Romanian born Theodora Daniela Capat studied art at The Swedish Academy of Realist Art, where she later became a primary teacher upon graduation. Her lavish portraits have made a two time winner of The American Portrait Society with a Certificate of Honor and Certificate of Excellence. More examples of her work can be found at https://capat.art/ .
What was it like growing up in Romania? What are some of your most fond memories of that time?
Even though I was born close to the 90’s people think that I grew up in the 80’s. Was born in 1989 during the revolution on the 9th of December. Even though communism “died” out I still felt it while growing up. I always was an outsider. Never liked dressing up like a girl. Had my moments of girly times but I’ve always been a tomboy. At school we had to wear a uniform and I hated it. I wanted to wear black! My mother always told me I have to be a lady but like Arya, from Game of Thrones:“I am not a lady.” That kinda quote was with me all the time. Growing up in Romania was hard for me to be honest, for most children after 89. Since Romania had a lot to recover, as a child I was controlled and very protected by my family. I was allowed to play only in front of the building, where the entrance to our apartment was. My mum never let me go further than that, but I never obeyed my parents. I used to “run” in the back of the building and played at the garbage dump. People threw their trash there. Since I had a very strong imagination I always found something that made it look fun while scavenging in the dump area… Sounds sad but that made me the person I am today. The old communist building made the warm orange colour the dominate atmospheric colour for most of my dreams. When I dream everything happens at my childhood place. Since I was little I dreamt extremely vividly, created worlds, and invented stories, though when I was little I didn’t speak well till the age of 6. At school I had hard times adapting. I was called a handicapped and hit with a ruler. Those were the communistic traits.
How does society tend to view art in that particular corner of the world?
I never considered myself a smart person because I feel limited when trying to explain my thoughts and ideas. Since I grew up in a communistic world art there was a bit… too political. Corneliu Baba is one of my absolute favourite Romanian artists. He refused to paint Ceausescu, the communist leader and for that he lost a lot… Many intellectuals died during the regime thus the repercussions were felt dramatically after the 90’s. Art became ugly. Abstract art made no sense. There’s good art and bad art. I love some abstract art with well thought colour composition but since most of the intellectuals were killed or in jails it felt like we started everything from the start. It wasn’t only in Romania, most of European academies just became a joke. Few kept the academic drawing teachings alive. Feels sometimes that we start things from the start just because we forget history and all that knowledge that the old masters worked so hard to achieve, people just threw it out because it was outdated and new views had to be adapted. It is very, very sad. Nowadays art is still kept under control by the modernists. In Romania you see that well. People get offended when their own creations are threatened by a higher quality of art. Philosophical and technical. You can’t do much since Romania is still very corrupted. I always say “Romania is a beautiful country, too bad it is inhabited by people…”
When did you first take notice of art in general?
(laughs) I never thought I would talk about this again. When I was little I started drawing horses. My mother always liked art but she never pursued it because during her time it was very difficult. When she saw me trying to draw horses she drew one for me. I was amazed at how good it was! As a child the world is so small so for me that felt huge! I started drawing that horse drawing my mum did around the apartment walls. My mother didn’t stop me. She just loved seeing me happy. After that at the age of 11, my neighbour who had also been my headmaster at the kindergarten noticed my ability to draw, so she brought me a portrait, a small picture, of Alexander the Great. She also gave me a drawing pad, graphite pen, eraser and sharpening tool. Then she asked me to draw it. The longest 2 hours (as I recall ) of my tiny life! After that I was hooked. I was just drawing on my own and buying the only magazine that made sense with art called Mari Pictori (Great painters)
What was the most challenging issue you faced when you were learning your craft on your own uninstructed?
