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Patronage At Home — Laila Farcas-Ionescu at Santa Fe’s Atelier 55

In what could become something more than a trend, for the second summer in a row architect and designer Sam Takeuchi is hosting a show in his Santa Fe home for an artist friend — this year, Laila Farcas-Ionescu. Not just a private showing, and not really a pop-up either, it falls somewhere in between a salon gathering and a gallery opening. Call it a salonery.

However it ends up, Ionescu is glad to be a part of it. A painter-turned-sculptor (and sometime jeweler with her martial artist-jeweler husband Ion Ionescu), Laila Farcas-Ionescu is grateful to Takeuchi (whom she tends to address affectionately as sensei — Japanese for “master”) for giving her a chance to exhibit her latest series of ceramic works. Entitled “The Shiver of Clay” (which opened July 19 and runs through Aug. 2), the pieces are predominantly angels — though hardly the angelic cherubim version.

“I started them out of my frustration with fakeness and this false spirituality so prevalent here in Santa Fe,” says Ionescu, conscious of these higher beings’ almost untouchable status but weary of their generic representation and embrace. “I’d wanted to do something acid — angels smoking, or an angel smoking a joint. But that seemed childish and primeval.”

Instead, they soon turned toward the humorous, the surreal, the medieval. And because they started to emerge from a place that was neither critical nor didactic, they became more interesting, stranger, more open to interpretation. “As a child, I became religious by default,” says Ionescu of having grown up in Nicolae Ceausescu’s Communist Romania. “We were forbidden to be religious — so you wanted to be religious.”

Her works also have a baroque quality to them — as if the respectively placid and agonized figures in paintings by 17th-century masters Peter Paul Rubens and Bernardo Strozzi had been teleported into the 21st century.

They also have a decidedly east European, phantasmagorical flavor to them, which is not surprising, given Ionescu’s Transylvanian roots and siblingless childhood. Despite the economic hardships growing up, “Life was pretty groovy,” recalls Ionescu, who often ran around barefoot. She excelled at her fine arts high school. “We didn’t have drugs or any means of entertainment then, so studying was cool. It wasn’t, ‘Did you read Sartre?’ It was, ‘Did you read Sartre in French?’”

After her father departed, first to Greece in 1972, then to the U.S. in 1974, Ionescu and her mother followed him — to New York City. But immigration, and acculturating herself to America, wasn’t easy. “Immigration stories,” sniffs Ionescu. “You start hating humans.”

She got a job drafting in an architecture firm, took classes at Hunter College, then got into the Pratt Institute — barely. “When I took them my portfolio, I showed my paintings, but I almost didn’t get in — they didn’t get it,” says Ionescu. “That’s a theme of my life: people not getting my work.”

Until now. “I’m more of a Japanese ceramics guy, but Laila’s work . . . works!” enthuses Takeuchi, who has an extensive teapot collection and last summer hosted a show for ceramist Bonnie Lynch. Having met at Santa Fe Clay, where Ionescu (having moved to Santa Fe with Ion in 1997) arrived several years ago after abandoning painting, the two mutually decided on Takeuchi’s home as a more appropriate venue for her “angels.” (These being angels in the spirit of Jorge Luis Borges: “We must not be too prodigal with our angels; they are the last divinities we harbor, and they might fly away.”)

“We decided to show the sculptures in his home — rather than in the quasi-sterile gallery environment — to make a point,” says Ionescu. “The art pieces take on new life just as much as the space they are in transubstantiates and takes on new emotional and perceptional breadth.”

Indeed, Atelier 55, as Takeuchi has designated his home for such occasions, provides a far more personal experience for Ionescu’s mad, magical, mesmerizing creations. Takeuchi has no financial stake in Ionescu, and expects nothing in return — despite having designed and produced the show’s poster and flyers. “We wanted to get away from the usual stark, white-wall gallery,” says Takeuchi, who also made several storybook-like photo albums of Ionescu’s figures placed in different spots throughout his house, back yard, front yard, and koi pond. “It’s a beautiful alternative to the arid gallery.”

Sensei,” says Ionescu, “has flawless taste.”

“The Shiver of Clay” is open to the public from 1-7 p.m., July 19-Aug. 2, at 55 Ellis Ranch Road, Santa Fe.

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