Saddo is the alias of Raul Oprea, a Romanian artist who cut his teeth in a street art collective called ‘The Playground’, which he founded around ten years ago. Since then, Saddo has been making a name for himself as a fine artist within the New Contemporary gallery scene. Tackling big themes head on, he explores the likes of death, mortality, violence and war, opting to view his subject matter through a mythological lens. Saddo’s fascination with religion and mythology extends back years and pervades many of his works, as he contemplates how tales and beliefs have travelled between different cultures, all the while growing and morphing into new entities.
Saddo and his girlfriend, the equally talented artist Aitch, have rather nomadic tendencies. Not only have they lived all over Romania, but also in Lisbon and Berlin too, constantly being inspired by new surroundings and the cultures which accompany them.
WOW x WOW caught up with Saddo on the eve of the unveiling of his latest body of work, entitled ‘A Stranger in the Garden’, which opened at BC Gallery in Berlin on the 13th of March. Read on to find out more about the thoughts and inspirations behind his bold and striking new art.
Hey Saddo, thanks for taking the time to join us for a chat. First of all, can you tell us a little about your background and what has lead you to pursuing a career in the arts?
Hey, thanks a lot for the feature! I’ve been drawing since I was a kid. I was into horror and sci-fi movies, books, cartoons, I was replicating what I was seeing at first, and then I started to create my own characters. Then I studied Graphics in Cluj, Romania, and after that I got into street art after a brief visit to Boston, USA. Together with some friends we created a street art collective in Cluj. We were doing stickers, paste-ups and sometimes murals. Then I moved to Bucharest, the capital of Romania, where I briefly worked as a graphic designer and met my girlfriend, Aitch, who’s an amazing artist and illustrator. I moved in with her and she motivated me to challenge myself by exploring new techniques and subjects, and since then I have tried to develop my style and subjects more with each project.
At some point in the last 2 or 3 years I started to paint with acrylics on canvas and paper. I’ve been fascinated by old painters like Bosch, Brueghel, Arcimboldo, by natural science illustration, by mythology and religion, stuff like that. And I’ve been trying to teach myself how to paint, by looking at other painters and at different details from paintings that I like, trying to figure out how they were made.
So basically, over time I got more and more involved and committed to my career in the arts. When I was a kid I wanted to be a sci-fi writer and a movie director, as I grew up I got more into Graphics, then street art, graphic design and illustration. But in the last few years I started to focus more and more on doing art, and putting everything else more or less in the background. My goal now is to make a living exclusively from selling my art.
Your current solo exhibition at BC Gallery in Berlin is called ‘A Stranger in the Garden’. Where did the idea for the show come from? Can you give us some backstory and talk about the themes you decided to explore?
Lately, I’ve had a fascination for myths and I’ve been preoccupied, haunted even, by thoughts of death, mortality and the passing of time. So exploring the way death is perceived and personified in different religions and cultures was a subject that came pretty naturally. Also, Aitch suggested I make different series in which to explore big themes like Life, Death and War, throughout mythology. So naturally I started with Death. And the title was suggested by a friend of mine who recommended a movie called ‘Death in the Garden’ by Luis Buñuel. I haven’t seen the movie, but the title was perfect for my last series of works. And to give it a little bit more mystery and menace, I replaced ‘Death’, with ‘A Stranger’, which can basically mean whatever you want it to mean: the presence of the stranger can be viewed in many ways, it can be menacing, haunting, scary, overwhelming, intriguing, or something expected, even a desired encounter with a friend…
How does this new body of work compare to your last? Have you noticed your work change or evolve in any way?
My work from the last couple of years mostly deals with the same subjects – Death, Mortality, Violence, War, with mythological undertones. So basically this show is not much different. What is different about these pieces, from the ones I was doing before, is that they’re more thoughtful. The imagery is a little bit more simple and edited, and the technique is more advanced. I spend a lot more time painting one piece, than I did before. A few years ago I was painting smaller stuff on canvas, wood and paper, pieces that I would spend no more than 2 or 3 days on. Now I paint larger canvases, more detailed, and on some of the bigger pieces I painted for 2 or 3 weeks. And pretty soon (after I take a short brake, in which I’ll focus more on smaller pieces on paper) I want to try to paint some even bigger canvases. I just feel that my imagery would work better on a larger scale.
What kind of response do you hope to get from the viewers of ‘A Stranger in the Garden’?
I hope the viewers will be fascinated by the subject and by the imagery. I hope the pieces are mysterious enough to be intriguing and to move their imagination.
Talk to us about your creative process and what sort of preparation you do before you pick up a paint brush?
