Finding ants 

MAM auction features Albin's fantastical work

Cristina Simona Marian Albin got a phone call recently from a woman who bought one of her paintings three years ago. She wanted to know if there were 13 ants in the picture she'd purchased or if there were still more to find.

It is the kind of question that Albin likes to get. It means her art is doing the exact job she created it to do.

"That call was great for me," she says. "That after three years, she was still looking more and more closely and going more and more deeply. After three years, she was still finding ants."

For Albin, art has always been her playground—and she wants others to play, too. Born in a small city in communist Romania in 1979, she didn't have many toys or books to spark her imagination. There was no library and even the school had limited resources. Her early childhood was spent simply pretending, with whatever she could find in the natural world for inspiration. Encouraged by an attentive art teacher and then discovered through an international art competition for children, she soon found herself studying painting at the National University of Arts in Bucharest and then touring the world as an artist. But although her circumstances changed, her whimsical imagination and childlike view of nature has lived on in her works.

Now living with family in Bozeman, Albin says she feels truly at home in Montana. She splits her time between teaching art to both children and adults and creating in her studio. Experimenting with a variety of media, from oil paints to pastels to colored pencil to gold leafing, each of her pieces begins not with any sketch or plan but with a single feeling, image or idea.

"I think there are infinite possibilities, and that's where I start," she says. "Then I add an element—a house or a tree—and then these elements start to relate to each other. Every day I start something new."

click to enlarge Cristina Simona Marian Albin’s “Here and There” is part of MAM’s 44th Benefit Art Auction.
  • Cristina Simona Marian Albin’s “Here and There” is part of MAM’s 44th Benefit Art Auction.

For Missoula Art Museum's 44th Benefit Art Auction, Albin created a mixed media piece on canvas called "Here and There." A shimmering swirl of colors and images, the painting features two strange worlds: one floating on a cloud suspended by a ladder, another that seems to exist above the sky. The exact meaning behind the intricate piece is ambiguous and uncertain, but that is one of Albin's goals.

"I paint stories without words because I want people to imagine their own," said Albin. "What they see there might be different from what I saw there."

With elements that evoke Roald Dahl, Dr. Suess and traditional folk tales, "Here and There" starts with the realistic focal point of a traditional farmhouse before spinning outward to stranger images, like upside-down trees and whispers of fern leaves, inspired by the natural world.

Each day, Albin looked at her painting anew, even turning it upside down before she continued her work. As the piece solidified, she began the process of working on smaller and smaller details, working with a magnifying glass to make certain that the person who takes the painting home will be surprised years from now—that the story of the picture will continue to evolve.

"I think having a painting is not only about owning a nice object that decorates your house," she says. "I don't want people to get bored or used to my painting in their house. Every time they look, they might discover something new or see it with other eyes. It's about exploring a story."

MAM hosts its 44th Benefit Art Auction at the UC Ballroom Sat., Feb. 6, at 5 PM. $100 for members, $125 for non-members. Visit missoulaartmuseum.org for tickets. Visit cristinamarianart.com to view Albin's work.

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