City guide

Meet Dr. Béla Máriás, major satirical artist now on show in Budapest

Photo : László Mudra / We Love Budapest

During election week, what better place to be than at the latest exhibition by Dr. Béla Máriás? On show until April 14th upstairs at the István Örkény bookstore, the latest paintings by this stalwart of Budapest’s alternative scene place politicians and leading personalities in incongruous situations. These strange and often hilarious juxtapositions have lifted Béla from underground maverick to globally acknowledged artist, earning him a long feature in the ‘Wall Street Journal’ and shows in New York. This month he also has a major retrospective opening in Győr. We meet the artist at his Budapest studio.

His jacket splashed with paint, his studio filled with the large canvases that have become his trademark, Dr. Béla Máriás is hard at work creating another bizarre pastiche. Born in Novi Sad in 1966, Máriás got his art training in Belgrade then broke all the rules when he came to Budapest to flee the war in 1991.


Leader of underground band Tudósok, Béla has spent the last 25 years staging wild live shows or art happenings.

Photo: László Mudra / We Love Budapest

Tudósok still play regularly at Budapest’s Kuplung. As for art, Béla has refined his own genre.


“I looked at works by the most famous painters,” begins Béla. “In the Louvre, say, and realized that so much of what is thought of as beautiful art is either tragic or the promotion of some kind of ideology – or both.”


His critical faculties, his upbringing in this region and his sense of the absurd forced him to look deeper. “People get a sense of peace when they look at certain paintings,” he explains. “Yet if they saw them in a different context, it would create a different mood. I wanted to pack in feelings of fear or confrontation.”


Béla didn’t have to look far for local inspiration. He went to Tesco.

Photo: László Mudra / We Love Budapest

“I used to go to the local supermarket to look at the display of magazine covers. There in front of me were the most influential figures in society. These were people who were most admired or at least looked up to. How were they being portrayed? So, I chose a certain character, read about his or her background and began to create an artistic world around them.”


No-one escapes the artist’s attention. Politicians, serial killers, pop stars, bankers, demagogues, film producers, everyone is fair game for Béla’s brush. And everyone is instantly recognizable to the Hungarian viewer.


Béla then deposits each character within an incongruous setting and/or art genre. Brutal 19th-century outlaw Sándor Rózsa is depicted as if by the pointillism of Seurat. The Whisky Robber of 1990s’ lore looks straight out of ‘The Running Man’ by Malevich. Hungarian bankers appear on the same bridge that Munch created for ‘The Scream’.

Photo: László Mudra / We Love Budapest

This art is also being created at a time when creatives are under growing pressure to conform to the political will.


“I have to implement a punk attitude,” insists Béla. “There is no other way. Art has to protect the language of freedom.”


Upstairs at the István Örkény bookstore near Nyugati station, some two dozen works provide the viewer with a hilarious but thought-provoking visit. Woody Allen, Guernica, Charles Bukowski, iconic figures and images reinterpreted by Budapest’s ultimate iconoclast transform two small rooms into a platform for heated debate.


“Yes, my paintings might offend some people. But we need open discussion. Without it, we can’t be free. And if my works contribute to even one millimeter of progress, then all of this would have been worth it.”

István Örkény bookstore

District XIII. Szent István körút 26

Exhibition until April 14th

Mon-Fri 10am-7pm, Sat 10am-2pm