Contemporary Art from Hungary 8.



Gábor Lajta’s art from 1986 to the present


In 1999, when I first saw Gábor Lajta’s excellent neo-figurative nudes that reinterpreted the means of classical painting I thought his art was highly elegant, intellectually refined and well-grounded from a technical point of view, but at the same time I had the feeling that it was a dead-end due to its complexity. Nowadays, most Hungarian painters (let it be the elderly or the young generation) could be traced somewhere near this ’dead-end’, as art is also dominated by ’figurativeness’ both at home and abroad.
However, Gábor Lajta, due also to his age, undertook classical painting following a path different from that of his young colleagues, who started their career around 2000. Members of the aforementioned younger generation were students of the Hungarian University of Fine Arts with the desire to have a firm ground under their feet as they got disillusioned from the ’conceptual’ art based on bloodless gags palling in Hungary that time. Closing down their former abstract painting period, they turned towards anatomy, representational geometry and classical painting techniques – and decided to retrieve the values and plenitude of ancient painting art. It was this intellectual and moral decision that made them resuscitate classical painting.
Lajta started his individual stroll on this seemingly narrow path in 1995. The turning point was his painting entitled Midnight where classical and modern painting techniques were juxtaposed demonstrating that the painter eventually reached his classical style after a long process of experimenting with various types and elements of modernism, while gradually abandoning artistic approaches and techniques he did not need any more. It was absolutely clear right from the beginning that in his nude paintings Lajta integrated his classical painting techniques. Here, tradition was not only a post-modern extraction, an elegant decoration for him but rather an experienced and acquired knowledge intertwined with his own style and iconography , including contemporary, classical and late-modern painting art.
Namely, Lajta depicts everyday life of the present generation, yet he is not a realist since all his settings and objects (from a pub to a bathroom, to Sziget Festival, to doors, a banister, an apple and a ladder) are symbolic. Still, this symbolism is hidden behind the wall of minimalism inherited right from modernism. In his interior-scenes painted till 2000 he mostly depicts, in an even bleak space, women among a couple of simple objects, who are utterly passive, almost inert, and who make common, unconscious movements: they bend, crawl, lie, sit, sip, smoke or contemplate. His figures’ restrained movements, calm presence and the meta-communication or radiance of their body insinuate a certain life story, but they are never unequivocal or identifiable. With the fluttering message and minimalism of his painting, Lajta can avoid pathos and direct symbolism considered apocryphal and commonplace in academism by modern art.
In his works created since 2000 only the theme, number of people involved and the location of open-air crowd scenes have changed. Withdrawnness and passivity of certain figures and the meditative nature of the image stayed intact. The observer’s position and attitude towards the world remained the same.
Strictly speaking, Lajta is not a realist but adheres to his personally experienced original sight and visual impression – and no photo could mirror this in its perfection. For this very reason he always works with live models when it comes to depicting inner spaces or studio scenes. In this kind of work process the painter usually draws in the ‘subjects’ of his images, and ‘integrates’ their spontaneous movements into his composition. It results in a relationship of mutuality, not hierarchy between the painter and his models (as it used to be the case in classical and modern painting). In case of compositions situated in pubs, concerts and grand open-air locations the painter uses his quick drafts, sketches, or after-images prepared on-the-spot; he also makes use of his tint-drawing, water-colour and oil studies that help him elaborate all the fine details of the final version. Lajta uses photos only in case of a must, for example when depicting crowd scenes. These are photos made by himself. His approach based on the unity of intuition, spectacle and reminiscence perfectly evokes the classical painting traditions, but it also has its roots in the artist’s personal notion of ‘realism’ that was born out of a unified outside and inside reality specified by Lajta himself. All this was put into shape in his painting Midnight, and simultaneously outlined in his essay about the outstanding Anglo-American painter, R. B. Kitaj.
Gábor Lajta’s artistic and spiritual path is also defined by a unique and ‘iconic turn’: above and beyond being a painter he pursues studies in the theory of painting and art history as well. As the editor of magazine Filmvilág (Film World) and author of different articles later in the 1990s he wrote many deep analytical studies about Francis Bacon, Ronald Brooks Kitaj, Tibor Csernus, Sándor Molnár. They represented an etalon for him, and by analyzing their works he managed to enlighten the basic intellectual principles, reasons and motivations of creative efforts that really wished to ‘regain possession of the object’. (Besides working as a layout editor and carrying on with his self-education in theory, Lajta was a guest university student at the Hungarian College of Fine Arts for four years /1988-1992/. During this period he composed drawings in anatomy and space representation, and passed a successful exam in these subjects.)
The starting point for his writing on Kitaj (that formulated his own artistic credo as well) was the fundamental question in Sándor Molnár’s painter-yoga: “Is the problem of reality the ultimate question to be answered by an artist?”
According to Lajta “Of course, reality is not identical with facts. It is beyond them.” It is beyond the images of the outside world – it can be traced in the realm of imagination, in inner images. “Although there is always a need for a fixed point, this point is vision in case of a painter.” “A painter could specify his inner images” with the help of outside impressions and ‘direct visions’.
In Lajta’s interpretation a painter’s reality could be created by the interlacement of inside and outside images. “Everything depends on the painter: what images, memories, stories and dramas he manages to evoke, and in the given moment how he associates it with the objects he is actually working on.”
Lajta’s refined intellectual orientation, commitment for classical painting wilfully made him reject the trendy Western models. He decided to rely on personal, individual experience and painting traditions rendering a certain reflection about the contemporary Hungarian art life, which was dominated by the suffocating formalism of late-modern abstraction and various forms of shallow trans-avant-garde neo-painting. At the same time, Lajta did not oppose modernism and ‘radical eclecticism’ directly. He rather established an artistic paradigm (similar to the post-modern process of deconstruction) defined by independent choices, classical, modern and contemporary influences that were far away from our national mainstream. In this progression he relied on the aforementioned modern masters (Bacon, Kitaj, Csernus, Molnár) who had very different individual artistic paths, and who all have had continuous dialogues with the classical painting traditions. Lajta’s ideas were similar to the neo-figurative painting trends in international art, even though his intellectual and painting references to the London School and mostly unknown foreign European painters (Antonio Lopez Garcia, Leonardo Cremonini, Siegfried Anzinger, Andrew Wyeth, Riccardo Tommaso Ferroni) were fairly alien for the Hungarian medium. Paraphrasing the Garouste quote from the Kitaj study: alike the French artist, Lajta did not want to play with the toys broken by Duchamps, Picasso or Beuys. We can understand Lajta’s intention if we complement this with an idea of his from an interview: “During my studies a thought ripened inside me, namely that one does not necessarily have to reinvent things already invented in the past: one should simply use them. Ancient painters also made use of certain solutions invented by their fellow artists.”
