Contemporary Art from Hungary 1.


The continuous unrest, sophisticated excitement and passionate eagerness that incites Zsuzsanna Gesztelyi Nagy to obtain her perceptual images suggestive of the world’s objects is an existential situation in which she is affected by all things visible in an elementary and irresistible way. Because she does look at the things that only she can see, only her eyes can notice, night and day, regarding this to be her task, so that she can bring all that to perfection, filtered through and ordered by her own sensual imagination, to create her images. She has had the ability to approach the visible world with the pure intuition of the sensual attitude from the very beginning.

In the beginning, I pursued my artistic activities along two different, parallel lines. On one hand, a world of pictures with no physicall objects, free from representations enabled me to express something that was my innermost need and can only be expressed in colours, hues, and tensions of form. This was where I found my own world, my colours, an order that meets my internal demand. Apart from this, I also studied the visual regularities of the visible world. I find that to understand these regularities is inevitable for realising my pictorial dreams. For the past two or three years, my pursuit has been to accord these two visual worlds that are subject to distinct laws. My concern was to create a visual system in which both of my demands can manifest themselves effectively. The pictures of the ‘allover’ series are the result of this pursuit.

It was in the first days of August in the year 2000, at the Tihany Art Colony that Zsuzsa first felt that special quality of the colours of sunlight, which, if someone is able to see it, initiates that person to be a real painter in the original sense of the word. For everybody perceives the difference between dark and light. However, few see the difference between the colour of the paint in the tube and the colour of light. This is why most painters spend their lives just filling out the forms that may or may not be sketched on the canvas with a blend of several colours from the tube. Whereas, a true painter is one who advances beyond perceiving dark and light colours to also seeing the colours of light. Light becomes an active agent in Zsuzsa’s works, it moves, and when we immerse ourselves in her pictures, our emotions and thoughts are mobilised, pervading our entire being.

The relationship of objects and light, the vibration of forms in light is a phenomenon of the world that inexplicably enthralls and enchants me, moreover, it defines me, being a basis of my identity. The presence of light is a vitalising element in painting as well as in life. Perceiving and being pervaded by light is the most important event that ‘happens’ in my pictures. I am always enraptured by a picture that has an atmosphere where I would willingly enter and exist. I feel that something can happen to me in such a world, or more accurately: there I can live what I am. As a painter, I aim to create a medium of light which promises much more than what the objects surrounding us at the moment show us from the world.

In addition to observing the colours of sunlight, Zsuzsanna Gesztelyi Nagy is also preoccupied with the interpretation of the picture space. The structure of the usual Renaissance picture is composed of foreground, middle ground and background. She invented a new perspective. The foreground disappears from her paintings, with the painter coming close to the rags installed as models. The rags are spread evenly in the plane, forming a homogeneous texture, thus the entire background also disappears, leaving us with the middle ground only. The space of the picture narrows from three dimensions to a thin middle ground and the objects to be found there are lit on the front side by completely unitary natural sunlight. To lend an artistic interpretation to textiles without distinction, the artist has found a setting without distinction.

The loss of perspective, of outlook in my pictures lends itself to a symbolic interpretation. This actually reveals and gives visual form to an existing aspect of my personal reality, a kind of seclusion, an experience of forced narrowed perspective or exclusion. On the other hand, it was this very loss that opened up new visual prospects for me.

The objective reality of individual rags is recognisable in the pictures, yet they appear as peculiar patches of colour, as a pictorial value, as colours of light. Then in their interactions they become increasingly sophisticated, in a way similar to musical interaction, where the played notes sounded produce overtones. The appearing colours create further, reverberant colours to result in a rich accord of colours. The totality of this arrives to our eyes as a consonance emanating a zest for life. Although these rags in themselves have no objective meaning of any significance, and even their formations differ only within certain boundaries, their visual forms are related. They seem to be mutually attracted to each other, like finger and thumb, being happy in each other’s presence.

The ‘rags’, the textiles were of great help to me in the creation of the ‘allover’ compositions: lending themselves freely to shaping, they can be subordinated to my compositional experiments, and due to their everyday nature and few layers of meaning, they more easily accommodate to other functions of the picture. My visual imagination is continuously fertilised by the everyday world of objects, its inherent visual potential, to which the function of objects is always subordinated. Most of the time I bring them to a visual situation in which they are no longer able to fulfill their function. Objects deprived of their function provide an opportunity for play, visual play in the first place, in which their meanings can proliferate. My concern is how a phenomenon so transcendental as light behaves in a profane environment, and whether it is, eventually, able to warm up the everyday.

A delicate lurking symbolic element is also manifest in the paintings of Zsuzsa Gesztelyi Nagy. According to the organic approach of Hungarian culture, in which things are always related to each other, everything in the created world belongs to something, and therefore everything is further created, an equal opportunity being given to all things true. In the Hungarian way of thinking, the world is generated from light, from the total perception of the quality and quantity of light – and thus it is the visual language articulated in this analogy that we can really call Hungarian painting, speaking the visual language of the culture. The foundations of this approach were elaborated by Károly Ferenczi and the artists of the Nagybánya School. In the artist’s paintings, the specific organisation of the world of objects is condensed into a new visual form, and assumes a new spiritual meaning. A new variant of the Renaissance structure representational picture is born, which is a significant achievement.

I simultaneously sense a world dislocated and Paradise manifest in the world and present in life. As many other artists, I am preoccupied with defining the role of art today. Therefore I found it important to articulate that my art arises from and is sustained by my love for the world, and my aim is to produce art that has a visceral effect, art that is beautiful, overflowing, bounteous and open-handed. I think that it is not the form that conveys the thought; rather, it is the thought well articulated, that is, the structure created in art, in the work that conveys something, a power, light or lucidity, exhilaration, something that is real. The role of art, then, is to represent or formulate structures that turn into this kind of living tissue, and are thereby able to convey a world beyond thoughts and concepts, which is common shared by all people.

The rags, however, soon get replaced by elegant, neatly ironed ties hanging side by side without gaps in Zsuzsanna Gesztelyi Nagy’s latest pictures. Ties made of fine silk, which seem to offer new, tactile pleasures to their viewers. The rags have turned into more expensive ties, more important qualities. But the new logic of the picture contains a factor that was unknown before. Among the many ties hanging, obedient to the rule of gravitation, there is one that disobediently and unexpectedly flaps to the right in the picture. And it does so without any external influence, defying the force of gravity, a force much more powerful than itself. Maybe, upon a secret flash of wit, a big secret thought, it took its life in its hand, and with this first flap, devoted it to some great resolution. Perhaps this is the first moment when the secret vow emerges for us in space-time. Who knows? Time is a powerful Master. Let alone space-time!

Excerpts from Attila Kovács: ‘From rags to ironed ties, the creative visual imagination of Zsuzsanna Gesztelyi Nagy’, an essay, and the writings of Zsuzsanna Gesztelyi Nagy

Text by: Attila Kovács
Layout: Zsuzsa Gesztelyi
Content: 98 + 4 pages, with 62 colour-plates
No. of Issues: 1000
Date of Publication: 2006