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“against the grain of an established art scene”

Roxana Gibescu

When first shown in Liverpool in 1974, the artwork 36 Possibilities Realised Simultaneously was signed by all five members of the Generative Art Group (GAG): sculptor Paul Neagu, painter Philip Honeysuckle, designer Husney Belmood, poet Anton Paidola and metaphysicist Edward Larsocchi. The group’s credo revolved around working collaboratively on multifaceted art pieces, in which the meaning generated was greater than the sum of its parts.

Between 1972–1975, the group had a few shows together and a publication funded by the Arts Council. Its members also seemed to appear in public together in the performance of Gradually Going Tornado at Bristol’s Arnolfini gallery. Eventually, during the opening night of the group’s 1975 exhibition at Museum of Modern Art in Oxford, the great reveal happened: the five members were all Paul Neagu.

In an extensive 1994–1995 interview by Mel Gooding for the British Library, Neagu explained that he wanted ‘to go against the grain of an established art scene where every artist is known in their pigeonhole for doing that particular thing’. Looking back at the significance of this group on Neagu’s artistic development with the critical distance and methodologies we now have available to us, many more layers of significance become evident. Neagu multiplied his artistic persona by using four aliases to experiment freely with very different mediums, but also to gain visibility as an immigrant in what he perceived to be a rather hostile art scene.

Indeed, despite the inherent difficulties of trying to fit in, after arriving in the UK, Neagu’s work implied liberation from the self-censorship and indoctrination acquired unconsciously during his formative years under Romanian dictatorship. The mechanism of self-induced censorship did more damage than the state censorship itself, as it inhibited his critical thinking. Consequently, Paul Neagu’s GAG experimentation phase was, in fact, a transition phase – not only in the way his works were devised, but in how he as an artist behaved critically, and how he adjusted to the new geopolitical context in which he found himself.

Unusual strategies employed by members of marginal diasporas in Western countries are not uncommon, but Neagu’s creation of a fictional group is representative of his dual identity and is an example of his conceptual thinking in the early 1970s. The construction of an ‘artistic hoax’ can be seen as a piece of conceptual art, but it was intended less to be ideational and more the result of internal struggles. Neagu’s GAG years proved to be very prolific since it was then he developed his first self-standing sculpture, The Subject Generator, which he soon renamed to Hyphen and transformed into the epicentre of his work. At the time, he considered the Hyphen to be the link between all other GAG artworks. We learn from the British Library interview that the shape of Hyphen came to him as he needed an anchor during those early years in the UK filled with anxiety. We can go so far as to say that the idea put forward by GAG, of artists giving up some control for the sake of working together with a set of instructions, might explain why he was such a dedicated art teacher and an influential figure to a generation of British artists, including Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor and Rachel Whiteread among others.

March 2022

a surreal drawing in monochrome, an interior with a wooden floor, a shelf on the wall to the left propped up by a staff, the shelf holding four blank rectangles propped against the wall
Project Drawing for Rivolta Gallery in Lausanne 1972 and Sunderland Arts Centre 1975/ Copyright Paul Neagu 1996
surreal sketches on graph paper, to the left and right geometric objects in three dimensions, made up of separate parts, together with many annotations
The Subject Generator and Hyphen. Ink on paper 1975. Copyright Paul Neagu 1996.

Main sources:

1. Interview with Mel Gooding. Artist’s Lives, National Life Stories. British Library Sound and Moving Image reference C466/27, 1995.

2. Paul Neagu: desen – gravura – sculptura, Bucharest: National Art Museum of Romania, 1996.

Artist / Maker