For the artist and for neo-figurative painting this inspiration basically meant the regaining of the object: understanding that after more than a century – (Picasso: Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon, 1907) – there is no point in cutting objects and human figures (following Giacometti and Picasso) into pieces. According to Lajta, this modernist tradition was ended by Bacon: “Francis Bacon is the last painter who could authentically depict fragmentary objects. He is the last painter who could keep the figure by massacring it.” Contrary to this, painters of modern times have the possibility to renew painting through ‘regaining the object’ – just as Kitaj gradually returned to the unity of image. Thus, Lajta refuses the senseless destruction of modernism, the fragmentation and rejection of the object. There is nothing left to be destroyed; by quoting Hannes Böhringer he proclaims that the artist of today should collect the bits and pieces from which a new universe could be built. At the same time, Lajta’s attitude based on classical painting principles is in sharp contradiction with Böhringer’s notion which says that a contemporary post-modern artist, due to the fading of encyclopaedism, inevitably becomes a dilettante and dull. Although Lajta’s painting does take account of the fragmentary and broken nature of modern life, his classical painting techniques aim at the encyclopaedic systematisation of direct vision and the intellectual unification of fragmented reality.
Lajta’s world view contradicts another post-modern axiom shaped on the basis of Gilles Deleuze and Jean Baudrillard’s simulacra theory. According to this, there is no such thing as personally experienced reality; only a make-belief, a simulacra exists, which is created by mass media in order to replace reality. In this world artists can do nothing but copy this manipulated image. Although it is obvious that Lajta believes in personally achievable reality of intertwined outside and inside images (based on the notion of reality defined above), he mostly depicts the world of characteristic simulacra of modern times. Just simply think of the concerts at Sziget Festival, the Goa parties at Frankhegy, the techno parades; the forerunners of these virtual realities can be traced in his earlier disco, alternative coffee house and pub images.
Impartiality of Gábor Lajta’s theoretical manifestation could be found in the free penetrability between modern, post-modern and ‘post’ post-modern approaches. This manifestation also shows that it was not some kind of doctrine conservatism but a crystallized conclusion of problems in contemporary art that has helped the painter on the way towards classical painting. Not as if he could be accused of anachronism from the point of view of modernism, since the main motifs and the basic themes of Lajta’s paintings involve a modern humanity and world concept, an estrangement well-defined by Camus, a collective seclusion, a lost and hollow human figure hesitantly looking for companions. It is not by accident that right from the beginning the painter leads his figures through waiting-rooms, pubs, wine-cellars, art- and alternative coffee shops, discos, techno parades or a Goa party.
Before the artist turned to the ‘reuse’ of traditional painting values and the endeavour of ‘regaining the object’, the first ten years of his career were defined by a tension between modern and post-modern elements. In his continuous search for his own voice he entered many intellectual-artistic spheres that authenticate his mature period after 1995. It is worth examining it in more detail. He tried many, seemingly contradictory creative artistic techniques and intellectual-painting directions, often automatically integrating not only a given style’s characteristics but their very opposite too.
This was the case in his first independent paintings, which radiated a refined metaphysical dimension of light with an unparalleled minimalist leanness. His large, 150x200 cm canvases (1986-87) are seemingly black and white geometrical abstract paintings, where one could trace elegant white line sketches applied onto various fields of black shades. His paintings glow with neatness; they seemingly carry features of analytical painting. Nevertheless, they are representational paintings: black colour fields establish a box-space with perspective where the white lines grasp the light penetrating into the room through the opened door. Apparently, these works of art are closer to the formal techniques of contemporary minimalist analytical painting than most of the geometric, abstract creations of the contemporaneous Hungarian scene. However, Lajta had no intention to paint geometric, abstract images – his distant style stands against the trendy and colourful neo-paintings of that period. The artist’s utmost minimalism and his dramatic light-shade contrasts are much closer to Pilinszky’s poesy: “You have left the light turned on.” (3rd line of Quatrain).
Lajta’s images are hyperrealist abstract creations with an enormous logical twist. Albeit they are based on a specific experience, they carry a symbolic meaning: his first large-scale paintings grasp (although indirectly) the archetype of creation, the first day of Creation when darkness and light was separated and light restored order in the chaos. It was the same flashlight on Barnett Newman’s zipp-paintings that carried the meaning of the separating-connecting light that created the world. In Lajta’s works light is represented in a less fervent, more profane manner introduced in an ordinary medium, but even the artist cannot exclude the originally metaphysical features shown. Light breaking into darkness could conjure up unique local connotations connected to hope.
In the last piece of the coolly abstracted series brushwork suddenly becomes romantic and expressive (Light Cuts Through Space, 1987). In later paintings the neutrally abstract or sinister, black backgrounds turn into the asphalt of streets scattered with thrown cigarette butts, trampled birds or overwhelming colourful light reflexes insinuating disgust and indifference. (Bird on the Ground, 1987; Lights on the Asphalt, 1987) In the following year, when Lajta is a scholar at the College of Applied Art in Vienna, this experience of evanescence and expressiveness gains great significance, and his approach changes radically affecting all his future art as a painter. In the city of Egon Schiele and the actionists, Lajta turned to human figure and body. From this moment onwards he focuses on the fragile, vigorous, repulsively corruptible, and splendidly erotic human body that is sensitive to all vibrations and is exposed to physical and spiritual violence.
