The theme of transformation took centre stage in Mi Kafchin’s recent exhibition at Berlin’s Galerie Judin, Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. Born in the Romanian city of Galați in 1986, and formerly the assistant of Romanian painter Adrian Ghenie, she relocated from Cluj-Napoca to Berlin just over a year ago, working in a studio above the gallery itself.

Fountain of Youth, 2016. Oil on canvas, 88 x 139cm

This feature originally appeared in Issue 31.

Within her figurative paintings, surreal and strange forms refer to time, Eastern philosophy, cosmology and dystopian visions of the future. In Fountain of Youth (all works 2016), people struggle not to be submerged beneath swirling pools of water; a fang-toothed beast stares at its mirror reflection in Trying to B9e Beautiful; a skeleton’s human form is revealed as an amorphous cloud drifts overhead in Cloud of Life; and the eponymous A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy sees explorers become buried beneath heaps of snow, nearby clocks symbolizing the inevitable passing of time. Elsewhere, terracotta sculptures depict hooded youths lurking behind walls and a long-haired, heeled woman stirring a cauldron being licked by flames.

Having recently transitioned into life as a woman—she was formerly named Mihut Boscu Kafchin—gender, identity and autobiographical references are brought to life amid a colour palette of dark greys illuminated by turquoise blues, pastel pinks and vibrant oranges. We discussed the artist’s methods, and the fears that ultimately feed her imaginative approach to painting.

Why did you call your exhibition Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

I search for the title at the end of a series, not before. I thought about neuroplasticity and how the brain builds concepts from nothing. I liked it as an idea. My art is a self-fulfilling prophecy because I make it from nothing. I have my traumas and fears, my situation, and those are the bricks of my composition. So the works are made by themselves, I never search for something outside of it. Even with my studio, I prefer to have it very empty, without information. Those traumas and fears are the most authentic source material that I have.

One of your works is titled Afraid of Dying. Is that one of your fears?

I think it’s a general feeling that we all have inside. It’s in our brain, we are all afraid of dying.

Some people say they aren’t—but I always think they must be lying.

I can’t believe that some people don’t care about infinite nothingness.

How long do you spend on each of the works?

Sometimes I have a good flow and I can make a work in two hours, but at the end it still feels like I worked a lot on it. Sometimes I start to work with what I think is a failure, and from that failure I can sometimes have something great come out.

So do you discard works that you think are failures, or do you continue working up the surface?

Some of them I cover over, some I like to leave as a surprise in the back of the studio, because for me it’s a failure, but long term, nothing is a failure. I just cover them over and rely on the next generation.

Are you interested in any historical artists in particular?

I had an art education of, let’s say, two or three years. I did high school and university in art and those classes are always accompanied by theoretical classes. But I’m also passionate separately about the history of art. It’s not really a history of art but a history of emotions. If you think about art as an artist, when you create art you fail. I saw this mechanism in myself: it’s to do with ego. You try to prove something to the history of art that doesn’t exist; it’s a phantom, a ghost. I see the periods in art like the rings in a tree. In the Renaissance, people really had this Renaissance mood, everything was so cosy and new—we took the antiquities from the ground and really learnt from them. You asked me what type of artists I like: for example, I like Rubens and the artists where for them it was a science. It’s not experimental, it’s a science and they did this every day. I think I like artists who had discipline, and it was through that discipline that they spoke to their emotions.

Your work feels disciplined and scientific in places: for example, the sense of perspective in Fishing for your Zodiac.

That was one of the first works I did. Out of all of the paintings, I worked that the most, because I considered it a failure. The Gemäldegalerie is very close, and I go there almost every day and then come back to make work. It’s a huge mistake. It’s like watching porn and making love after that, a huge mistake! Don’t do this. It shows your primordial revelations. Fishing for your Zodiac also represents my situation back then: it depicts an ancestral space, the soul, how in Eastern culture they choose their existence. There are simple questions: why time passes so fast, why memories that are so alive today become like dreams. All of those anxieties help you to feel emotion and make work. It’s exhausting because you really have to open your concentration.

What about your approach to colour? You combine pastel greens, pinks, purples, with a darker palette. Is that new to this specific body of work?

This combination is new; this atmosphere is new. Because, lately—being trans—I have been taking hormones, and I started to feel colours to be more alive. I have done a lot of paintings and drawings through the years but they’re all—not necessarily masculine—but without colour. Still I feel that I don’t have enough colour in the work, but this dark side I cannot eliminate. The exhibition is a diary: like Picasso said, they are works from a diary, I understand why he said that. During the first months of transition, it was so hard for me in terms of energy. I didn’t have any energy because I killed my testosterone, so I had to find that brain strength that we have, not the hormonal strength.

I’m really interested that you said you felt colour more vibrantly when you started transitioning.

I don’t know if it’s because of the hormones or excitement. You really see that you change every day; you were a man before and you see this changing. It comes with a lot of excitement and that provides more energy to focus on sensory things like smell, sight, hearing. Before, I would always go to museums and look at how artists built things—the composition—but now, by instinct, I am interested in colours. Let’s say I just take advantage of these new powers.

You tune into them.

Yes, I already had the practice before: draw, do sculpture. I thought: you have to be an apprentice, carry those bricks from there to there. During my childhood I had a Vasari book about artists; I was obsessed with these Renaissance artists like Michelangelo, who worked with Ghirlandaio, and how they would fight! In a way, I experienced that because I always knocked on my teachers’ or on artists’ doors, and I had my years of being an apprentice. So I think, now, what is left is to enjoy colours.

Issue 31

All images courtesy the artist and Galerie Judin, Berlin.

This feature originally appeared in Issue 31
Portrait by Steven Kohlstock
Fishing for your Zodiac, 2016. Oil on canvas, 196 x 190cm
Between Micro and Macro, 2016. Oil on canvas, mounted on wood, 115 x 98.8cm