Trigger Warning: The following post mentions rape. If this topic hits too close to home, you may want to refrain from reading further.
At Fountain House, vermilion is known as a “make-something-out-of-nothing” artist. Her work has taken on many different forms — including textile art, collages, paintings and installations.
As a creator, she’s developed a distinct voice. Her pieces often have an underlying political or social message, with a twist of surprise and humor.
“I suspect most of my art comes from an impulse of rescuing,” she said. “When I pick an object from the curb, I talk to it. 'Poor you, why have you been thrown away, there's beauty in you.’ It’s about reinventing, multi-purposing, and second chances.”
Starting in 2016, vermilion became a member of Fountain House, and has since become an active participant in the Fountain House Gallery and Studio. She immigrated to the U.S. from Romania in 1998, and from an early age, was using art as a way of understanding the world around her.
“When I was in middle school, I painted the poppies that grew in our garden by a wooden well,” she said. “It was the first time I painted for myself, and not for a school assignment. That flower astonished me — its unexplained apparition in our garden, its thorny vigor, its riotous yet fragile red petals. That poppy was me. Somehow, I stumbled into myself.”
At home, the topic of mental illness was taboo.
“It was hard to figure out that I was ill because the entire country was ill, traumatized, and terrorized. So, you learn to just get on with it. You don't talk about it,” she said. “Even now when I visit, when we're at the family table, I'm asked how I am. I say I’m doing much better, with medicine and therapy. A gloomy, embarrassed silence descends on the stuffed cabbage rolls and schnitzels. I got help only when I arrived here. I learned about how life doesn't need to feel like I'm on a torture wheel, or in an earthquake.”
The process of creating art has allowed her to work through horrific and unimaginable pain. As a young woman, she endured a series of traumatic events, including being a victim of gang rape.
“These experiences informed who I became and what I do,” she said. “I rescue, and I love, and I restore — as if I mend my own past. As if I remove the stigma of feeling like damaged goods. I grant dignity.”
She experienced profound grief, after the loss of her mother, father, and brother.
“When my brother died from alcohol abuse, I picked metal bottle tops and made beads with them. I picked up empty liquor bottles and filled them with grains,” she said. “My parents were agronomists. When my father died, I turned my living room into a jungle. I rescued a gardenia bush, and nine hibiscus trees that had turned homeless when their owners couldn't move them inside. When my mother passed, I started making terraria, and ended up making an installation at the Fountain House Gallery.”
As a result of her upbringing, vermilion is often drawn to vibrant colors — particularly purple, turquoise, and yellow.
“I grew up under communism. For a long time, I avoided beige, gray, dull browns and black,” she explained. “Buildings, fences, clothing, faces and voices — everything was dulled down. Our expression was curtailed. Our uniqueness was bulldozed. After the 1989 revolution, we heard about color starvation, and the fact that it induces depression. Beige and gray meant evil to me. Now, I like to marry bright colors with quiet hues.”
At Fountain House — surrounded by like-minded people in a supportive environment — vermilion has been able to continuously explore her creative ideas. This past summer, as part of her “Artists at Work” residency, she led three successful workshops on terrarium, exploring what’s known as “bio art.” In the workshop, she grew terraria live, using recycled bottles. Inspired by moments of overcoming adversity, vermilion created an installation — a large-scale figure, suspended from wires, titled “Adaptation & Change” — for Fountain House’s Auction and Benefit. Her collection of mosaic clocks, made from shattered ceramic plates, was also recently featured in an exhibition at Local Project called “TRASH.”
Prior to Fountain House, the roster of her visual and performance “artivism” events over the years included: Farewell, My Transylvania, a photography exhibition conceived to dispel Hollywood-generated myths about the region of Romania in which she grew up; Am I Too White to be a Gypsy?, spotlighting discrimination against the Roma people; and No Sob Stories, Please, which addressed sexual violence.
After months of hard work and preparation, vermilion will soon be teaming up with the Fountain House Gallery to present “Mushrooms,” a group exhibition focusing on the theme of mushrooms, from January 26th through March 8th. The show, featuring works in a variety of mediums, will examine the wide-ranging facets of fungi as they relate to the larger world and culture and will include panel discussions and workshops. In coordination with the Fountain House Gallery, she’ll also work to collaborate with curators and art event organizers, nationally as well as internationally, including a collaboration with Sharp Gallery in London.
“We'll have speakers to enlighten us, movies, food, a fashion parade, a workshop on how to raise your own mushrooms, and storytelling,” she said. “Besides the inherent visual appeal of mushrooms, the inspiration was the realization of our interdependence, and the menace “mushroom” of the Ukraine war, but most of all, it was the new mental health research developments on the immense benefits we could derive from treatment and legalization of mushrooms.”
You can find vermilion’s work at https://www.artsy.net/artist/vermilion.