Lajta apprehended intuitively that one of the most dominant themes present in international art in the 1990s was violence, manipulation and the subject of transience and defencelessness of the human body exposed to various illnesses. In Western cultures this was partly motivated by the anxiety due to AIDS. Bodily distortions are also the manifestations of spiritual damages induced by society. While international art mostly expressed the meaning related to body through performances, and object-photo-film combinations , Lajta represented the corruptible, fallible human body with the traditional genres and techniques of painting and graphic art (just as the artists of the London School: Bacon, Freud, Kitajk, and Jenny Saville, belonging to the generation of young British Artists, did). His artistic path corresponded to the expanded art nouveau, expressionist and actionist traditions of his Viennese friends (Herbert Brandl, Gunter Damisch and Siegfried Anzinger) resulting in human figure representations. Lajta’s works depicting a body exposed to violence and death were highly influenced by real-life experiences of Hungarian reality (such as the self-destructive world of pubs, street violence, theatre and recent historical events characteristic of the region). Lajta’s series entitled Shoah (1988-1989, already made in Hungary) were inspired by Claude Lanzmann’s 9-hour-long film that elaborated the subject of suffering in concentration camps. Following the path of Schiele, Munch, German expressionism, Vajda and abstract expressionism, Wols, Appel and the Cobra Group, Lajta chose lines, black charcoal, liquid Indian ink, sensual pastel and vulnerable paper to depict psychic energies, and bodies that jerked and danced in the ecstasy of pain and death. The artist does not use too much colour; the condemned black figures melting into abstract lines are hardly recognizable. Through the appearance of sensual pastel, the tiny red, yellow, caput mortuum and umbra specks reinforce the reality of death, evoke the image of the rotting human body, while the running Indian ink reminds us of leaking bodily fluids. On the large-scale images one can hardly notice the mass of piled corpses (Shoah/Body Heap, 1989). Lajta mostly accentuates and isolates 1-2 figures from among the crowd on the film rendering death. The agonizing figures do not have a personality, they are degraded to mere objects, their features become unrecognizable (in Shoah/Child (1989) he even erases the face with a single white gesture), they have mutilated bodies, their limbs are often missing. For instance Schiele’s nudes with outstretched limbs, mutilated bodies and his crucified Jesus figure highly resemble the Shoah/Black Body II (1989) that depicts the tortured martyr saint with brownish, yellow and green colours evoking evanescence. The other group of the series juxtaposes the living with the dead. In the morbid scene entitled Shoah/Falling on Dead Body (1988) Lajta draws from Medieval and Renaissance danse macabre traditions (i.e.: Hans Holbein). Here a woman with unbounded hair is embracing a skeleton, and a dancing-mocking skeleton seems to be gesticulating behind them. The dead figure leaning on the living symbolizes the inevitable confrontation with death and the holocaust; just as much the black colour of the woman figure and the rotting yellowish-brownish aura that surrounds the couple does. Lightning-fast, tensely twisting, self-boggling line bundles and spilling angry Indian ink patches represent not only the pain and death flipping through the nerve fibres but also the pain, agitation and the feeling of helplessness of the drawer. The same inner, irresolvable tension could be depicted in the pieces of the Chaos series (created parallel to the Shoah series). These works of art show physical-spiritual sufferings in our modern world, what is more, with the help of the graphical means to express chaos, they portray the roots of human suffering in this very era: ruptures, the lack of values relevant for order. The graphical language is more furious, violent, the lines are sharper and more cornered than in the Shoah series. As the drawings try to grasp chaos, they were made in an almost ecstatic mood, yet one could identify recognizable body-parts among the instinctively drawn lines. They are mostly lacerated faces torn by contradictions and inside tensions, but one can also find maimed bodies wounded by sword-blade lines. A good example of this is Chaos/Rembrandt trotz alledem (1988) or Chaos/Hole (1988) where Lajta resolves the extremely strenuous tension (just as Alexander the Great solved the Gordian knot) by erasing the very part of the image that carries the essence of the composition. By this he simply steps out of the role of a good-mannered artist. In Chaos/Bow (1988) it seems as if a torso or a phallus stretched to the breaking-point would stand erect.
Lajta subdues the extreme pitch of the body on the one hand, with yoga, on the other hand, with placing the human figure into ordinary scenes of life While he has shown the inert, objectified and dead body (the imprints of his interest in human body), we could trace another extremity in the Yoga series (1991) – there he shows a highly disciplined, mentally and spiritually subjugated, constructive body that deploys its inner energy right to the limits of possibilities. Lajta himself practised yoga: at first he dealt with Hatha yoga, which focused rather on the body, and then he turned to Radja yoga dealing rather with the soul. The intimate and personal images move on the edge of graphical art and painting – they were created after the artist completely emptied his consciousness through meditation. He did not portray specific yoga exercises but the bodily and spiritual flow, the awakening of the Kundalin snake. He conjured up the inner energies created by meditation; for this he used sharply disparate graphical and painting tools. At the same time, the well-known line-bundles became smoother, coil-like. Nevertheless, the use of body-imprints, natural materials (such as eggs, cotton wad, sawdust) and painting techniques (such as pouring, splashing patches resembling bodily fluid, oranges evoking the body and blood, and red paint in pulverized form) are more relevant. Among the abstract details fragmented bodies strike the eye; these do not recall bodily violence but become erotic symbols. The details of the body are life-sized as they were created from the body-imprints of the artist and his wife – this fact energizes the works with bodily and intellectual power.
On the first image a self-congested, embryo-like figure is shown in whom the Kundalin snake (symbolizing the soaring inner energy reaching ever high awarenes) is still asleep. In the second composition two penetrating triangles and bottom-like oval forms, bottom chakras located at the spine evoke the masculine and feminine principles. In the third image the imprint of an embracing and meditating male and female body represents the ascendance of sexual energy; this is achieved through the inner vivification of the masculine and feminine principle. In the fifth piece a female body is shown whose genital organ is evoked by a hole in the paper. Similarly, in the tenth composition an image of a female genital organ and an imprint of two red hands touching the vagina emerge from among the line-bundles resembling thick hair. The torn upper corner of the twelfth image, and the yellow egg emulsion dripping from it reminds us of a story related to an ascetic – told by Béla Hamvas, too. According to this story the ascetic left his wife and went to the hill to meditate. The wife, driven by revenge, lust and wounded jealousy, knifed the man but sperm spurted out instead of blood. The last images of the series refer to the uppermost chakras situated on the top of the head. This is attained by the ethereal, “empty” white picture-frame carrying a few line-coils. Through the technique of absence and void (most of the paper is torn) Lajta visualizes the state when the soul leaves the body. At the top of the last image we can see only a line-coil: it was drawn by the artist jumping up again and again in the air, thus manifesting the separation from the ground and the body. Besides the yoga theme, Béla Hamvas’ writings on Tibetan mysteries also had an impact on the series.
He continues to work with the image of the subjugated and duty-stricken body, and applies organic materials (elaborated in the Yoga series) in his motion-theatre series of 1994. Here he already uses earth and leafs to visualize and characterize the gesticulating body with performance-like activity. The body image is not fragmented, geometrical or erotic as in the Yoga images; its fluidity, blurred plasticity indicates its flexibility and the ability of metamorphosis. This image is very similar to the approach of Viennese painters: Schiele, Richard Gerstl, Kolo Moser, Max Oppenheimer, Kokoschka, and of actors: Albert Paris Gütersloh, Anton Kolig, Adolf Frohner, Rainer, Anzinger, Maria Lassnig, Brandl.
