Albert KOVÁTS

Albert KOVÁTS

Contemporary Art from Hungary 10.

2009-12-10

He was born in 1936 in Budapest. In 1956 he was imprisoned as a student of the Teacher Training College at Szeged. He was released in 1959. He has been a freelance exhibiting painter and book illustrator since 1961. He also worked as an extra in theatre, edited an encyclopedia and worked in applied graphic arts. From 1991 he has been writing and publishing articles, papers and essays about fine arts and urban history on a regular basis. Between 1993 and 1998 he edited arts programmes for Hungarian Public Television. He was a founding member of the Society of Hungarian Painters in 1994. In 1995, he became a vice-chairman, then in 2002 the chairman of the society. He is also a member of the Society of Aquarelle Painters. He has been exhibiting since 1966 and a member of the National Association of Artists since 1969. In addition to his own exhibitions he also participated in many group exhibitions and his works have been purchased by several public and private collections. He likes to organise and often opens exhibitions of contemporary painting. He has received the 1956 Memorial Award and the Munkácsy and Simsay awards.

“Art does not reproduce the visible, it makes visible” – these words of Paul Klee, the excellent Swiss painter are frequently quoted. At times, the original form of the statement fades and in thought and conversation concerning art it tends to be taken as a wish or a rule. The sense of it is something like this: „Art should not depict that which we see, it should rather render visible that which is not visible on the surface.” Or a little differently: “The work of art is to explore deep connections, not to be content with superficial approaches.” These different interpretations, or, if you like, these inaccurate renderings of the painter’s thought simply indicate that we are dealing with something important and fundamental which provokes further consideration. Nevertheless, it is worth returning again and again to the original formulation, because I think its most important feature is that it is a statement of fact: it is a declaration of general truth, with the implicit assertion that “that is how it has always been and how it will always be”. Therefore, while contemporary artists may draw their own conclusions (as indeed they are in the habit of doing so), the exact translation of the quotation shows that Klee was talking about a fundamental characteristic of art of all ages. If I think about it, in essence it is a characteristic that makes art art. Art offers me knowledge, content unavailable by other means, that would otherwise remain unknown to me.

If I think about master Klee’s famous sentence as an artist, a painter, I am bent double under the weight of responsibility. This is by no means a romantic extravagance, nor is it pomposity. I stand before the white canvas, which can as yet carry anything at all, and it is up to me, only to me whether I “make something visible”, something that has hitherto lain hidden somewhere in infinity, whether there will be unexplored worlds behind my brushstrokes or whether I will only produce a plain surface smeared with paint – which a theoretical question as well, but most of all I need to find a justification for my existence as an artist before myself and the world.

The painter paints, for he can do no otherwise. And he hopes that his actions are not mere compulsive substitutes but meaningful, useful acts. He hopes, but he is not sure. He can only rely on his internal conviction, his faith, for he receives little feedback. Little? Practically none. This is not the obligatory complaint about the lack of criticism. There is very little in the way of truly adequate reaction. Substantial dialog. Professional or indeed “lay” partners who wish to explore the painter’s intentions and to compare them against the results, who understand the forms of speech of visual expression, pictorial language, the finesses of dialect. With autonomously formed taste that doesn’t stop somewhere in the middle of the last century or even before. People who live in their age and who are not perplexed (or indeed offended or outraged) by the facts that today’s artists struggle with today’s problems, that their experiences are of the present age and that they keep attempting to create new forms of expression (rather than using those of yesterday, the middle of the last century or even earlier times). That they seek a present range of forms for the world of the end of the millennium. And who are not horrified even if the result resembles the world the artists had started with, our world, but who appriciate that “resemblance”. People who may even purchase one or two contemporary paintings to hang on the walls of the office or the home.

Anyone with an insider’s view of our present arts scene may discover a noteworthy contradiction. In the language of economics, the almost complete lack of demand has no effect on supply. An unprecedented vitality is in evidence around exhibitions, galleries and prestigious exhibition halls, in some of the artists’ societies and in large groups of artists, particularly young artists at the beginnings of their carriers. The indifference of the public, the scarcity, inadequacy of criticim do not dishearten the majority of the community of Hungarian artists. The Hungarian arts scene is wonderfully colourful and rich. Exploring the reasons would take us far. The work of the many artists’ societies created thanks to the system of foundations and the Companies Act is certainly a part of it. Beyond all that, beyond the sense of vocation and the innate compulsion, perhaps we may be permitted to assume that many artists also share a certain optimism. All in all, the artists are working, THE PAINTER PAINTS.

It is an eternally fascinating, inexhaustible experience to see, again and again, something that had only been a fragmentary notion, the glittering of the imagination being formed out of nothing. And the person whose hand incorporates the image into matter, the objectifier is me! That is also impossible to get used to, a forever surprising and sometimes deeply moving event. The fact that this is not easy, that it is often painfully hard work does not reduce the power of the experience, indeed, it rather increases its value. If I have no opportunity to paint for several days, I am beset by restlessness, a sense of longing.

