Oil painting European Optimism by contemporary artist Gheorghe Virtosu

by Shane Lewis

21 June '18

Abstract Oil Painting Reflecting on Institutional Imperfection

Rendering of a boy in oil painting depicting a political order that is top-heavy


Included in Virtosu's partially abstract composition is a stylised rendering of a boy wearing a baseball cap with its visor turned backward, upon which the entire picture hinges. The boy, facing out of the pictorial world into ours, looks to the present instant of our consumption of the picture but also, in contradistinction to the rearward visor which indicates retrospection of the past, he looks to a future that promises much yet is uncertain. The boy's gaze and the spectator's gaze meet and thereby sets up a political relation that is questioning and demonstrative in equal measure. In this child, we decry the motivation behind the establishment of a stable political order and also the potential for prosperity and the improvement of the E.U.'s institutions.


The higher part of the oil painting contains a structure of organic growth that can be interpreted variously as the natural ideals and aspirations of Europe's citizenry or the weight of its imperfect institutions upon them.

Perhaps the boy is an allegorical figure for the relatively young entity of the European Union itself. In this case, the inflated forms of the upper regions of the oil painting canvas could stand for a political order that is top-heavy, together with the implication that there are problems and disparities between the perhaps restricted agency of the European electorate and a Parliament and Commission that is widely seen as insufficiently accountable.

These balloon-like forms also counterpose a mood of celebration with that of institutional imperfection.

The festive mood coupled with this inefficiency provides a pictorial dialectic where the outcome is uncertain but this relationship – between the unquenchable positivity of youth and a lack or inefficiency – provides the grounds for hope. This effusive optimism can be asserted to be intrinsic to Europe's institutions if we see the boy as a metonym for the E.U., or as possessed by a populace by whose agency the political edifice of Europe will be improved. This agency which would be both an example and an instigation of a more transparent democracy.

Oil painting by contemporary artist Gheorghe Virtosu

Visual and political imbalance

There are currently several destabilizing factors that could undermine the health of the Union, most notably the recent British plebiscite to leave the E.U., the Mediterranean migrant crisis and the Italian election that has placed a purportedly Eurosceptic coalition in power. Accordingly, Virtosu 's figure sways off-kilter and only time will tell if this visual and political imbalance can be corrected in order to preserve the Union.


The rich impasto of the background with swirled motifs evinces movement and even flux, as the political landscape continuously changes and the artist's figure is suspended in this space.

Yet the definitiveness of the drawing of the figure, its physical integrity that is purposely imperfect precludes the conclusion that Europe is prey to chaotic chance.

Out of the abyss of the wars and revolutions of the first half of the twentieth century, the Treaty of Rome of 1957 established a will for what would become a continent-wide mandate for cooperation and consensus between member states. The artist 's Europe, then, would seem to be both flawed and potentially subject to a democratic amelioration.

About author Shane Lewis was born 1962 in Dublin, UK. He studied at National College of Art and Design, Dublin. Educated in Ireland and the US. Lives in New York. Has also lived in UK. Modern Art. Contemporary Art. Build up collections, Institutions, Preservation, Research. E:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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