Painting a Dystopian Future

Apparently contradictory yet surprisingly coherent, Sándor Szász’s paintings present apocalyptic scenarios that, if on the one hand are vaguely reminiscing of the brand of Surrealism made notorious by Francis Picabia, on the other hand, they seem to refer to the imagery of sci-fi cinema. His characters, invariably faceless, live in bleak landscapes enriched by the presence of mysterious relics. It is not clear if these rusty, semi-abandoned, stranded machines or ships constitute an exotic discovery or are instead the cause of these figures’ predicament. What doesn’t change is their collective engagement in some kind of labour that, coupled with the dramatic colours of his palette, render a twisted update of the Eastern-European tradition of realism as a way of chronicling, and often glorifying, the mundane and the universal. The first big difference to notice is that – stunning technique notwithstanding – there is nothing conventionally glorious in what Szász’s represents in his work, if not for a melancholic sense of failure. Unlike the standard propaganda paintings that defined much of the 20th Century, where workers were depicted united in the common goal of erecting a better future, in Szász’s paintings the future is patently dystopian. The atmosphere in works like Kurszk (2011), where a group of men can be seen standing in line in front of a fog-concealed tank waiting either for evacuation or recruitment, or the chillingly titled Symphony of the Orphans (2014), where another group of men in uniform is busy rescuing a casualty while walking in a pond of water in a freshly-destroyed landscape, is unmistakably dark. Even on these rare occasions where the human figure is absent, like for example the geometric pattern created by the corroded bars of what looks like an electric post in Phantom (2012), the idea of natural and industrial elements surviving a tragic event never goes away.

To search for the ultimate reasons for this approach means taking into account a combination of historical and personal circumstances that have defined in different moments the life of the artist. In 1988, for example, with only a few months left before his dramatic fall from power, Romania’s president Nicolae Ceausescu decided to start implementing his policy of destroying 8,000 villages in the countryside to force the population towards larger urban settings by triggering the inhabitants of the community of Bezidu Nou into the idea of building a dam to create an artificial lake. The people of Bezidu Nou initially embraced the project with enthusiasm and even volunteered their help; when they realized what was going on, it was too late. Soldiers were called to finish the job, and the village was subsequently submerged, forcing the few survivors to relocate somewhere else and renounce to their identity. A visit to contemporary Bezidu Nou, almost thirty years after the fact, can be as deceitful and confusing as Ceausescu’s mad tactics. Apparently calm and bucolic, the place still shows occasional architectural features like some picturesque bell towers or the occasional rooftop. It’s only at a closer sight, when the incongruence of a desolated church or house with its foundation underwater hits over the head, that something doesn’t add up. Bezidu Nou no longer exists, and the few construction parts still standing are now there with the sole motivation to be a silent and sinister monument to the absurdity of Ceausescu’s master plan.

Just like the area where Bezidu Nou once was feels haunted by the former residents and what’s left of their buildings, the story of the village has haunted Szász for over twenty years, to the point of gradually finding its way in his work in what he himself has described as a therapeutic exercise. Implausible and yet defined by an uncanny realism, Szász’s paintings express all the contradictions of a world its residents erroneously believes to be able to administer and to mould at their will, and the unexpected consequences that come with these actions. This is further reflected by the loss of individuality of his characters, reduced to a subtle but detectable position of vulnerability and inferiority by the very same entity they assume they can control.