I can’t go in detail about it. My friend that knows much of my past told me that his life is so calm and easy in compared to how I grew up. I got a Romanian friend who had it even worse than me. Learning on my own was hard. Locked in my room, skipping school, arguing with my mum, my father telling me to stop and do something more productive… Now that I think about it, people nowadays or some artists are so spoiled by their family supporting them early on. Our parents want what is best for us but even now I am told to get a job and do art on the side. At school my teachers called me “an American kitsch artist.” I went to an art school when I was 14. It destroyed me. It would have been better if I just went to a normal school and learned on my own. Between age 16 to 19 I stopped drawing. I hated it. During that time I did some small work. Deviantart was gently getting into my life though at school I was called stupid for liking that site. Didn’t even know about conceptart.org until I was 19 and a half. Before that I discovered some art sited made by Romanians. I got the worse push back critiques from those people. Mean, jealous people. Some were kind but I was too young to know how to defend myself, that is one reason I beg parents to explain to their kids what social media really is and toughened their kids instead of protecting them. I still hid away and watched my art magazines…and wondered if I will ever be able to do that type of art.
What was it like moving from Romania to Sweden? How do the two cultures differ most?
When moving to Sweden is was very, very hard. Coming from a country that has the type of people who throw trash on the ground, mocks you on the streets for being fat, calling you ugly and everybody is the best and you are nothing to a country where everybody is happy and trying to help everyone was a shock to me. It felt very, very superficial. Still does sometimes. People are at their worse when they are in survival mode. Sweden doesn’t survive, they live. They can travel and they have space to live, green spaces and respect to their environment. I got my issues now with Romania and Sweden. We need to understand that culture is of two kinds: good and bad. It is what it is. Some say culture is your enemy. No. It is not. Look at the work that we do. Spiritual or satanic it is based on a political, cultural agenda. Romanians are very loud and we are close to how Italians are. We have a lot of gestures in our body when we talk. Swedish people are calm, talk low and don’t flap their hands while trying to explain. I had a Swedish friend who made fun of me because of that (laughs). That is the beauty of culture. We share and we have to adapt to other’s culture when you move to their country. Not the other way around because that’s when you destroy cultures. Swedish people are starting to change, I can see that. They had enough of others telling them how they should be, accept and sacrifice what makes them Swedish. And I am very proud to see that because their culture helped me become a more calm person and rediscover my own culture in a better way.
How do you think proper instruction helped you hone your craft most?
At the age of 20 I started at The Swedish academy of Realist art (before they were located in Stockholm). Since I didn’t accept my past and my flaws it actually kept me from developing properly while at school. It is hard to say everything that has happened. Your art grows with experience, not only skill based but also what happens in your life. It did help me improve, the school, but It also helped me grow as a person. I had my issues when I was being critiqued and also being told how to draw. I was young! When you’re young you think you know everything and I can’t tell you now that I accepted how little I actually know. Anyway, the school helped me develop what I call sharpening your eyes, see forms and shapes, compare etc. When I started the school they still had a bit of sight size method in their way of teaching which really made me unhappy. But my teachers and founders of the school got away from it, which makes this school come forward compared to others. Comparing, understanding form, seeing things more 3D is more beneficial if you want to work from imagination. It makes you faster and also broadens your vision. It doesn’t get you stuck into copying point by point what you see. You learn slower because it is hard… took me 10 years to do what you see now and I still have a lot to learn.
Why does portraiture appeal to your artistic nature?
What we deal most in life is ourselves and others. Is the constant jungle battle for survival and to do it we need each other. We still have tribal thinking which has is flaws. It works in a small community, hence why communism failed. We are too many and we have huge desires now with social media. We see so many faces on Instagram. Filters of beauty, body building… These things makes me cringe. Why are people so obsessed with validation from others? But then again don’t I do that with art? Faces are fascinating for me. You think you know people by just looking at them but you don’t really. One still image can tell you so much. It doesn’t even show the real you since again beauty filters, shoot from a certain angle so you will look thinner. Really? Think about how sad this is. We know it yet we do it, then we wonder why we get anxious. We wanna see this…we wanna be a part of the tribe of fame because we think that will bring happiness because you will make an income as they do. Listen… I can’t say I am a good person and wise, I am pretty much full of my bad stuff too. But like Jordan Peterson said… if we would stop lying the world would be a better place. When we talk to someone we look them in the eyes… have you noticed how rare this is becoming? Social media has created so much disconnection between people, rather than bringing them together. People don’t know how to act because they created an image of themselves online that they don’t know how to bring it forward in real life. Why am I saying all of this? Because it is interesting to me. Portraits that I do are a reflection of today’s society. “Look at me… look at my beauty. Make me important , show my grief, happiness, victimization and superficiality to the world.” I feel that most artists are doing that because, what I believe, is that we paint how the world is. And it feels that way: lost and confused but desires fame and wealth by being emotional towards others suffering.