By going beyond the direct effects of Viennese expressionism and the grasping and subduing of intensified emotions, violence and chaos, Lajta turned towards a certain analytical approach that observed ordinary life. He started to jot down budding, apparition-like scenes that came towards him on the street. He examined seemingly important memories of ordinary scenes of life. In his Street People series his first work of this kind was Coming (1990): this was made in his earlier, half-abstract, expressionistic style, just as Milk Bar (1991) and Red Wine (1990-91). However, the essential connotations shine through the whirling pastel and aquarelle lines and patches, just as in the Street People piece, where hollow, gazing, skull-shaped heads are depicted. This awareness was first shown in Edward Munch’s Night in Karl-Johann Street where a predestined, faceless, easily manipulated and threatening mass marches without showing any kind of personality or free will. Whilst Munch depicted elegantly dressed citizens promenading on a Sunday afternoon, Lajta showed the carousers of Pest wandering at night.
The Flashes series of 1991 (the next group of drawings illustrating pub and street events) has a more conceptual nature: the lines are more analytical, and the artist emphasises only the very essential fragments in a symbolic environment. Good examples for this are the following scenes: the gesticulating movement of the blind man’s stick and his self-contained expression, the faces of two bargaining (?) men standing in a shady doorway together with a woman having voluptuous lips, the tense skulls of quarrelling people in a pub, the movement of a man having a bandaged nose. In Hungarian art history it was Lajos Fülep who has based his art philosophy on remembrance. According to his study entitled Remembrance in Artistic Creation (1911), recollection highlights the essence of the many impressions an artist experiences, and it is this unique ability that distinguishes an artist from a non-artist. Lajta’s approach and reminiscence exercises were inspired by Fülep’s text.
His later mature genre paintings (dated from 1994) has sprung forth basically from these ‘conceptual sketches’, but after a certain time he wanted to show not only particular principal scenes or symbolic graphical reference-fragments, but he aimed at a tinged, allegorical representation of the entire scene, and with grasping the environment, the ‘couleur locale’. He left nothing to chance in finding motifs: he consciously hunted for them in pubs, wine-cellars, and after the change of the regime in newly-opened art coffee houses and discos. The spots did not characterise his artistic personae, however, they were typical scenes of Hungarian reality. These ‘delirious’ places were typical scenes where unsolved, insoluble or seemingly insoluble, illusionist personal and social problems evaded or were put off. They meant shelter that radiated the illusion of home, and their ‘dwellers’ avoided the confrontation of ‘real-life’ problems in this comfortable refuge. At the same time they represent a real simulacra too, since a wine cellar (where one can find the same figures for about 30 years) will take the place of ‘reality’, caring society or family. Still, Lajta has a deep sense for avoiding moralization: he depicts the regular customers of 6th and 7th district wine cellars (that have survived the ‘change of the regime’) with precision and accuracy. In his works one can often find rough faces (Around the Table, 1994; The Lépcsős Pub at Klauzál Square, 1995), wild sexuality (At the Discotheque, 1994, On the Corner, 1994) but his figures are never shown as being criminals, blind-drunks, fighters, humiliated. He does not judge, but does not pose in the role of cool-headed outsider either. In the representation of his pub refugees one could sense compassion but no sentimental identification and condescension.
The visual language of his pub, café house and disco scenes initially borrow from modernist elements; later on, similarly to Kitaj and the London School, he approaches the unity of image and spectacle, even traditional genre compositions step by step. In this process, just as Kitaj did, Lajta mostly relied on the intensification of classical drawing depiction. He acted so in spite of the fact that his work style retained his earlier conceptual marks: he immediately recorded his first memories after arriving home from these catering-facilities, and he continued working on them with the help of drawings made on the spot. In modern art it was in the oeuvre of Die Brücke and the expressionists of Berlin, Kirchner, Nolde, Grosz and Dix where the world of pubs and café houses became a central theme. It was neither the moralizing-mocking Dutch nor the scamp-idealising romantic tradition that Lajta went back to. At the same time, the early German avant-garde painters’ grotesque, caricaturist approach is traceable in just some of his works – without the cynicism and nihilism of his predecessors. Characteristically, critical and slightly taunting tone is not perceptible in the tavern-images, but it is in the representation of the snob and arrogant public of freshly opened café houses and art pubs. Provocatively-dressed and heavily gesticulating female figures (resembling Kirchner’s bird-of-paradise like cocottes) appear in the images that depict Picasso Point and Saigon. But the same grotesque features could be traced in Discotheque where the wriggling and panting ‘femme fatale’ with legs spread out suffers in the arms of the pushy male-figure; and in the bespectacled woman in Strange Couple (1994) evoking De Kooning’s violent ‘intellectual’ women. (The malignant and continuously gossiping women appearing in Conversation /1990/, Red-Haired Tavern Fairy /1990/ and Terminal /1993/ are the forerunners of the caricaturist ‘femme fatale’ figures.)
A more meditative, melancholic and almost peaceful image is shown in the tavern-images. The drinkers of Around the Table or the Lépcsős Pub are introverted people who wail or talk silently. In the painting entitled In the Tavern (1994) one can see merrily chatting elderly men almost in an intimate mood – represented in the cubist style of János Balogh or Jenő Barcsay Junior. A more classical image-representation and a more descriptive genre perception is shown in The Hangulat Pub at Maria Street (1995): here in an abandoned dirty space (in an odd, funny, voyeur situation) the spectator could stare at a balding man in a sharply lit bathroom while combing his thinnish hair. Lajta’s approach in the tavern-images is more humane, but they also have a different style compared to café house and disco scenes. While the latter ones are characterised by a more nervous, tenser, expressionistic imagery, the former ones are defined by a cooler imagery originating from late-cubism, neoclassicism, metaphysical painting and new objectivity. The bleak, orange-reddish spaces with their passively sitting martyrs present in Around the Table and the Lépcsős Pub echo Bacon’s and Kitaj’s works. Yet, in Lajta’s images the figures are not violated by rough physical force, the human bodies are harmless – what is more they are more and more plastic and classically shaped. Here violence is rather spiritual: as if the drinkers in the pubs would be enchanted (as in Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad), and consequently they could not get rid of their ‘prisons’. Although the wine cellar’s door is open in Around the Table, the unreal tone of the dim light at the doorway (just as the TV screen’s faint light) signals that ‘freedom’ from this fake-shelter is illusory; it does not bring salvation. (‘Whoa? What’s up out there?’ This was the question that Lajos Őze, the actor playing the stepfather released from the prison of the 1950s, asked in Péter Gothár’s film entitled Time Stands Still. By the way, he asked his son exactly in a pub.)
