2006. The Past is Born

The Past is Born by Katalin S. Nagy

Exhibition2006, in the Gallery Árkád, Budapest, Hungary

What strikes the eye is the new, elongated dimension of the paintings. A picture size of 60 by 200 cms is unusual with Géza Németh. With their widths being three times as much as their heights, these horizontal rectangles lend themselves easily to suggesting the reality framework, the substance treated as something ordinary despite its content.
The format itself is emphasizing how the artist seeks to find the unusual relation between objects placed in a height that the human eye can normally see, to find the metaphysical connection of the palpable elements of reality that can hardly be named in our earthly existence. These paintings are surrealistic without carrying any surrealistic motifs or allusions. In harmony with the visual cultural traditions of Europe, they are down to earth, horizontal, reflecting the ordinary in the ordinary itself. The mixed technique mostly with acrylic paint on fibreboard includes the digital prints created by the artist himself.
It all started with the photos that Németh took in Italy New York, Transylvania or Dunakeszi. What is decisive for the composition is the piece of reality recorded by the lense of the camera as directed by the person holding it, thus selecting the fragment. The selection is continued when, using the computer, the artist makes further changes and modifications to reach the digital print. The third step following the double process of creation is accomplished by placing the image on the fibreboard. Then comes painting, re-painting and re-composing – a process resulting in the final piece of art. Németh has always been taken with multiplying and complicating the creative process. Let us recall his collages made from the photos taken of brick factories to be pulled down in Bécsi Road of Budapest and in Békéscsaba in 1975 (the year he started to engage in photography) – as early as that he was seeking the ways of communication between virtual reality and so-called reality. When creating the series Mythology in 1989–1992, he first formed figures of plasticine, took photos of them, then painted the enlarged photocopies with acrylic paint leaving only bits of the photos to be seen. The way of creation, the chosen technique, the whole process leading to the work pertain to its essence. Going backward, the viewer is experiencing the same stations of reception and acceptation as the artist did.
Seeing is as creative a process as creating works of art is. The steps taken by the artist for the sake of accomplishment are important for the image to be born in the viewers. The Past is Born series involved the subsequent acts of taking photos, enlarging then modifying them by computer techniques, printing and re-painting them. The remaining photo elements also help the viewer believe that he has seen this image before. The belief that what he sees is a real part of so-called reality is supported by the computer-made elements. The experience of identifying, recognizing and discovering are validated by the hand-made elements: the prints of the artist’s hands. There is no imitation, copying or illusion-making here. The core and essence of art though lies in the artist’s capacity to make us believe that what he is showing us has already happened to us, it has become part of us. These all together: the artist, the work of art and the viewer create the work in its entirety that is re-created by the visual fragments and pieces of memory, experience and emotions associated with them.
This is how a new entity is born from industrial and residential buildings, garages, sea bays, bridges, landing-stages, rocks, mountains, the earth and the sky by photographing, digitalizing, selecting, composing, applying and repainting them.
The series consists of seven pieces (innumerable books attest to the importance of this numeral, ordinary days are proportioned by the seven days of weeks). All of them root in our ordinary surroundings: buildings (Transylvanian Baroque, 2005; 20th Century, 2005), decaying wooden structures (The Sea, 2005), ruins from the past (Antiquity, 2005), but the point is other than what we actually see. It as all about how the environment itself and time transform the original image and how the painter is combining, fitting together and rendering the different elements into a new compositional order.
All the seven pieces of the series are landscapes in the traditional sense of the word, too. Moreover, they retain the rules compulsory for panel painting since the Renaissance to modern times: they have foregrounds, accentuated middle grounds and elaborated backgrounds. Some of these are real, and some of them are just appearance like so much more in Németh’s painterly work. The space structure and the elements of the scenery are real, the landscape view is real for a landscape painting. But what about the space? What is the view like and what do its elements suggest? The landscape is mystic or mythical (Tibet, 2005) with no flora, flowers or trees associated with this environment (Antiquity, 2005), with deserted houses and empty, chilling-grey foregrounds (20th Century, 2005), or decayed and decaying (Eroded Landscape, 2005). Of the seven paintings t is in one that you see a living being, a single seagull (Bird’s Eye View, 2005).
True, it is nice and healthy with a good carriage as it is standing in the middle ground, in the middle of the bridge that forms the horizontal axis of the painting, looking attentively to the right, that is future according to the traditions of European panel painting. In the series, this seagull seems to be the only motif with a positive message. It refers back to Németh’s earlier birds (the protagonists of his series of six paintings entitled Holographic Space, 1991–1994), whose forms were somewhat distorted to express strong emotions as opposed this life-like, nearly naturalistic bird here. It seems to be aware of its own weight and responsibility as the only representative of the living world. Not even the water under it is life-like.
No man appears in this series. The whole, however, does not look like a wasteland. Man is not present, but the manmade structures, bridges, houses, sewer covers (the latter in his 20th Century, 2005) live in an organic co-existence with the elements of nature; water, stone and sand inseparably. The unseen human being is the whole of the matter. No reason for us to look at them as post-human landscapes.
Not even the sea is a living organism breathing in blue and green (The Sea, 2005). It comes closer to earth colours assimilating with the lustreless browns and greys of the intricately structured piers. This is not the sea of nostalgic and romantic landscapes which are to satisfy the viewers craving for being off and away. This troubled, muddy water is unlikely to cradle life; no wonder the sky is not blue, and the background sky resembles faded photos, something distant, something lost. The past, as the titles say. The general impression is not anxiety or hostility though, it is simply setting forth the unusual conditions.
The space is wide, especially horizontally and with deep dimensions. Accordingly, or to be more precise, correspondingly, the dimensions of time are unrestricted, too.
These paintings and painterly elements make you consider a number of important phenomena.
2007 Katalin S. Nagy