What do you love most about the act of creating?
I will try to keep this simple but I have to explain why. We try so hard to make our art have a deep meaning because it does appeal to people nowadays since we are so lost and confused on what we should do with our lives. What I love about creating is how well it detaches me from the “reality” of the world. It is a way to release my dreams, my fears, my anxiety, my desires, my view of the “real” world… but most importantly it is fun! We forget why we do art as time goes by. The struggle of making a living and getting out there, or whatever you wanna call it, made us forget that art is just fun. Look at kids while drawing. They are having fun.
What did you enjoy most about your time teaching others?
How much I learned from them. Best teachers I ever had. Thinking how to help them see their mistakes, getting into their world, failing with them, growing mentally, becoming patient, hating that they hate me, so much going on as a teacher that I can’t number them. It is very hard to be a good teacher. As a student you only see your world only, as a teacher you see others and unfortunately you have to be rude and get into their world uninvited to be able to teach them technique.
Do you have any dream projects you’d most like to bring into being?
Yes…I do. One day but until then I have to work hard to be able to have that great of a place and be more mature in mind and in skill to be able to achieve it.
You have said that, for you art is a way to represent your feelings of frustration when it comes to your understanding of self and your surroundings. Can you elaborate on that a little further?
Not sure how to explain this but for me art is more like visual poetry. I have never been good at writing compared to others. That touches you through one sentence. I had to create images to explain to people how I feel. When low, happy or depressed I found art as a source to explain how I feel. To be honest I don’t really show most of those works. Now with social media everybody shares everything. I tend to do that too sometimes but I have moments when I feel I just want this for myself, to reflect on them on my own and not be vulnerable to everyone out there.
You have said you have always had a curiosity when it comes to life and death. Where do you think that curiosity came from? When did you first become of aware of it?
I came aware of it when I was little through my vivid dreams that I still have to this day. Dreamt death itself. Everyone around me talks all the time about spiritual guidance, believing in a God or something after life. I asked my grandmother some months ago if she fears death. She replied that she does because she feels that she hasn’t lived her life at its fullness. Time for me is weird. It passes by too fast and I keep losing track of my present moments. I am getting old and in the end I will die. Since I was born my destiny, if I can call it that, is going to that point where everything will end. That made me curious about it in combination with how it felt when dying in a dream. When I was working as a teacher and my life was quite stressful I dreamt about myself living again where I grew up as a child. There I saw two men, playing chess. The colours around me where of a warm orange colour. Very saturated. It felt very warm but somehow I got curious of this two men playing chess. Then at a point while I was wondering what was happening I got scared of this 3rd person, a man, dressed up in this long coat with a hat on that started coming towards me. That scared me. I tried to run away but he got to me. He grabbed on to me, turned me around and put this metal long steel through my chest. It hurt very bad. I was holding his arm to not push it more into me since I could feel it getting close to my heart. I was afraid and started telling him that I don’t want to die… while I kept him from pushing I was saved by this two elderly men that where playing chess. They stopped this person by holding him and pushing him away, quite gently as I recall, like somehow it was normal what he was doing. They looked at me, these 2 men, and told me that My time has not come. I got confused and everything morphed within me seeing them again from that point I first saw them while they were playing chess and drifting away from them, while seeing bright colours like a rainbow distorting everything around me. It was like I was swallowed by a colourful black hole. After that I woke up. I had to stand up on my bed thinking, confused on what has happened. I felt almost nothing… just an empty feeling of why I was saved. There’s more of this dreams that I had but I guess this answers your question a bit of why I am curious about death.
