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Abstraction Layers: a new János Szirtes retrospective melds auras

Photo : János Szirtes
Abstraction Layers: a new János Szirtes retrospective melds auras

In one image, sensually striking nudes dance amid curvaceously chaotic puddles of multihued paints; in another picture, crisply defined rectangles covered with consistent patterns seem to shimmer like freshly washed Polynesian sarongs waving in the breeze. While the works of Budapest-native artist János Szirtes are certainly versatile, they all enchant viewers with several levels of colorful perception.

Celebrating his 60th birthday this year, a newly opened pair of exhibits at Buda’s Várfok Gallery and the Várfok Project Room highlight János Szirtes with a comprehensive display of his works dating back to the 1980s. The retrospective provides a complete overview of the artist’s prolific oeuvre, offering insights to his progressive experiments that portray interactions between organic and inorganic worlds. Throughout his career, János continually strives to capture human action in his works – be they paintings, performance-art productions, or multimedia pieces – by using his own diversely inventive techniques to create illusory effects that intrigue the eye and animate the mind.
Photo: János Szirtes
Honored in 1990 with the Munkácsy Prize – one of Hungary’s most esteemed art awards, established in 1883 by revered Magyar painter Mihály Munkácsy – János Szirtes continually evolves over the course of his career, culminating in this year’s “Midnight” series of still photos now on view alongside a collection spanning three decades of impressive pieces. Since earning his master’s at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts in the early ’80s, János uses his abstract visions to explore philosophical themes and existential questions with intricately interwoven planes of diversely vivid creativity.
Photo: János Szirtes
Beginning his career at a point when restrictions on Hungary’s art community were loosening, János Szirtes enthusiastically joined the regional crusade to redefine visual expression amid the New European Painting movement of the 1980s. As a touchstone of this exhibit, his iconic “Big Painting” of 1985 – a wild experiment encompassing archaic motifs and colorful forms applied over time in visually distinct phases – presents a visual feast not unlike looking at a scene of the microcosmos, as intricate shapes resemble tiny organisms with symbols for innards.
Photo: János Szirtes
As his work progressed, János Szirtes developed a method of enhancing his paintings with finely applied layers of soot added by attaching his works to the ceiling and carefully holding a flaming torch beneath them; this led to his unique series featuring models that he would press directly to soot-covered canvases within an embrace, leaving literal impressions of that person in a starkly gray unification of the moment and the medium. However, János later transformed his efforts to create brilliantly vivacious multi-layered compositions of shapely structures atop backdrops of colorful drips and bold lines, adding the appearance of motion with strategically sprayed streaks of water.
Photo: János Szirtes
All of these pieces and many more – including several videos of János Szirtes’s fascinating performance-art works – are on view in the Várfok Gallery section of the exhibit, while the Várfok Project Room houses the “Midnight” series. In this collection of inkjet-printed still photos that he considers as the summary of his lifework, János captures a pair of nude models writhing atop a horizontal piece of paint-covered glass with a camera placed below it; as the models move about, the smearing colors create enveloping abstract imagery intertwined with occasional glimpses of the humans behind it during brief moments of clarity created with the wipe of a finger, knee, or other extremity.
Photo: János Szirtes
While the “Midnight” exhibition may represent a culmination of János Szirtes’s career, his work is far from done – as an active professor and head of the Media Design Department for Budapest’s Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design, he continually inspires the next generation of Hungarian artists with boundless creativity that transcends all surfaces.
“Midnight” is on view at the Várfok Gallery and the Várfok Project Room through November 22 – check out www.varfok-gallery.eu for more details.