Football was his first love, cartoons his foremost. He belongs to the generation of those who back in 1989, the year zero of contemporary Romania, were the age of today’s millennials. Born in Bălușeni, historic Moldova, in 1951, after having been an animation film maker, Pavel Constantin has become an established freelance cartoonist and book illustrator. His cartoons have participated in a number of international exhibitions and published in newspapers and magazines in his country and abroad.
From football player to cartoonist: which is the hidden thread in your story, above all where does your creativeness spring from?
I believe that each of us have their great passion in life. For me it was football. It all started when I was eight and lasted until I was thirty-five. I used to play in Aripile Bacau, a B Division team. From that passion I inherited something that has followed me in my drawing activity: a sense of fight strongly needed in any form of competition. Yet my biggest passion will ever be Maria Sa – Caricatura, His Majesty Cartoon.
What kind of studies did you attend, what was your background?
I did my studies in Supersonic Aviation. I also worked for seven years in an airport. Then I studied several years in Plastic Arts. I owe much to some great artists who taught me how to draw, while my family has always been providing me with strong support and motivations to pursue my artistic activity.
In Ceausescu’s days were there “official” cartoons, was any form of state satire feasible if not openly admitted? Or, despite the harsh censorship, could cartoonist schools survive in any clandestine form?
The spirit of satire and caricature could exist very well also during the Ceausescu’s era. It was not that difficult to defy censorship. As a matter of fact we did experience frustration for our lack of freedom of expression. Yet, paradoxically enough, that very fact did help us to figure out ways to develop our projects even better: we needed to draw with more subtlety and cleverness so that the men of the Cenzura could not grasp our hidden meanings.
When the regime collapsed you were already well in your thirties. How did this major political change affect you?
It was good when Ceausescu’s regime collapsed because a great number of newspapers and magazines sprang up. Over many following years I have been collaborating with a number of them: Adevarul, Azi, Bursa, Cotidianul, Monitorul, or magazines like Plai cu Boi, PRO TV Magazin, etc. Nowadays I have no more collaborations of that kind because many publications have disappeared due to the rise of online press, instead I have been contributing more and more with the international press.
Looking back at those days can you remember which were your expectations as a creative professional and how much of them have been really fulfilled?
After the decline of many newspapers and magazines I did experience a strong sense of frustration and disappointment.
Which were your motivations to be a cartoonist then and which now, if any different?
I had motivations both then and now. Before 1989 I experienced a great sense of satisfaction when my cartoons appeared in the press, even though for very little money. After 1989 I have begun to be published in the international press. It is another kind of satisfaction, because before 1989 foreign publishers did not venture to publish cartoonists from the communist area. Another great source of satisfaction is that now we are unconditionally accepted, we can participate in any kind of international cartoon context. Even more than that, my works have been drawing the attention of some art galleries, interested in organizing solo exhibitions in their venues.
Do you think your perception of contemporary Romania differs from that of the younger generations of caricaturists, if so how?
I like to believe that I am a good patriot and that I love my country very much. For that reason my cartoons never “hurt” the spiritul romanesc. In the national press I do critically approach topical issues like theft, corruption, lack of respect for forest heritage and environment protection in more general terms and so on.
Your cartoons convey a subtle sense of criticism towards the country’s establishment. How do you place yourself in the contemporary political satire landscape?
Unintentionally a cartoonist may even convey a favorable message for their country. Yet that kind of approach belongs to other genres of publishing skills while a cartoon in its very essence is meant to criticize and raise awareness rather than praise.
What kind of followers do you have, in which proportion Romanian or foreigners?
I have never been much involved in finding out nor has it ever proven a concern to me.
What do you believe are the key elements which still need to be developed and communicated more effectively abroad in promoting your country?
In order to be promoted both at home and abroad, I believe that the key elements are always hard work and aiming at perfection. In our specific field, it means contributing with our drawings and “graphic metaphors”. In fact, we need support to be successful in that. For instance, I am personally grateful to ICR (Istitutul Cultural Roman) for having supported all the expenses for me to participate to a cartoon exhibtion in Haifa, Israel, where I received a prize. I might have also gone on my own expenses but I appreciated their generosity and strong will to support a Romanian cultural activity. Now may the ICR office in Rome ever support a similar project so to arrange a solo cartoon exhibition there?
Do you believe in a suflet romanesc, if so, can you try to define it for us?
I believe that Sufletul Romanesc exists and is unique. It must be looked for especially in traditions and folklore but not only. We need to be very mindful so that we do not lose it for good.
Do you consider yourself more of a Romanian citizen or a European one?
I used to feel like being only a Romanian citizen, but through my collaboration in most recent years I believe I have become now a European citizen.
You were already an adult when Ceausescu’s regime collapsed, how much do you believe has actually changed and if so, with what kind of effects?
After Ceausescu’s regime collapsed I won my total freedom of expression. That was a major achievement. I also believe that for many Romanians quality of life got much better. In fact, democracy has been producing may positive things but unfortunately also bringing about a range of negative effects. I do not need to add more because that is clearly visible to everybody.
Where – if anywhere – would you draw the line over the past 26 years which separates the old from the new Romania? Has new Romania already been born?
A division line does exist between old and new in politics and even in the economic situations of each family, like it happens in so many different fields. Yet I refuse to believe that, as far has the sufletul romanesc is concerned, anyone may draw a line, an actual line between a before and after: can anyone draw a line on the surface of a river or on a flowing water source?
What is in store for 2016, which will be the highlights, both at a personal and national level?
I have great expectations for 2016 (local elections are due in Spring 2016, general elections Fall 2016, Ed.) but also for the years to come: the country should finally get rid of thieves and corrupt politicians who brought Romania back to the Middle Age. Essential to that process would be that all stolen property be duly reintegrated. Should that not happen, it would all have summed up to un teatru de doi lei, a two pennies’ worth show.
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