1988. The Primacy of the Cosmic

Geza Nemeth, The Primacy of the Cosmic
by Gerrit Henry

In modern times, there has been art that stirs the intellect – consider the Minimalism and Conceptu­alism of the early 1970s in New York. Then there has been art that stirs the passions, from Picasso’s Guernica to a de Kooning woman – and much current Neo-Expres­sionism fits this description. Finally, and the most intriguingly, there has been art that – to use a grand old American cliché that is nonetheless accurate – fires the imagination. There isn’t much art of this kind around in today’s galleries, but Géza Németh is seeing to it that it gets more of an airing, here and now.
It has not always been so with this artist. Németh – born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1944, and trained, coincidentally, as an architect – was in the late ‘70s to the early ‘80s concerned primarily with deploying in illusionistic technique to paint what could only be visually apprehended as “abstract“ realities – icy boulders incised with primitive markings, covered, often, by cloth or paper ripped and folded back on itself to reveal more stone beneath. Németh was, in a sense, a kind of trompe l’oiel painter along the lines of the 19th century American Peto and Harnett – but of subjects that did not easily give up their personality or identity, no matter how representational they seemed. The imagination was only partially concerned; the intellect also had to be called into play to infer meaning, to rouse sensibility.
Then, from the later ‘80s on, what might be called an aesthetic warming trend began to set in. Other than rock- or cloth- or paper-like figures began to emerge – a Henry Mooresque stone body (sans head) or what might be a babe in swadding clothes, in two instances. What was coming to be at stake was what we’ve indicated – painting that would not only tease, but fire the imagination. Németh’s visual world was opening up, and, with it, his vision.
But as the figurative has become more apparent, so has the style become more abstract. It’s almost as if a more liberated handling of paint and a far more fluid brushstroke have loosened up the painter’s imagination, as well. Content, as ever in modern times, follows form, and the form is free and energetic, the content describing itself – even locating itself – within that freedom and energy.
And what is the content? Németh is a soft-spoken man who doesn’t easily commit himself to any definite readings of his paintings, but admits that “I start from landscape in almost all my recent work.“ The landscape in this case is not just terrestrial, but cosmic – in one canvas, orange slashes of paint sit above black and icy blue slashes, delineating a sunset as it might be seen from Jupiter rather than earth. Animals and humans appear, but the landscape is of elemental import. Landscape is, after all, the site of all reality, and the site of all dream.
And our imaginations are truly, deeply fired, as in dreams. Consider, as a final subject, a recent acrylic called Arch of Light. On an outjutting of what would seem to be a red ledge adrip with purple verticals and horizontals sits the figure of a woman, her back to us, in deep red dress and blue hair with white scumbling. Around her, just beneath her, is a pale blue halo; against this, and receding into infinite distance, is a giant blue orb, set off by large inner orbs of hot yellows and reds. We see an earth within a cosmos, suns within a sun, with a human being as its awed and awesome focus and locus, the element against which the cosmic is to be measured. Do not be afraid, Németh seems to be saying, of the universe. The universe is not impersonal. It is scientifically formidable, but aesthetically approachable, through the liberated artistic imagination. Set Németh’s own recently liberated imagination to work, and even the fires of heaven are not out of reach, while bulls and birds become both myths of themselves and hearty, poignant realities.
1988 Gerrit Henry