Lajta summarized the morale of the world of pubs and café houses depicted in a gradually more classical manner through two, large-scale compositions painted in 1995. Both of them are related to the passing of time. The first one is rather characterized by modernist elements, it is allegorical and genre-painting like, while the second one is characterized by classical painting techniques, it is overtly symbolic – it depicts a sharp border-line moment between day and night: midnight. Triptych (Morning, Noon, Evening) seemingly symbolizes the parts of the day with traditional allegoric means of representation, that is with three symbolic figures. Nevertheless, Lajta’s figures do not carry the traditional features conventionally associated with the three parts of the day. The figures stand for the notions subjectively associated with them by the artist himself. Thus, Morning is visualized through a bowed-headed woman figure sunken into herself who suddenly stops wearily at a busy street corner. She does not recall commencement, activity, starting or freshness; on the contrary, she represents the incapability of action and depression. Yet, Lajta does not make any moral judgements. The beautiful and loveable (although worn and fragile) semi-transparent and ethereal woman conjures up the lonely woman figures of Picasso’s Blue Period wandering on sea shores. It feels as if we can observe a young mother grown weary of family duties and/or work who suddenly became uncertain about her path of life. Her pendant is the seemingly passive girl-figure of Evening smoking in front of a shop-window. Although she does not make dynamic outward movements, she radiates vigorous activity. She glows with exuberant sexual energy: it seems as if her slim and muscular body, which flashes out of her flimsy clothes and glows red hot through the neon-light, burns in fire. Although her dress is provocative (we might see her in a tense moment before starting off for a Saturday night party) she is not at all vulgar. Her solemn face and curling lips emit bitterness, life experience and intellectual maturity. Contrary to Morning’s facelessness, the girls’ expression is self-confident. With a bit of exaggeration one could say that while Morning is the allegoric descendent of ‘vita contemplativa’, Evening is that of ‘vita active’. Their colours also signify this reference: Morning is dominated by blue (traditionally symbolizing evanescence), and Evening is defined by scarlet, symbolizing life itself. The two graceful, other-worldly female-figures surround a fairly grotesque and ugly man with coarse features, who seemingly has no guts. The ordinariness of Noon is visualized by the clumsy movement of the figure as he is leaving the flat, and by the greyish, earthy colours of his clothes and the environment. The obvious contrast with women clearly shows that Lajta appreciates contemplation and ‘aimless’ elevation more than rough, ordinary, down-to-earth activity. His allegory is basically the unification of three genre paintings that show street-scenes from everyday life. His characters are just as introverted and contemplative as his figures in his earlier tavern-images.
In the painting entitled Midnight we find ourselves once again in the interior of a bar or café house. Surprisingly, this place is not noisy or crowded but rather a peaceful ordinary place (with some tension in the air) where an apparition shows up. The figures are almost motionless, as if the moment got frozen. Never in Lajta’s genre paintings were the figures so individualized: this is the result of his virtuosic light-shade contrast (highly reminding us of Georges de La Tour’s art) through which he achieved perfect artistic plasticity. Their features are almost portrait-like, psychically deeply characterised; their powerful physical presence reinforces their symbolic meaning as well. Albeit the entire composition is brilliantly illuminated, and a mysterious door appears in the middle of it that may not lead anywhere, the vertical axis on the canvas separates the virtual space of the image into two worlds. On the right hand side, in the ‘real’ world of present, two dressed figures (a young man and woman) are sitting back to back – they ignore each other. The man stares absent-mindedly, the woman sinks into herself while grasping a half-empty glass, and crying for herself. Although the girl is gentle, intelligent, and the boy is good-looking, muscular and well-dressed they do not approach but simply ignore each other. Whereas on the left hand side, in the ‘world of eternal ideas’, two gentle, embracing, ravishing nudes shine forth. Lajta most probably did not wish to depict the greatness of lesbian love through the visualization of female figures caressing each other by their slender waists. The light-imbued and completely unclothed bodies stand for a certain ideal state, consummation, harmony and peace. The composition’s focus point is the gorgeous buttock of the bending girl, and the flowing highlight depicting the fine details of the woman’s back which is projected to the man’s shirt. All these things are not perceived either by the young man staring at them, or the girl next to him. No ‘mortal man’ can understand the core of this apparition. Lajta’s image, which unites genre painting and allegory, visualizes the utmost seclusion of contemporary single people, the loneliness resulting from selfishness; these are contrasted with the images of openness towards love and harmony. ‘Celestial love’ and beauty is compared with ‘earthly happiness’. In order to idealize the female body, the artist uses the techniques of classicism: transcending light, everlasting nakedness, and the elegance of gesture originating from antique sculpture. Here, for the first time his painting style intersects the world of classical painting. (Yet he uses the effects of artificial light, and neon colours characteristic of contemporary nightclubs.) He also shows that the ‘spiritualizing’ light is not coming from the body of the embracing women (as we might perceive) but from the ceiling spotlights hidden behind black curtains. The two erotic women depicted in their flesh-and-blood reality, through their typical contemporary hair-dos and jewellery, do not become the stilted illustration of past allegories. Besides the aforementioned meanings, the two of them could be interpreted as the rendering of art’s allegory. Here Lajta could find, for the first time, the elements of classical painting and beauty understandable and accomplishable for a contemporary painter.