My subjects are the result of my own thoughts and fears, but also the result of all the things I’m fascinated by: different artists, details of paintings, patterns, flowers, birds, stories and myths. So I can’t clearly trace an exact origin for each piece or series. But as soon as I have a pretty good idea about what I’m going to paint next, I read some stuff. For example, for this particular series I did a bit of research online, reading about how different cultures and religions deal with death and about how they personify death in their stories and myths. I read a few words about most of the main death deities and figured out which ones appealed the most to my imagination. Then I made some sketches, some of them I intentionally got a bit ‘wrong’, or I mixed up some features. For example I mixed features from Anubis, the Egyptian god of mummification and the afterlife, and Cerberus, the three-headed dog which guards the entrance in the Underworld in Greek and Roman mythology. Because usually myths and deities travel from one culture to another, and in the process they change their shape and their meaning, or they overlap with other deities and mix up their features. And that’s one of the things that I find fascinating about myths, that they’re mysterious, and can have obscure features or meanings. So after the black and white sketches are all done, I start the slow process of painting them in colour, with acrylics on canvas. Which is the longest and most frustrating, but also the most rewarding phase.
Your colour palette can vary tremendously between the different painting series you produce, ranging from muted and earthy to bright and vibrant. How do you approach this aspect of your work?
It probably depends on my mood, and the place each particular piece holds in a series. I try to picture them in the gallery, hanging next to each other, not only as individual pieces. So if I have two pieces I’m planning to hang together, I like to have one of them more muted, darker, and another one more colourful and vibrant. But that’s not a strict rule, I think it really depends on the subject and on my state of mind.
There are a number or recurring symbols that you use; skulls, flowers, coffins, birds, plants, etc. Do they always retain the same meaning for you or does their purpose change from painting to painting?
There is no definite meaning attached to each of them individually, they’re rather like props for a bigger subject. They contribute to creating a specific atmosphere or to give the piece some new undertones and meanings. They also have a visual role. One of my pieces for ‘A Stranger in the Garden’, depicting the Aztec god Mictlantecuhtli, is a garden full of plants, leaves and flowers, in which the main character is almost lost and hidden. The main meaning of the piece, and of the whole show, is basically that there’s a darkness and a fatality awaiting underneath all the lushness and the colour. So I decided to add some birds to the composition because they work to sustain the main idea, but also visually break the monotony of the foliage by introducing a bit of colour and vibrancy. Also, by adding something lively and colourful to a dark and bleak piece, or vice versa, I think it gives it more dimensions, and a little bit of irony I guess.
You and Aitch, like to move around a fair bit. Where are you currently staying and does your location have any influence on the art you make?
Yes, we do like to move. Currently we live in Brașov, a small city in Romania, near the mountains and forests. I don’t know if this particular place has an influence on my work, as I developed the subject and sketches for this show while we were living in Lisbon. But usually it does have an influence. Either it challenges and motivates us visually or culturally, or in a more subtle way it affects our mood. For example, the pieces for our duo-show ‘Coffins’ for La Petite Mort Gallery, Ottawa, were created in Lisbon, during a rainy, gloomy and humid winter, which deeply affected our states of mind, so we came up with this idea of having a whole show based on coffins.
Being in a relationship with a fellow artist must be great. It must go without saying that you impact each others work in a positive way. Tell us about the ways in which you help and support each other?
Yes, it’s very helpful to get feedback, to talk about each others work, to help each other get out of creative blocks and to share stuff we like. Sometimes it can get frustrating too, when one of us is more creative or successful than the other. It’s basically a normal relationship with ups and downs, only with artists.
As a younger artist you cut your teeth in the street art scene and formed your own collective known as ‘The Playground’. Can you give us a brief history of group, touching on what inspired it’s formation, what was inspiring you all at the time and what kind of things you got up to? Do you feel that those times you spent creating as part of The Playground have helped shape and inform the art you’re making today?
Yes, definitely, I think everything I experienced until now most likely shaped what I do today. At the time I was freshly graduated from University, having studied Graphics, which was pretty restrictive, working with charcoal, graphite, or doing etchings and stuff. They’re pretty precise and edgy techniques I think, so by the time I graduated I was pretty sick of all of them. Then I discovered graffiti and street art and that brought a fresh feeling, it made me want to create again, in a fun way. So I kinda rebooted myself. I started from scratch. I tried to forget the academics and learn the street art language, based on comics, cartoons, graffiti, lowbrow art, stuff like that. It was like going back to my sci-fi / horror fan childhood. And I had the luck to find the right people, who were into the same things, and that really motivated all of us. And it was such a great time in my life, full of energy, a lot of activity, and good friends. With time though, art became more ‘serious’ again, so I’ve found myself going back to the knowledge and experience I gained during my studies at the University, and trying to use it in order to perfect my painting style and technique.
What’s next for Saddo?
A bit of a break I think, I’ve been working on this show for the last 4-5 months and it was a big commitment. I only did this, no other projects. So next I have to catch up with some of the smaller projects I neglected, try to work on an illustration magazine that Aitch and I are planning to publish, do some more commercial illustration and maybe paint some murals. And slowly start thinking about a new big project.