The Lost Generation. Exhibition opening speech by Katalin S. Nagy (Budapest Gallery, 2008). Élet és irodalom [Life and Literature, a weekly cultural-political periodical], 4 Apr 2008, p.29 Full text>
Neverending stories. Exhibition opening speech by Ernő P. Szabó (Újpalota Community House, 2005). Új Művészet [Art Today, a monthly art periodical] Feb 2006, p.42 Full text>
Frieze-painting. Exhibition opening speech by Albert Kováts (Vigadó Gallery, 2001). Új Művészet Apr 2001, p.44
Dragon's Teeth. Exhibition opening speech by György Szegő (Duna Gallery, 1994). Új Művészet Jun 1994, p.65
Records of Remote Times. Journal article by Ernő P. Szabó. Nők lapja [Women's Magazine] 18 Nov 1989, pp.14-15. Full text>
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Full text of the reviews cited above
The Lost Generation by Katalin S. Nagy
With Lajos Németh being gone in the early 90’s, Hungarian modern art theory has suffered a particularly irreplaceable loss: it was in a great part due to his premature death that a whole generation of artists was unjustly pushed into oblivion. It was him to discover the powerful and expressive art of Antal Turcsányi; after his death, only very few were interested enough to follow up the career of the painter. The worse for the rest, though. To say the least, Turcsányi’s monumental tableau Underground exhibited in 2001 at Vigadó Gallery in Budapest, with its 9 pieces totaling 18 meters of length, would have deserved far more attention. It should represent the high-end artistic output of the turn of the millennium in a prestigious modern art collection. Instead its pieces, taken apart, are facing the wall in the artist’s small atelier.
It is clearly apprehensible why it was a historical necessity for the long-suppressed avantgarde and post-avantgarde to spring forth immediately after the fall of the communist regime. But then, with a sudden explosion, the unstoppable shockwave of young artists, newly opened galleries and auction houses blew out entire oeuvres from the consciousness of the contemporary art community; oeuvres that had been steadily built for years and years in the past. It’s too bad there was nobody to take the role of Lajos Németh in following the ways of Antal Turcsányi. There was nobody to trace the inner paths of his paintings elaborated with baroque-like richness. And nobody was there to observe his secret evolution, to witness his progress of creating ever more consistent compositions out of organic and geometrical forms admixed in a very natural manner; out of mythological allusions and transitional creatures captured in the state of metamorphosis between man, beast, and plant; out of a whirl of figurative and nonfigurative elements; all in all, out of apparently opposing motifs that nevertheless become united in a higher order by the painter. Turcsányi, a skilled craftsman, devoted but disciplined, has time after time shown us in exhibitions the progress he had made in this world of his own creation. And now in the March of 2008, at the age of 68, he comes up with a summary: here I stand now. And it is indeed a fair and timely demand that we should stop and interpret what has happened through all these years.
Turcsányi’s canvases are populated with events, though not with ones in the social, historical, or psychological sense. As the artist himself put it the most accurately in an interview, “The birth of any artistic content, such as a novel quality that cries out for shape, is heralded by intuition. This is where the long process of realization, complicated by many transmissions, begins. The road between intuition and realization must at all times be kept perfectly clear: nothing should stand in the way, be it any programme, political credo, fashion of style, or the urge to innovate. No doubt the latter are all values, but ones of peripheral importance here. I believe our world is made up of innumerable hidden laws, and the observable phenomena emerge at their crossing points. We can divine these laws, even generate new crossing points, and can thus create in any area of intellectual activity including arts. The preliminary acts of artistic creation, however, are carried out in other dimensions, and we have to train ourselves in the trafficking within and between these dimensions. And while we are constantly attempting to peek into the transcendental, we always have to keep an observing eye on the material world, and never stop learning more and more of the language and technique of artistic expression.” Hence, the events populating Turcsányi’s world are purely pictorial, with references within the picture only and not anchored in the external reality.
The thick, tangible, porous, sensual layer of oil color; the broad, powerful, often black contour strokes; the specifiable or allusive forms reveal a world where every single object is cross-referenced to all others – where there are no empty spaces or gaps – no clear boundaries between animate and inanimate – where fragments of vegetal, animal and human shapes aggregate in clusters. This world is crowded but not chaotic. Shapes and colors meander or penetrate into each other but do not diffuse. Diversity does not cause the picture to fall into pieces because there is a strong hand behind that keeps the surface together. Turcsányi is able to create closed and coherent compositions out of elements that are multi-faceted in terms of emotions, thoughts, and forms. Layers of colors, of purple-violets and madders in particular, play a distinctive role in the establishment of cohesion. At the same time, the associative reference points, abundant in Turcsányi’s output of the 90’s – arms, legs, and other body parts; claws, horns, »dragon’s teeth«, demons, and a myriad other manifestations of existence – have become less numerous and evident. The result is not only a higher level of abstraction and complexity, but also of harmony and balance. Turcsányi has arrived to the very edge of his own reign of formal language: what used to remind us this and that and other well-defined and ill-defined things now does not remind us anything anymore – it stands purely for itself. Can a painter reach any farther, unless he denies all he has built up for decades while unwaveringly threading his inner path? Fortunately, Turcsányi is wise enough not to cross the borderlines he has set out for himself. He knows very well that the irrational, the terra incognita is waiting on the other side, but he gives way to temptation only as long as it can be channeled into an ordered composition.