In Midnight Lajta ‘retrieved’ not only ‘object’ itself, but ‘beauty’ as well, which had a profound connection with the female body and which played a significant role in classical painting. It should not take us by surprise that in the next phase of his path finding and reinterpreting career as a painter he started to deal with nudes. However, this was not a conscious decision: he was led by an accidental vision. He was taking photos of water-pipes when suddenly the vision of a sitting and screaming naked woman flashed into his mind. As he likes David Lynch, he immediately visualized this slightly horrific scene. The water-pipes disappeared from the boiler: only phallic plastic hoses remained that remind the viewer of a disquietingly curling snake-like form that resembles a halter or an infusion tubes. This scene also included a sink with soap and a bath towel in the role of a classical drapery; and the erotically attractive girl is surrounded by a decorative and, at the same time, sensual and threateningly scarlet, halo-like rectangle. The nude figure is shown simultaneously in profile while making a bending movement. All the erotic beauty of her back, buttock and bosom is emphasized by the highlight, just as the right hand side female figure in Midnight. At the same time, her sitting pose and earthbound feature signal defencelessness; her scream and facial expression reflect an ecstasy of horror. Yet, we do not know either the source of her fear or the reason why she clings convulsively to the sink (representing the ‘last refuge of cleanness’) instead of running away. She glances outside the image: she is asking for help or is simply alarmed by the viewer’s voyeur glance. The Scream (1997) is not only a homage à Munch, Bacon and Lynch, but a caricature of them with its settings, horror-like features and the disclosure of unjustified fear. At the same time, it can be interpreted as an intellectual self-portrait too. It seems as if Lajta wanted to scream out all the grief and tension that he experienced in his artist life intertwined with figurative painting. (An interesting parallel could be drawn from the world of film: he depicts this anger with playfulness similar to the under-bridge screaming of Lisa Minelli in Cabaret.) Its theatricality shows the painter’s aloofness, self-reflection and his desire to avoid the danger of vulgarity implied by the nude image. It may be the reason why he places his following nudes in more real environments, namely bathrooms. In Blue Bathroom (1997) the viewer can see two girls again: but they are lying on the floor instead of standing. The short-haired female figure of Scream is sitting ‘calmly’ on her hunkers in the shower. While strongly concentrating and thinking, she is depicted in the classical melancholic pose. The younger, long-haired girl is fast asleep on the floor with her hair undone. Apparently, the two figures embody the states of dream and awakening, unconsciousness and sobriety – maybe the different age of the two women. In the painting entitled Yellow Bathroom (1997) their situation and role interchange: the girl sitting in the shower is crawling more and more into her shell, she shivers, and does not meditate in a melancholic pose but rather gazes vacantly. In Midnight the idealised nudes harmoniously integrated into the everyday scene. Although the figures in the bathroom scenes do not burst out hysterically (as in Scream) they demonstrate a certain dissonance: their nakedness is unnatural not as in Midnight; their poses are artificial, a pre-set by the painter. In the sterile, utterly artificial, colourful and claustrophobic space the nude bodies, laid on the cold floor, seem isolated, enclosed and defenceless - in spite of the fact that the painter has painted them with utmost tenderness, and their bodies were bundled up in classic drapery and fluffy towels. These partly classical and beautiful nudes become estranged from their origin, nature or at least their bedroom and boudoir (that might have a symbolic meaning) in the profane, almost vulgar space between the shower and the toilet bowl. The bathroom is a characteristic fake-intimate scene for the modern, socially-regulated body. This is the place where a woman could find refuge, where she can find herself again, and can strengthen her personality and identity with the help of the mirror. Yet, the virtual space of the bathroom and the mirror is also the very spot where the consumer can try all the manipulating goods propagated by beauty-industry, which finally may lead to the weakening of the personality. From a masculine point of view Bacon’s images - and Hitchcock’s films - are the most characteristic: the bathroom and toilet stand for the bleak scenes of death, abjection, filth and violence. In Lajta’s pictures the female models appear enclosed or locked up (?) in the bathroom, this might be the reason for their hesitation and introverted posing. Obviously, Lajta felt the dissonance; consequently, in his 1999 nude-series (which could be labelled as his most successful ones following the path of classical traditions) his figures were placed in a more minimalist, abstract greyish space that evoked the works of Spanish masters. He overtly undertook theatricality and pre-setting by building a pulpit for them with an old wash-hand basin stand and basin in his studio. Thus, the situation became more honest, the movement of the models depicted by the artist became more relieved, and ultimately they suggest a deeper symbolism on the bleak stage of life. What is even more, the woman figures are not completely naked, or defenceless and passive. Although they mostly lie on the ground, their lying pose points beyond the ‘female prototype of passively available woman’: they put on a more active, crouching posture. Though some of them, for instance the figures of Dance Hall (1999), Nude with a Black Coat (1999), Woman with a Wrapped Arm (1999) or Nude with a Basin (1998), are lying on the ground, their bodies radiate the movement of former activities. Others are engaged in ordinary activities (seen also in works of Degas or Csernus): they bend for clothes, glasses, etc. These movements highlight certain aspects of their bodies, but they also preclude the possibility of narration or commonplace allegories.
Dance Hall is an excellent example of this open symbolism introduced in ordinary life. As if Lajta wanted to grasp the duality of observation and activity through the contrasting (or connection?) of dressed and naked, weary and tense female bodies. The girl in the foreground with outstretched legs is sitting in a provocative posture. She smokes and wears boots, has a gentle face but resembles a tomboy – she definitely is defiant and self-confident. The other female figure, situated in the light-triangle of the background, is in a meditating or praying position – she radiates humbleness and self-discipline. The same short-haired, blond girl appears in a black coat and next to the wash-hand basin stand, but this time she is more feminine and sensual. In both cases she is depicted as being exhausted, absorbed in thought after some hard work. The wash-hand basin stand’s black and white iron-structure, and the playful shades of the menacing lath set against the wall conjure up the bars and cages of Bacon, who surrounds his lonely suffering figures with these appliances. Although space is also bleak and sometimes dirty in Lajta’s paintings, and his figures are also lonely, their isolation is not as irresolvable and finite as in Bacon’s works. It becomes understandable that the shade-feature of the construction shows a virtual bar; what is more, the ‘real’ basin stand supports one of the nudes. (In the nude With a Wrapped Arm the bar is replaced with white marks painted on the ground – and they have the same meaning.) The isolation and loneliness depicted in Lajta’s nudes is rather voluntary. It does not derive from spiritual distortion (as in Bacon’s case) but from an intentional ascetic work to be carried out. The body of the girls shown in Lajta’s series is uninjured. They are rather lively and sensual, and this is further intensified with the Venus pudica hand position and the voyeur glance of man both in the basin stand and black coat paintings. One can mention violence against the female body only in two cases. Nevertheless, in the Woman with a Wrapped Arm the source of the injury (?) is absolutely unknown. Nude from Back with a Blanket could be interpreted as the daring quasi-sacred paraphrasing of chastisement and Mary Magdalene scenes so popular in Spanish Baroque art rather than the visualization of a naked female back offered for some kind of a sadistic play. In the (logically) last piece of the series, which could be termed as the portrait of an electric cable – Lamp Cord (1999), the painter visualized objects left behind by a female body: a bed-sheet still preserving body heat, a part of the bar, a violent electric wire hanged on a hook – following the ‘visual tradition’ of the hoses depicted in Scream. The group of objects could be interpreted as the remains of a Hajas performance; and the background’s gesture-like wall painting makes the viewer associate action-art. (As if the painter laid on the paint left behind in the brush, or as if he wanted to block out the former happenings with white.) Undoubtedly, this is the series’ gloomiest, most infernal image; it stands close to the dark atmosphere of Velazquez, Zurbarán, Ribera and Goya. Yet it is very characteristic of Lajta’s humanity that the violence expressed is not turned against his models.