What are your personal feelings on life and death and what does, or doesn’t come after?
I don’t really know…I think once we die it all ends. We just stop being. We go back from where we came from: nothingness. We are so conscious, so curious and so self-absorbed into our own daily life, trying to create this image of ourselves that it becomes an obsession. Time doesn’t wait on anyone. Since we are born its decided: It will all end either you like it or not. Many don’t talk about it, feels like a taboo. Got friends who are afraid of it. Famous people who are afraid of it. I don’t know but the more I think about it I just know I will go from where I came from: nothingness.
What do you think is key to a life well lived?
I think everybody has their own answer to this. My answer might sound cheesy but It is quite simple if you think about it. A life well lived is when you know how to be in the present. When we were kids, before we became too absorbed into the world of chaos created by our fathers, into a world of future goals…we as kids didn’t care. We could stare and do nothing and just enjoy being. Now, with all of this technology, everything has become fast, everything is about “me” and what I can do to show the world how awesome and caring I am. It is nothing wrong with being selfish. You can’t help everyone. The life you have is your own. Not saying you need to not care about anything but if you know what life is… I think you found the key of how to help others and just be with time all the way till your end. We perceive time but the more you look around you it doesn’t really exist. It is static. But our mortality has created it to define the past and the future. Future? It is not even written but the result is that it will end. It all depends on how you handle time right now rather than how you will. Of course, we all have a rent to pay and trips to plan, friends to meet and friendship to keep but time gets in between. You become so bombarded with things to do that the future is brought to you faster and thus…time passes too fast that you miss out on just looking around you and feel the weird push on your body from the surrounding atmosphere. I don’t know how to really explain it but my drawing serenity is about it. Simple, floating together with everything, surrounded by black crows who for me manifest death and how it flies with you until you will get grounded and can’t go back to the sky anymore. The water is liquid and you as well. It is static but moves from place to place but it feels like it never has time. It is just there.
What advice would you offer to other wishing to learn how to best express themselves through their own art?
Don’t forget why you are doing art, your drive to do it. Is it for yourself? Is it for the world? Is it fun still? Look at yourself and not others. Look at how you can improve and not how you can improve and be like others. It is such a death trap for us artists and I speak from experience. Social media is great but it has killed most of us because we want to be seen so we do things that are popular…Some succeed with it while others don’t. Reality is harsh so maybe some of us will make it while others won’t. Nothing beautiful comes easy. I battle this demon everyday, to not get trapped and just be myself even if I have to sacrifice my own stability and not profit from my art. I have to do things I don’t like to be able to pay my rent and disappear from most of my friends life just to work hard on this vision of mine. It is my sacrifice and my view. That’s why I know that I might not be a mum, that I might not have a proper home and that I will live month to month. But, at the end of the day, I know I stood true to what I believe. For me that is a sacrifice worth doing that most of my friends and family thinks is foolish. Right now this is how I feel.
Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?
Life, death, past, present, future. All of this is in our mind. Once you are gone all of them will end with you. Be kind and grateful for this time you have, take care of your surroundings and don’t hurt others. We are prone to great evil and takes a lot of courage to admit to your faults and be a better person. I do my best to live on those principles and I noticed how many people can’t stand this, to admit to their mistakes. Most prefer to just become a victim of their own bad decisions. Those decisions, even if you didn’t know why you took them or things that happens in your life, is a part of you. Mistakes are the ones who teach us how to become better. Tragedy as well is a part of your growing up, takes courage to be strong, to deal with all the suffering you have endure. It is not easy but like I said nothing beautiful comes easy. I wish you the best in your journey and may you find your peace in life that will truly bring balance. Ah yes… I find balance more important than happiness. Why? Happiness can lead you do bad decisions, (laughs) Balance makes you think and not be too emotional when making decisions but…hey, that’s just me, right?