember some of your earliest influences? Do you have a favourite photograph or painting, which inspires you?
I remember very well that as earlier as during my painting studies at the “Fine Arts University”, which took place under the communist dictatorship, I was very impressed and big admirer of the Poland (another country occupied by the Soviets and a communist regime, but still enough independent and open toward the occident civilisation and culture, compared with Romania who became an obedient slave) graphic school and its famous, gorgeous representatives Jan Leniça, Henryk Tomaszewski and Roman Cieslewicz. Obviously, in Romania’s “socialist-realism”- the pseudo-arts exponent – all those great artists were interdicted to watch and admire. And #metoo I was thrown out of the Artists-Union and prohibited to exhibit my artwork, after only a year of membership. Because of the similarity of my art-work with their as well my great – public – admiration for those artists and many others like them.
- Your works are deeply personal, a sort of record of your emotions, thoughts and experiences. At the same time with a sense of humour. Do you want to talk about the basis behind your illustrations? Well, I think that a part of that question, I’ve answered before – at the 3-d question – so I will concentrate now on my obvious “sense of humour” adding another important personal side: the harmonious treatment of colours. Yet, about my “sense of humour”, I was a single child of my wonderful parents. My priceless mother was fulfilled with a permanent joy and gladness and optimism, even during our worst and difficult passages of a lifetime. My father was “equipped” with a great sense of humour. And also responsibility, punctuality, precision and great skill as an organizer. All his qualities, forwarded to me through the parental-education, helped me to build myself for all the later life activities. Amongst his personal relationship with me, he developed my own “sense of humour” by declaring that I could always make fun of him, as long it isn’t coarse, rude, boor, but pure ironical. And as earlier of my childhood, I confess here that I used that so many times…on my adored and respected father…Without any parental-punishment… And now, when my “sense of humour” is needed only to cover only some illustrations-topics, or some critical portraits, or…whatever in “need”…I used it for forcefully. Many are leafing a lot, some are furious… Now, about my – so-called – “remarkable” (by many critics and commentators of my work as an illustrator) harmony of colours, I owned it during my painting studies, with an excellent – above all – teacher, named Catul Bogdan. Who taught me the beauty and importance of the “coloured-greys”, as to avoid the unpleasant and disturbingly violent, aggressive, unhinged, malicious, spiteful, non-complementary colours.
- what are your thoughts on specialisation vs generalisation?
As I answered before, me – as a painter – I was taught and prepared through – so-called – “generalisation”, or better saying, “covering” all the technical, knowledgeable sides of fine-arts. Whom I did it “literally”!… Which means very strong and wide theoretical research, as well deep and sustained studies of drawing and composition. Perspective and geometrical-drawing. As well as the right employment and/or usage of different materials and/or tools, like watercolours, gouaches, acrylics, oils, inks, charcoals, pencils & feathers, etc… So, I am – of course – very different from the majority of the “only” illustrators…who opted for “specialization” in one technique (frequently “inspired” from some successful forerunners), trying desperately to hide the lack of knowledge from most of the above” list”, through kind of…stylizations without limits! All that becoming – erroneously – so-called their “style”. In conclusion, my thoughts about “specialisation” are negative. Sorry guys!…
- how do you think online design resources have influenced the art being produced today?
About that question, I hope that my answer will not upset most of the other illustrators, obviously “on line” do-withers (included the great and charming lady-host Narjee)… But, if that’s the case, Narjes…you’re free to drop-off/out the 7-the question.
This is some words I expressed on the pages of one of the MONOGRAPHs, published about my artwork and I’d like to use them as my answer.
“I duly appreciate the computer, this extraordinary electronic invention and tried – with little success – to convince my peers of my otherwise circumspect opinion and attitude. For I am a greater admirer of human intelligence, which I believe it to be a decisive factor in retaining dignity, the man’s most valuable “treasure”. And, if native intelligence is sown and cultivated intellectually, beginning with/by those who guide our first steps, we will develop a perfect shell through whose natural cracks talent – assuming we posses it – can burst forth. The result is STYLE, personality!… But, if – in addition – we can afford to own a sophisticated device, like a computer (and/or an I-Phone last “blush”) and, if we know how to exploit it to the full, transforming them into ours slaves, but…not vice versa (as happens today, predominantly among the younger generations), only then can we consider ourselves to be truly privileged. I feel no sense of instinctive aversion towards the computer and/or the I-Phone, even less against the Internet, despite being strongly and persuasively as possible against their use as substitutes of the brain, unfortunately, especially at/by the younger generations. As I observe -already from a long time ago – with loathing, sadness and deep disappointment, how it degenerating with each day that passes. I love and being seduced by real emotions, hesitations. Feeling that illustrator’s (or painter’s) hand trembling and all those sincere, natural sensations, forwarded from the artist to any recipient. I truly think that art, realised and messaged by electronic ways, is somehow dry, dead, mechanical, technical, without sensitivity… That’s my opinion and I believe (I’m sure) that I ‘ll be (almost?…) “alone” on my corner. But…”
- which of your projects has been the most important to developing your personal style?
