Ionel Talpazan, a self-taught artist known for his obsession with UFOs and outer space, died in New York on September 21 after a prolonged illness. He was in his thirties when he first attracted attention selling his art on the streets of Manhattan. Through his own pedestrian self-promotion and the efforts of New York art dealer Aarne Anton, Talpazan’s drawings, paintings and sculptures of disc-shaped flying craft were widely collected and exhibited in the U.S. and Europe.
photo © Henry Boxer
Talpazan’s adult life unfolded a world away from his origins. Prematurely born in Petrekioaia, Romania, after his twin brother died in the womb, he was only six when surrendered for adoption to a foster mother who was a violent alcoholic. In order to escape her wrath one night he fled their rural home and hid in a ditch. There, by his account, he was suddenly bathed in blue light given off by a mysterious disk-shaped craft hovering overhead. Although he was only eight, the experience imprinted itself so powerfully in his consciousness that he could recall it in vivid detail for the rest of his life. Anyone who spoke with him about his art was likely to get an urgently encapsulated version of the story within minutes of meeting him.
At 19 Talpazan swam across the Danube River to Yugoslavia and joined a United Nations refugee camp. He was eventually declared a political refugee, accepted for U.S. residency and granted citizenship. In the late 1980s he arrived in New York and, after a period of homelessness, moved into the small Harlem apartment where he would live and create art for his remaining years. By 1990 he had begun to sell his drawings in heavily trafficked public locations, often outside the entrances to art museums and art fairs.
The spaceships in Talpazan’s drawings and paintings are often shown in cross-sectional diagrams that reveal their internal workings, with hand-lettered, explanatory texts in Romanian or phonetically spelled English. In his more elaborate drawings the colors are coded to indicate the power sources for these flying craft, including nuclear, solar and electromagnetic energy. He also made a number of sculptural models of UFOs, including a large painted-plaster model that occupied much of his apartment. Talpazan discussed his UFO encounter and his related theories with an almost evangelistic fervor. He believed NASA had much to learn from his work and his ideas on topics like advanced propulsion and accelerated space travel.
Although he was represented for a time by Anton’s American Primitive Gallery, Talpazan seemed to prefer selling his work on the streets. Nonetheless, his art found its way into exhibitions at the American Visionary Art Museum, the Museum of Everything, the Hayward Gallery and most recently at La Casa Encendida in Madrid.
by Tom Patterson