Lajta does not consider his nudes as mere elements of nature: his nude female figures are self-conscious, sensitive human beings who possess self-recognition – even though the nature of their activity is hidden from us. Subsequent to all these antecedents, it is not surprising that Lajta himself stepped on to the mini-stage; here, as a part of a symbolic play, he formulated statements related to the nature of art. Hidden Heads (1999) visualizes the body of the artist and his model welded together in a meander composition: it propagated the inseparability and unity of artist and model. Nevertheless, as it is the painter who blocks out the model, it becomes obvious that the realm of art is dominated by his ego. The viewer is warned of the irrational nature of art by the erased heads of the figures; and indeed, besides all the reality-features of this nude-series, lyricism and sensitivity are the defining notions. The unity of model and artist is well-defined through the illusionist formulation in Woman and Man Looking in the Mirror (1999). Here the artist’s self-reflection is complemented with the ‘actual’ body of the model. The nude holds up a mirror to the creator by visualizing his forehead in the bosom of the nude. ‘Reality’ and ‘illusion’ are inseparable regardless of the fact that both are painted illusions. Thus, the painter and his model metaphorically become one: the model literally nourishes the artist with her body. This image raises further important aspects of art, including mimicry, self-knowledge, narcissism, or camouflage. The latter is present in the aforementioned painting as Lajta plays the peculiar role of Narcissus, and the spectator can only see his face (as opposed to the female figure’s face) ‘indirectly’ in a mirror. (Of course, the ‘indirect image is also painted) All this shows that Lajta clearly sees one of the most typical features of art, namely illusoriness. (For this very reason the dividing line between reality and illusion will be highly penetrable in his later works.)
After all the nude-series and the image depicting the studio in an empty and barren state, he painted a self-portrait as well (Self-Portrait with Grey Background – 1999). Here Lajta is lonely, and is depicted in a Rembrandt-like suggestive and self-revelatory, romantic pose, and he does not take it for a ‘role-play’. (The question arises whether such a thing exists in portraiture.)
Between 1997 and 1999 Lajta led his painted female figures out of Bacon’s violent, torn spaces; he carried them back to Degas and Ingres, and through them to Zurbarán and Velazquez. He achieved ‘real repossession of the object’. In his later works he followed the joining of nudes: at first, he united female bodies into coiling groups through Baroque and modern features, later on he depicted in aquarelle the various relations of a young girl and a naked elderly man through the Persephone-series (2000). Besides the bodies he used only certain objects (such as the ladder symbolising the dilemma of youth vs. ageing, the pomegranate standing for eternal life and marriage, and the ‘stage’ being the location for nude) to convey the message. This is only complemented by some drapery, a spotlight evoking the heavens, and electric cable standing for suffering. Although the background for the nudes was ‘infernally’ dark, claustrophobic and gloomy, Lajta’s impressionistically colourful aquarelles avoid commonplaces: here the environment is neither dark, nor depressing. The mythological framework is also ‘spicy’: it is heavily loaded with violence and incest. Yet, the painter avoids this trap, the viewer can see a true love story of an uncle and niece (representing two different generations) based on mutual understanding, self-sacrifice, responsibility, and the undertaking of burdens. Hades is not a rude seducer; he loves and helps the girl with all his heart. It is not accidental that in the last three pieces of the series Lajta takes on his role, but his outsider-feature is visible through his complete clothing.
The year 2001 marked an essential turning point in Gábor Lajta’s oeuvre. In his series entitled Nox (Night) he turned away from lonely nudes, inner spaces, psychic examination of his models, and the freshly found plastic, classical-realistic language. Instead, he started painting colourful, open-air crowd-scenes focusing primarily on the spectacle. He is inspired by a new and sensual aspect of pictorial quality; movement, diversity and light-heartedness come to the foreground. The starting point here is the world of concerts. At first, he started to attend the not yet business-oriented music events of Diáksziget, later he recognised the symbolic and painterly possibilities hidden in mass events: his ‘hunting ground’ was extended to the electronic music parties at Frankhegy, the acid and techno concerts organised in deserted factories and tram-depots. In order to grasp the spectacle he turned to the techniques of modern painting – he made relaxed, expressionistic rough drafts that sometimes were on the verge of abstraction. (Figures of the Night, Gyroscope, Whirling Gyroscope, Stilt Walkers /2001/) His paining technique, defined by the artist as colouristic realism, joins many impressions in this case. His art approximated the approach of Tibor Csernus’ Hogarth-variations, Delacroix, Manet, the Impressionists and the École de Paris, the Baroque, Frans Hals, Velazquez and Rubens. At the same time, the viewer can experience in Lajta’s works the reminiscence of István Farkas, Aurél Bernáth and the painter of the Great Plain. After the first drafts, Lajta painted four large-sized images where he formulates the need for synthesis. In his wide-perspective and panoramic paintings, including Agora (2001), Fans (2001), One More Minute (2002) and We are Born at Sunset and We Die Ere Morn (2002) the artist aimed at associating bright colours and dramatic chiaroscuro with relaxed brushstrokes (depicting the collective movement of the crowd) and the unique characterisation of figures, and with natural and artificial light. It is not accidental that all his concert-images visualize night scenes. Though no violence or any dramatic event is shown directly on them, one can feel a certain suppressed tension. By looking at the paintings critically, the viewer can discover tiny, dissonant, sinister motifs hidden by the artist in the crowd-scenes or the atmosphere of the entire image – a strategy highly preferred by Mannerists. In Fans an alarmed boy comes into sight from among the raging public and nasty dogs lurk; in the image showing the excited moments before concert (One More Minute) the public is enclosed with metal cordons and skinhead security guards are shown in close-ups. In the focus point of We are Born at Sunset and We Die Ere Morn the real drama of a lifeless woman is shown, but her body is hidden in the mass of Greco-like flame bursting environment. The people surrounding her look helpless and there is no hope for help. But the most frightening element in either the small or large-sized paintings is light itself. It is unreal, artificial, sometimes magical and fairy-tale like (just as in Night Party /2001/– depicting the techno parties at Frankhegy; in the image entitled Any Kind of Music /2002/) but most of the time lights are cold and menacing. In most of the paintings camp-fires are blazing (conjuring up the Triumph of Death by Pieter Brueghel the Elder). These fires spread over the concert’s public with eerie, scarlet light and horrific shades. The musicians, rarely visible from a short distance, are also depicted as figures wearing sunglasses and hiding in demonic, scarlet hoods (Two Musicians, 2002). Here mainly the Baroque’s, Georges de la Tour’s, Caravaggio’s and Alessandro Magnasco’s nocturnal world haunts. Yet the virtual reality and artificiality of the present is envisaged in Metal (2001), Green Pavilion (2002) through the warlike atmosphere and the glimmering tents emitting a certain depressive temporariness.