My personal style was rather self-developed – unconsciously and progressively – by working – from the beginning until today – with the same passion and professionalism all over the many years (60+) of my activity. Not influenced by some or any specific projects, but gradually.
- How do you approach creating an illustration? And is that different depending on if you are working for a client or for yourself?
First of all, I approach every illustration in the function of the topic there is to illustrate, running instantaneously for the necessary documentation, to avoid making ridiculous mistakes. Then I wonder about the format&size, if it’s full-colours or black and white, the quality of the surface to be printed, the time to realise it, the commissioning’s suggestions – but only for my additional information, because the ideas are definitely my duty and right – they aren’t for negotiations: take-it or leave it (me). But – still – some times (in fact quite often…) when I bring more than one idea (because I have always too many ideas…), put them on the table, letting the “client” choose the preferred one because for me it doesn’t matter which one will be chosen. All of them are mine.
- What does your art aim to say to your audience?
My finished and delivered illustration must aim and say, first to those who asked me for it, that they collaborated with a professional on which they can count on him from then-on, from every side of the problem. For the “audience”, expecting everyone’s applause (I am so “thirsty”) and – why not – from those very&most impressed, waiting, even expecting some callers of “bis”!!!…”repeat”!!!…”#metoo”!!!…&…
- How do you get ideas for each piece of art?
Getting ideas it’s a special, personal quality. Fortunately for some, unfortunately for many others, it’s not for everybody,. You must be endowed. For a great imagination, you need a deep logical mind, vast general culture – as a strong basis from which to begin, to jump. And long-diverses personal-experiences. But, never try to look over the shoulder to others (previous) brainwave.
- What do you believe is a key element in creating a good composition?
There isn’t – on my opinion – a “recipe”, because each illustration have its “components” of different quantity, shapes and importance. And, as I wrote here-previously, the matter of “composition” must be well-studied first. As I did, many years, at the “Fine Arts University”.
- What factors should illustrators keep in mind when finding ways to improve their work?
In my opinion – like a shyness onlooker whom I am, because – fortunately – it wasn’t ever my case, I think and give them – as a previous teacher – that advice: the illustrators must be full-open, receptive, ready to go back for a hard-working, as much it is the need.
- What are the steps an illustrator could take to try and get bigger projects and clients?
Well, from my point of view – as one who has studied all kind of art sides and “secrets”, a lot (of years), previously – the “steps” to get bigger & higher projects&clients…if I may (and you’ll allow me)…to try and be funny… Those “steps” should be – in fact – all kind of “standings”. Like stand’to; stand-up; stand’ for; stand’ over; stand-point; standstill! And, I think…rather I hope, in the function of each one’s professional level and own-road results, great-prolific area of actions and needs – of course adding her/his good luck – the clients with bigger projects will naturally begin to pour in your pocket!
- what are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your work?
Living already a number of years – together with my wife – with my beloved daughter, in her beautiful house&garden from a quiet and beautiful suburb of the unique metropolis Paris, she blessed us with two wonderful, fabulous, gifted and so beautiful grandchildren. They are fascinating and feeding my energy, my health, my joy and – implicitly – my work!
- What’s next for you in the future?
At my age – 86 – the “next” of my future…I wish-it as far and long as God and my health will allow me…And then…the long-term, long-’winded artist’s “immortality”!… As one amongst those included in the prestigious “Who’s Who – of the best illustrators in the world”, published (in the eighties) by the famous couple of the “Graphis” Magazine Founders & Editors, Walter Herdeg and Dr Walter Amstutz, me…hmmm…representing France, the country who adopted me in the ‘70-s… Proud am I…
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