Nevertheless, Turcsányi’s pictorial world is essentially enigmatic. A face is never just a single face: it is always a mask with another face behind. And while the face merges with the landscape, still we have a feeling of certainty. Why, isn’t it a contradiction? Isn’t it a permanent source of tension? No: there is no contradiction because the medium is the picture itself. The painting is the universe, and all universalism exists only in relation to the picture. In each painting, everything is referenced to itself, and the plane of the picture is the only legitimate place. Natural and human, organic and geometric, emotional and intellectual – all these dualistic pairs are transmitted to us by shapes and colors layered on a well-defined surface, and it is all happening hic et nunc, here and now, in front of us.
Ceaseless change has always been an inherent property of Turcsányi’s work ever since he was discovered and praised as highly remarkable by Lajos Németh. His extraordinary style, in equal distance from all ‘isms’, is still molten lava that has not come to a rest. Yet this exhibition is doubtlessly a milestone; a peak from where both past and future can be seen, experienced, and even influenced.
Antal Turcsányi is a prominent representative of the “lost generation”. His example should teach us all how wasteful it is to let our cultural values slip away – a mistake we should never make again. We may accept that the world we live in is fevered by the fascination of novelty, of the wonder of always something new. But we must not tolerate that entire oeuvres become sacrificed on the altar of holy innovation. And we must not agree to the obliteration of magnificent works created in another referential frame that, exactly because they refuse to blindly obey fashion, do transcend the borders of time.
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Neverending Stories by Ernő P. Szabó
Does anybody need painting anymore? – This question is ever more frequently being echoed now that we have passed beyond the turn of the millennium. It is no coincidence, as modern media have indeed radically transformed contemporary art as a whole. In the face of it, painting appears to witness another renaissance. Paintings increasingly reconquer exhibition halls, and a significant part of remarkable recent works come to existence by means of traditional artistic tools. This revival is headed by artists who through all the past decades resisted the invading legion of tempting novel options and have remained faithful to their well-considered original choice of technique. Antal Turcsányi is certainly one of them, and the question, “Does anybody need painting anymore?”, is just one of those his works give an answer to. Because these works show us that the sheer existence of painting is hardly the problem itself; rather, the problem is whether and how the final questions of human condition can be formulated by painting – or through it, or even better, within it. Here we can refer to the words of Lajos Németh, the analyst who first paid professional attention to Turcsányi’s works in the early 80’s, and who wrote around the same time in his assay on the art of Tibor Csernus: “The demonstration of visual truth, the everlasting fight with the problem of how to put existence into image – this is not only a matter of art, this is art’s way of raising the fundamental issues of contemporary being. Since no less is at stake than creating and standing out for moral values. Can we re-create the Picture? Is Painting possible? Is Art possible at all? These questions are not primarily esthetic in nature. We could also put them that way: Is human existence possible, in the ethical and not merely biological sense?”
The same questions can be read in the aquarelles of Antal Turcsányi. The fact that these questions are now taking shape in a technique and material that is new for the artist, allowing insight into the last two years’ backstage progress, add a special air of excitement. The usual home ground for Turcsányi is oil color, a material that leaves a special mark on the process of creation by posing limits and raising obstacles to the artist. All pictures exhibited here in the Újpalota Community Gallery are, on the other hand, aquarelles; representatives of a genre that lies on the borderline and mediates between painting and drawing. Despised by some professionals as a mere ancillary to painting, aquarelle is highly esteemed by others, and regarded as the greatest challenge an artist can ever face. In either way, as with the advent of photography this genre also left behind the manacles of faithful depiction, aquarelle began to flourish and it certainly played a pivotal role in 19th and 20th century art both in Hungary and worldwide.
Antal Turcsányi’s aquarelles do not belong to the “English” type where adjacent hues admix in loose washes; nevertheless, the way colors shine through each other thanks to the inherent transparency of the material merits special attention. But knowing the artist we may guess that these interferences and transparences have a deeper meaning here: they allude to the relations between phenomena, and serve to trigger chains of association.
Two figures appear in most aquarelles. We observe men, women, or hardly recognizable chimeras of human and beast that do not simply exist in the paintings but co-exist in intimate mutual relationships. Words fail here: these works are especially refractory to a conceptual, descriptive approach. This is no wonder since, according to the will of their creator and the natural history of their birth, they have no circumscribed beginning or end. Their incarnation is preceded by a long incubation period while they float in the imagination of the painter. Weren’t it for the border to delimit them, these paintings would spontaneously expand into the infinity of space. One thing is for sure: the strange beings, often half man and half beast, strongly belong together, and are similarly undetachable from their surroundings. They own their irrefutable share of a particular unity and totality – of an intricately interwoven human and animal world – in a broader sense, of existence.