Albeit their animation, the large-sized concert images are characterized by an analytical approach and cool composition. Their message cannot be defined by a single given theme: the emphasis is sometimes put on mass isolation, sometimes on relaxedness in a crowd or simply decay, and menace. In Agora for instance the viewer is confronted with the figures’ utmost isolation, apathy and vulgarity – isolation and nihilism is deeper in these images compared to the tavern-paintings. The apocalyptic tone intensifies in the last piece of the series entitled We are Born at Sunset and We Die Ere Morn – named after the poem of Fernando Pessoa. In the background city eerie lights (fires?) flare up, time is out of order, it seems as if it were night and dawn at the same time, the outlines of a storm are visible, thunderbolts hurl, and the horizon is menacingly reddish-purple. The cosmic conflict taking place in the world is intensified with the human drama shown through the contrast of danger and indifference. In an interview Lajta said about the image the following: “The three lines crossing the image symbolize the elements. The bottom level where the story unfolds is the world of earth and fire; above them I depicted trees representing a moister natural environment that could be termed as the water-element. Finally, at the top one could trace air, night and emptiness.” Then he added modestly: “But this was not this deliberate in the working process.” Probably not, but he incorporated the motif of a faintly lying female body into this composition.
The new path of the artist (characterised by relaxed painterly oil-drafts) did not necessarily continue in great, synthesizing compositions. The canvases depicting unreal, artificial lights evolved into a new painterly path; these were compositions showing empty and abandoned concert halls where apocalyptic visions became cosmic. The first such large-scale piece was Tram Depot (2002): it visualized a chilly, futuristic industrial interior; it highly reminds the viewer of a sci-fi movie’s scary, illusory, labyrinth-like shooting site in an almost geometric-abstract representation. In the following paintings the scene is already in the open air. Here Lajta conjures up more and more abstract, almost monochrome visions by putting great emphasis on dim lights and colours typical of night and dawn. In Night Stage (2002) the focus is rather on the monstrous, multi-level stage (depicted in a contrastive light-shade drama) pressed by the heavily thick, bluish-purple sky than the contemplative and lonely man on the left hand side resembling C. D. Friedrich’s rückenfigur. The outermost points are Night Scene II and Triptych I-III. (2002). There are no human figures on these images; on the first painting one can see the infernal vision of the stage after concert glowing in deep-scarlet colours evoking the devil’s hellish kitchen. In Triptych the very last signs of human activity disappeared; what stayed behind was a sinister horizon with a menacing sky. This was painted by Lajta in the style of C. D. Friedrich (Monk), J. M. W. Turner and Emil Nolde, whose stormy sea landscapes, and Rothko’s style had a great influence on him – as if we saw the apocalyptic landscapes of John Martin and Turner or the barren Earth after the last atomic strike glowing in radioactive radiation.
Parade and We March in This Way (2003-05), depicting the techno parade of Budapest, are the branching-offs of concert images. Here again, the artist used a more classical and plastic style to grasp the typical segment of a manipulative and aggressive consumer society, which submerges itself in outward appearances and illusions, thus eliminating the last remnants of human personality – there is nothing to identify with in this world. The painter does not want to idealize; he aims at showing the unique features of his figures as promptly as possible. The viewer can see young, Barbie-like, ‘beautiful’ plastic girls dancing in posh dresses, but they are repulsively artificial and can only grin with a ‘seductive smile’ learnt from the media – they are completely isolated and immersed in a self-contained and pretended ecstasy. Here isolation reaches its height in Lajta’s life-work. This is not the late Kádár era or post-communism, but consumer society’s ‘brave new world’. At this point Lajta most probably got disillusioned from the light-music subcultures swallowed by business life; he turned towards a more humane form of role-play, namely theatre. But he was typically interested not in the stars and glittering appearances of mature plays, but in the rehearsals of young actors and their true belief in the discovery of the world and themselves. For this reason he regularly visited the classes of Andor Lukáts at the University of Drama, Film and Television, Budapest. The paintings based on his drafts highly contributed to the figurative compositions visualizing the nuances of human relations. Nevertheless, the environment awakened the actor in him (as it was expressed in his earlier paintings and his film-related activities). This was articulated later on in his Séparé series and in other new paintings focusing on night scenes. From this moment on, the artist himself will become the subject of role-play slipping into new characters.
It is unique that Lajta summarized his feelings concerning the theatre rehearsals in a pre-set, open air but theatrical scene resembling Csernus’ Hogarth-images. The large-scale image, Danube Promenade (2005) is interesting from the point of view that this is the artist’s first personal piece after so many works depicting crowd-scenes: secretly his family members appear on the painting. (A hidden family portrait of a bashful artist who has just turned 50.) The image showing the chaos and confused relations of the present depicts a hardly understandable tumultuous scene. In the strange Baroque-style group (composed in a Caravaggiesque manner) many inharmonious figures are juxtaposed. Of course, as we are in a scene from the street, this group (including an elderly man, a boy and a girl staring at each other next to their bicycles, a tourist making photographs, a sandwich man and a prostitute) might happen to meet. In the image’s focus point one can see the artist himself, made to look older and better-looking, in a bright mackintosh and hat while smoking a cigarette with a Humphrey Bogart like elegance. The light coming from under demonizes his figure – the scene shows the family members grouping around the head of the family, the mafia godfather. It is a perfect self-caricature. The painting had a concrete, personal experience rendered to a given location; based on this Lajta wanted to create a scene taking place in a typical Budapest location. In the first version of the image one could only see the young guys and a less exciting man without the hat clutching at the bar (or rather feeling dizzy?). Behind