Artist Painter Ali Oseku sits down for a half hour and drinks a cup of coffee at 11H00 every morning from Monday through Friday at the beautiful corner café Piazza west of Tirana International Hotel on Sheshi Harri Truman. Piazza was Tirana's first truly elegant restaurant and café during the times of Enver Hoxha's communist regime. On Monday 5-October-2015 I meet Mr Oseku at café Piazza. He is expecting me. The smiling painter in suspenders encourages me to drink a Raki, I say yes rather quickly to Albania's most popular alcoholic beverage made from grapes and plums, after all it costs only 150 Lek or slightly over one Euro. Mr Oseki's wife is café Piazza's Manager. In 1991 The New York Times reminded readers that already eighteen years before Ali Oseku was Albania's most celebrated painter at the age of 28.
Straightforward, positive, transparent, constructive, Mr Oseku was born in Tirana in 1944. Imprisoned for three years during the dictatorship, Mr Oseku painted Enver Hoxha's 8 by 10 meter, most popular portrait in 1987 after the dictator passed away. For Mr Oseku -who is married with two children aged 28 and 30- family is most important, bringing him stability and comfort upon which he builds up creativity. United States President George Herbert Walker Bush, Writer Ismael Kadare and Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama have bought his paintings. He loves to depict open spaces with a passion for structure, for consistency.
After thirty minutes Artist Painter Ali Oseku walks me up to his spacious studio. On the back street from café Piazza Mr Oseku walks upstairs seven floors, a great daily exercise. His studio facing East is luminous overlooking the mountains. In two large and small rooms he stores more than one thousand paintings. These days, already retired from the Faculty of Fine Arts, he works on average five hours a day. The artist takes off his shirt and puts on his t-shirt. His suspenders are always on. He turns on the music, whether classical or jazz. The human disappears. I meet the genius in his uniform. I sit down in his studio's two-seat brown leather sofa. I contemplate him moving precipitously, anxiously, transporting large two by three meter paintings from one side of the large room to the other. He is in great shape. The genius in his studio is not only a painter. He is a philosopher, a poet who surrounds himself by the World's best literature and music.
Days later I pay a visit to Kledio, the store situated on Rruga Abdyl Frasheri in Blloku -not far from Sheshi Wilson- where Mr Oseku purchases his paint and brushes. Jola the store attendant who works in the morning and early afternoon shift points me in the right direction. Mr Oseku usually shows up every three months at around noon, after his morning coffee at café Piazza. He will purchase 45 200 ml tubes of up to 45 different colors of paint of the British brand Winsor&Newton, which he prefers to Italian brands also available on the store. The painter has taste, Winsor&Newton is ranked the World's third best brand of oil paints, the first two are American. His brushes are "made in China", he reckons. His artwork is "made in Albania".
Mr Oseku embraces evolution, not revolution. He admires Napoleon Bonaparte, disgraces Maximilien Robespierre. He gives up on today's political elite. What is the difference between an Artist and an Artist Painter?, I ask him. "Lady Gaga is an artist", he says, "I am a painter". I say goodbye to the genius in his studio. He calls me "camarada". We will meet one more time the coming week and I will drink another Raki "a votre santé", Maestro.
I asked Artist Painter Ali Oseku what is his favorite artist. He introduces me to Artist Painter Mikel Temo, at café Piazza. Mr Temo explains to me that contrary to other languages, in Albanian an artist painter is called "piktor" as opposed to an industrial or construction painter who would be a "bojaxhi". Mr Temo was born in 1962 in Korça and completed his doctorate in psychology of art in 2000. He lived in Paris between 1996-2000 and later in Canada between 2000-2015. He combines abstract with impressive realist portraits.
Artist Painter Mikel Temo picks up Mr Oseku and myself at café Piazza on Tuesday 6-October-2015 after we all have finished our macchiato and I have in addition drunk a Raki, my second this week alone. We get on his 2005 second-hand black Audi A2 with red seats and head off towards his studio. Mr Temo's studio is in the area known as "Komuna e Parisit", where dozens of painters concentrate in shared studio facilities a few blocks west of Selman Stermasi Stadium. Mr Temo's studio of recent construction stands next to three sculpturers' atelier. I look impressed at the height of the atelier, where the sculpture "Mother Albania" was put together in 1972. Like Mr Oseku was, Mr Temo is a Professor at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Arts, where he teaches graphic design to wannabe painters.
Sharp and sophisticated, Mr Temo's paintings are currently shown throughout Europe and North America. He explains to me that a square foot of his art is sold for 500 Euro, similar to Ali Oseku's. In 2004 Hollywood Producers rented some of his abstract paintings from his exhibition in Vancouver (Canada) to decorate the movie Catwoman's scenarios for an astonishing $15 000. Mr Temo studied with current Prime Minister Edi Rama, former Minister of Culture and Mayor of Tirana, also an artist himself in the Land of Artists.
I pay a visit to the Academy of Sciences on Wednesday 7-October-2015. The Academy of Sciences occupies today a building which was originally constructed to host the first Albanian Parliament in 1921, only nine years after Albania first became an independent nation in the aftermath of the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, to which it belonged for over five centuries. During the 1930s the building was the official residence of King Zog and his family, who ruled Albania between 1925 until Benito Mussolini's invasion of Albania in 1939. At the academy I meet with Secretary Vasil S. Tole, a renowned musician and close friend of Architect Painter Maks Velo. Mr Tole's books are oftentimes illustrated by Mr Velo, which confirms the former's great taste in what regards artwork. I borrow from Mr Tole two books about Mr Velo's artwork. Thirty minutes later I am sitting down with the Academy President Muzafer Korkuti, the country's most senior archaeologist specialized in rock art. Mr Korkuti's Albanian is masterfully translated into English by interpreter Edmond Cane. Mr Korkuti explains to me that Writer Ismail Kadare is a member of the Academy. However members above the age of 75 years old are considered retired. The Nobel Prize in Literature will be awarded later during the day. Albania's football team will play a vital qualifying match against Serbia in the evening. It is a day full of emotion and suspense. I leave the Academy at noon. Only five minutes later I arrive in the National Art Gallery where Architect Painter Maks Velo is waiting for me.