The role of consciousness and volition is limited. Often, “the picture builds itself”, that is to say the individual components of the painting determine each other’s positions and shapes through the principle of attraction and repulsion. Tiny events of form follow one another in the field of the picture. Again and again I come up against new situations, I am forced to make decisions perpetually. I am proceeding along a path into the unkown and sometimes I take the wrong turn at a crossroads. And still, the excitements, experiences, starts and restarts, consequences and conclusions of that exploration of variable success are worthy of any journey.

For many years, the line has played the main role in my pictures. I don’t know how that got started or why. I use lines out of an internal compulsion and the same compulsion dictates their paths. The beginning, the placement and direction of the first few lines is the hardest. Then I have to use my intuition: innate forces are acting in the field of the picture. The older ones largely determine the latter ones, but quite frequently the new lines destroy the sense of and erase the older ones. Meetings, crossings, deviations and parallels. The colour of the line. The width and length of the line. A close-meshed net or the voice of a solo violin. The narrow ledge and the deep chasm. The slow forest path and the speeding flood.

I have been engaged with the labyrinth as a theme for small sculpture since the beginning of the eighties. The concept has a far-reaching mythological and symbolic background and also a highly varied, extensive range of historical forms as a motif and as a symbol. It has become important two me in two respects. On the one hand, because of the mythical connection between navigating a labyrinth and the concept of the descent into hell (the process of trials, purification and finding ourselves). This realisation has helped by opening the possibility of artistic adaptations of existential and community processes and phenomena. On the other hand, I had already noted the primary formal opportunities inherent in the motif of the labyrinth. In several of my pictures, I made use of the aspect of the motif that expresses the mysterious complexity of the world.

In more recent years, working with labyrinths gradually lead me to the concept of the network, which appeared in my works as a structural-formal theme. In essence, the network appeared as an even more coplex, even less transparent labyrinth which adds another dimension of obstacles to the difficulties of the traveller (on the journey of life). In contrast with the labyrinth, which can be mastered with some luck and perseverance and will lead to the goal after its trials, the network consigns us to eternal wandering, culminating at best in the recognition of the pressing difficulties of our lives and the world, but not a solution. The network is the domain of the intertwined, multilayered and inextricable multiplicity of phenomena, which corresponds to a world which no longer merely mysterious, but irrational and absurd.

The increasing complexity of the world, its incomprehensibly intertwined network is oppressive. Understanding it and the things and phenomena that compose it is ever less possible. And still, in the hope of achieving at least a relative degree of insight I feel a compulsion to represent that state of affairs. I search for an artistic form and I believe to have found it in the superimposition of networks; in researching and amalgamating the forms of various types of networks. The seemingly infinite number of networks, which offers exciting work for several years to come, is something I find inspiring.

I was twenty in 1956. The revolution and prison made me grow up and turned me into a painter. But after my release, I was only granted the freedom of an occupied and oppressed country. Yet, among many other things, painting was able to give me the experience of real freedom in the colony of a superpower. I first achieved notable success with my Ubu collages (1980-85). That series of some fifty pieces was an artistic elaboration of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu plays, a combination of my previous experiments with collage and my political mood.

The change of system brought radical change in my life as well. My 1992 exhibition in Lajos street was a milestone of my carrier: I exhibited the best of my work after 1986, including the mixed-technique pictures created in the euphoria of the change of system. Since 1990, writing about art has become a regular feature of my life as well. Arts and literary papers and periodicals have published over three hundred writings of various length about artists, exhibitions, books. In 1999, I selected and published a volume of those writings under the title The metaphysics of the exhibition. I received the Munkácsy Award in the same year. I was also given the Simsay Award for my work for fellow artists. I found an opportunity for such organisational work in the Society of Hungarian Painters, an organisation founded in 1995 with 280 members, of which I am chairman. My work includes the conception and organisation of 4 or 5 exhibitions each year. My work for Hungarian Public Television, where I edited arts programmes, was an opportunity to promote the art of our contemporary artists. I give opening speeches at the vernissages of my fellow artists frequently and gladly.

The way it really is is that the change of system (which lies broken into pieces before our feet by now), the euphoria of the change of system still continues in me. It is the discovery that that which I think up, invent, does not necessarily have to remain a fantasy. It can also be made real. I can do all sorts of things. Things that nobody else had done before, or things similar to previous ones, only differently. And nobody interferes. People agree, if I raise an idea. Sometimes I even get asked. In all sorts of areas and genres. And it is possible, it is allowed.

And then the years go by. It is a cliché, but it is true: time passes incredibly quickly. And, compared to the speed of the passage of time, one feels one has not done enough. There has been no “good deed” for every interval of time. That one’s past is too little relative to the opportunities. And there is an astonishing wealth of opportunities. They are here, all one has to do is “bend down to pick them up”, yet one misses the moment, the moment when the opportunity could be seized – after all, we all know that this is also a strict function of timing. One does not step into the same river if one steps in later.

And – let’s be honest about it – one also wants to prove things. Prove to oneself that one can solve this, too, do that, too. At first, one was surprised at one’s hidden resources and now they are manifesting freely. Back then, in the dozens of years one spent in stagnation, one just sat with one’s arms in one’s lap, helplessly. That is why one was so astonished by the realisation: hey, things have started to move, I could move as well!

That’s roughly how it is with my feverish activity. People say I ought to slow down a little. But that’s not my problem!