The relationship of these creatures, the direction of their movement remains undefined, and it might be among the aims of the artist to formulate pictorially this uncertainty. At the same time, paradoxically, this is also a demonstration that all the doubts and uncertainties that thoroughly transfuse our existence can be grasped and expressed by purely pictorial means. Thereby, the artist prompts us to consciously recognize that after the events of the 20th century, or even those of the recent years, the axiom of “I think therefore I am” is rightfully replaced by the axiom of “I doubt therefore I am”.
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Records of Remote Times by Ernő P. Szabó
As close as about 20 kilometers to the capital, there lies a scenery, a small town, formed of a particular blend of various ages, cultures and atmospheres. It was hardly an accident that painter Antal Turcsányi chose to buy here a peasant house in order to establish his studio within its old walls. We are in Zsámbék where one’s eyes are captured again and again by the sight of the famous remains of an old church, and where along steep lanes beyond the church yard there appear several rows of houses representing almost intact the values peasant architecture once produced.
A desire to survive and recommence, strength drawn from the past and nature, endurance: the stones here seem to speak of such attributes, and may be seen as symbols of continuity after stormy centuries. The same holds for the painter’s works in that they ought to be regarded as documents or heralds of developments which cannot be considered in terms of any current time but should be measured in different or larger scales of time and space.
The former peasant house, now transformed into a studio, has apparently preserved most of its original character. Behind the fence there is a small yard, overgrown with grass, with a few fruit trees in it, and bordered by the supporting stone wall of the next house. In the studio, however, right behind the rear of the low-ceilinged hallway, the space suddenly extends, and with whitewashed walls around and in light coming from above, facing paintings of recent years, the visitor feels the touch of an air of freeness. As if memories of distant pages were invoked by these compositions of massive forms here; as if powers difficult to describe in words were straining against each other on the pictures’ planes. To be sure, there is no trace of any familiar forms of our actual environment or scenes of life can be discovered on the paintings; they re-create rather than recollect reality.
A Baroque angel hovers above our heads, a sculpture that leads one’s eyes to the upper section of the studio where the old paintings are stored. They and the artist’s comments on them enable us to follow his career as a painter since the early 1960s. We may even attempt to periodize his oeuvre. Breezy paintings of the 1960s, influenced by the post-impressionist school, were in the early 1970s followed by paintings hard in tone and composed of large and contoured surfaces. Then, the late 1970s were marked by marked by expressive paintings that could perhaps be related most closely to Béla Kondor’s art.
But what about the interims between the respective periods? His answer to this question – and to additional questions – switches the view-point to the extent that the artist’s career is now considered in terms of human aspects and in the context of historical facts of the last decades.
The painter’s family came from Bácska and settled in Tiszakanyár in 1938; then in 1944, four years after his birth, they moved to Kisszállás, near Kiskunhalas. At the elementary school – an ungraded school for children living on detached farms – his teacher, who realized his talent, would encourage him to practice drawing. His secondary school studies were interrupted after the first term since his parents could no longer afford to pay for his accommodation at the students’ hostel. In 1957 he moved to Budapest and became an apprentice in house-painting; meanwhile, he attended a free art-school. In 1959 he was admitted to the evening course of the Academy of Fine Arts where János Kmetty was his master. In 1961, however, he was called up to military service and, due to the Caribbean crisis, he was only discharged after three years of service. By the end of the 1960s he completed secondary school but, close to the age of 30, he felt too old for further studies.
In the meantime, he kept on painting and drawing, and continued training himself. His paintings were exposed at collective exhibitions. He got acquainted with contemporary avantgardist trends but did not join any groups whatsoever. At the same time, he had to make a living. For a while he copied gobelin designs, then he was engaged in the production of “17th-century Dutch genre paintings” for the Artex Gallery. After several night-lodgings and subtenancies he felt in an improvement that in the 1970s he could live and work in the privacy of a windowless shop space.
He had first met his wife, Katalin Mózes, at the free art-school in Fő Street. When they bought the peasant house in Zsámbék in the early 1980s, the idea was that once the studio were complete it would allow the painter to work undisturbedly. And three years ago the idea came true. Antal Turcsányi thinks that in these last three years he could work for the first time in his life at his own pace.
He would, of course, acknowledge as his own those pieces of his oeuvre which he accomplished in the 1960s and 1970s, and those paintings may command interest. Indeed, he exposed them at several individual or group exhibitions – for example at Csepel Gallery in 1972, or, together with Katalin Mózes’s works, at Thermal Hotel in Margaret Island in 1980. But, as he himself puts it, he could only get to the core of things in his paintings of late years. The core of things for him means some force of Nature, the opportunity to convey some basic values of human culture, and to take possession of our world as fully as possible.
Obviously, he would not rest satisfied with superficial knowledge; he only respects real truth. Those large, clear shapes on the canvas develop, constitute systems and mark centers of gravity in ways that reflect the laws of Universe, he asserts. The artist recognizes those laws through intuition. He admires pre-historic art for those extremely simplified works whose messages, though hard to read and translate for people of our age, formulate some very important knowledge. Some very important knowledge about world and humanity.
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