Contemporary Art from Hungary 2.


Whenever I look at Lehel Kovács, he always makes me think of Don Quixote. However, it is not only his appearance that makes such an impression on me – although his lean figure and his wonderful full beard framing his face (as one can see in El Greco’s paintings) definitely remind me of the gloomy knight. There is something else – his silent heroism that is reflected in his paintings.
Let me clarify what I mean by ’heroism’. For me it is not the euphoric state that we experience in exceptional moments, when the individual is lifted above himself, against his own will. No – it is the behaviour, which without any pathos, enables only the strongest to remain loyal to the so-called ideal, however illusionary it may be. A real hero for me is not Titusz Dugovics, who in the heat of the fight, quite beside himself drags his enemy to the deep, sacrificing his own life as well. It is rather the eccentric ’hidalgo’ , who always listens to his heart not bothering about the judgement of others; who is ready to tilt at windmills, no matter how often he falls on his bottom. However, I do not want my readers to think that I see Lehel Kovács’s art as a hopeless fight against windmills (not to mention our hero’s bottom again). I would like to make my point of view unmistakably clear now. Real representatives of art always tilt at windmills, but this fight is not a hopeless one. Quite the contrary – real knights are always ready to take up the gauntlet.
This is the reason why Don Quixote is not simply a comic figure but a hero. And for the same reason I consider Lehel Kovács a real knight of art, who having his independent pro fes sion, does not become the servant of the general taste of our time. Let us recall the designs that valiant knight of La Mancha set out to execute: he addressed himself to ‘the wrongs that he resolved to right, the harms he meant to redress, the excesses he would amend, the abuses that he would better, and the debts he would satisfy.’ To tell the truth, these aims really seem to be quite insane in our rather rational world. But how-ever impossible this venture may be, I will try to apply the goals of Cervantes’s knight to Lehel Kovács’s art. It seems that he (our knight of art) wants to reconquer landscape painting, to rediscover ‘figurality’ in the classical sense, and to reinterpret the traditional ‘plein air’- or genre-like portrayal. The goals of Lehel Kovács seem equally insane in an era which lacks any self-definition of art, but when one can be certain, that such experiments will inevitably be branded anachronistic. Don Quixote was, of course, irretrievably old-fashioned in his worn out suit of armour, with a barber’s plate on his head, but most of all with his antiquated and useless principles in his heart. He was old-fashioned because, regardless of the fashions of his time, he believed in something that is eternal. And this something – we finally have to admit – is the only thing worth living for. But let us leave grand words: they keep piercing through the message. The essential characteristic of Cervantes’s hero is his ability to transform reality. However, such a description is not entirely just, as Don Quixote does not actually transform reality, but reality gets transformed in him; thus producing a duality, which is generally called external and internal reality. With other words, it is nothing else, but the psychology of creation. According to this, Don Quixote is in fact an artist, who is able to transform external reality into an internal vision. And what else could be the essence of art if not the vision, in which the universal meaning of momentary things is expressed. Lehel Kovács seems to paint the reality that unfolds before him. He paints, as some may naively imagine, like the painters of the 19th century who took their easel and their palette, found some nice forest or field and painted their pictures to the sonorous mooing of cows. But things were not exactly like this even in the case of the old masters, not to mention Lehel Kovács himself. First of all, he does not paint in nature, but he is in a constant search for a studio, which definitely makes his life much harder. What is more, he uses photographs, which complicates the situation even further. As we know, a photograph shows a frozen part of reality, a record of the moment. But as - by its nature - reality cannot be recorded, the photograph inevitably depicts some kind of ‘other reality’. If a painter wants to show this ‘other reality’ on his canvas, transforming it even more to suit his own internal reality, then the view we can finally see in the picture will be, undoubtedly, only an indirect impression of the external reality.*
Of course, all that has been said is only important from the point of view of the psychology of creation. What unfolds before the viewer in the end is simply the question of style. Or did Picasso ask for a bunch of female Quasimodos to pose for his Les Demoiselles d’Avignon? From this point of view Lehel Kovács’s approach is realistic. He paints what he sees, or more exactly, the way he seesthings is the faithful reflection of the material world. However, what can finally be seen on his canvas is his own unique world. There can be no doubt that the landscape we behold can only exist because he has created it. This landscape is the product of artistic arrangement, even if it reminds the viewer of some pieces of landscape they have seen here and there. Lehel Kovács has lifted the trees, figures and other occur rences of nature from the their indefinite existence in the external world, and placed them into the definite reality of his pictures. Symbolically speaking, a windmill, seemingly, still appears as a windmill in his paintings, but in fact, it is transformed into a giant, just like the windmills of Don Quixote. After all, it is not the giant that is important, but the purity of the intention, that brings the vision to life. Lehel Kovács’s visi on of reality is just as honest and genuine as his sorrowful predecessor’s. And we can only hope that he will just as firmly stick to his principles on the long way that is still ahead of him as Cervantes’s knight.

Ádám Szabó

Text by: Ádám Szabó
Layout: Lehel Kovacs
Content: 64 + 4 pages, with 44 colour-plates
No. of Issues: 1000
Date of Publication: 2006