The strange co-existence between control and chaos visible on Szász’s canvases is, interestingly, also an integral part of his approach to painting. His subconscious evidently plays a large part in the conception of his work, but the way in which details are immaculately executed suggests that his organizational side never permits instinct to totally dominate. The genuine affection Szász displays for the gestural aspects of his practice can be probably tracked down to the early stages of his education – he studied music for many years and for some time entertained the idea of working as a mechanic. When he studied fine arts in Romania, and later enrolled to the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, a fascination for the technique made him gravitate towards painting, a passion that was later reinforced after his first meetings with the work of Francis Bacon and Willem de Kooning. This was happening in the 1990s, when a major overhaul was about to shake the core of European painting. The change in the political panorama in the Eastern part of the continent had in fact pushed the directness and assertiveness of abstraction, up until then the greatest act of rebellion, to the wrong side of the debate. Suddenly realism was hip again, and the arrival on the scene of artists like Edi Hila, Neo Rauch, Wilhelm Sasnal, and the painters that would go to form the ‘Cluj scene’, contributed to the idea that the intensity of such social and political changes demanded adequate instruments to be justly depicted. Still, with perhaps the exception of Rauch, who was busy reinventing his own version of realism by digging in the past and putting forward a double-take of the same aesthetical value abstraction has been rejecting, contradiction, and even more so complexity, were not in sight. The flame, however, was now ignited. Caught relatively unguarded by this new/old phenomenon coming a next door that despite its geographical proximity had remained safely closed for almost forty years until then, the Western Emisphere responded by ditching the endless, self-indulgent, and trite debate over the presumed death of painting that at regular intervals plagues the art world by going even further. Following its obliteration after the market crash of the 1980s and the new conceptual vogue of the early 1990s, painting was back in business again. Exhibitions looking into this new climate proliferated, like ‘Examining Pictures’ (Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1999), ‘Europe: Different Perspectives on Painting’ (Museo Michetti, Francavilla, 2000), ‘Painting at the Edge of the World’ (Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2001), ‘Painting on the Move’ (Kunstmuseum Basel, 2002), and ‘Dear Painter, Paint Me’ (Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2003), genre cross-overs were allowed again, small brushes were fished out from the case, and a group of artists, from Nigel Cooke to Hernan Bas, emerged with an adventurous sense of colour and an imaginative use of details destined to challenge the viewer with the most incredible narratives.

As a student, Szász’s desire to conjugate the tradition of painting with contemporary life led him to discover the work of Francis Bacon; at the same time, the years spent studying music would provide a sidelight to parallel creative ventures that fortunately prevented him to focus exclusively on his media of election. Artists like Tony Oursler and Bill Viola, masters at painting ‘moving images’ while exploring the most real/surreal contexts, would become an influence too, as well as the cinema of Jim Jarmush and David Lynch, and the music of Béla Bartók. Such variety of references had of course the effect of instigating in Szász the wish to investigate other creative outlets, but with the exception of collage and photography, which to these days respectively constitute a compositional outlet and a source, painting, and the rich heritage attached to it, prevailed. Szász has also stated on many occasions how he adheres to the old romantic notion of the artist as a medium negotiating radically different realities. Again in line with Bacon, the studio becomes the holy place where the artist can isolate himself from the outside world and develop his own reality, and this probably explains why, during various residencies scattered around the world, Szász considered the recreation of an inviolable studio space, no matter how small, a primary necessity.

Szász’s latest works signal another important characteristic of his practice – architecture. The Hive (2015) and The Rise of the New Dawn (2016), two of the few paintings to sport an immediately recognizable construction in the form of the Atomium in Brussels, the modernist extravaganza built by André and Jean Polak on the occasion of Expo 1958, are a stark reminder of how, in the words of Robert Hughes, dreams of the future reveal more about the mind of the dreamer than the future itself. If viewed purely from a visual perspective, the particles of the Atomium resonate exceptionally well with the black dots that permeate many of Szász’s paintings, but whereas in The Hive, remains of the Atomium command the scene by hovering over the head of three minute figures situated at the centre of the painting, in The Rise of the New Dawn, the futuristic building almost plays a cameo role, fading in the background behind a pyramid of gas cans while three men are busy with the impossible mission of give a shade of normality to what otherwise looks like a heavily compromised situation. Here is where lays one of Szász’s most peculiar contradictions – the co-existence of very ordinary men and very extraordinary landscapes. Their lack of individuality and business-as-usual attitude is perplexing, and although it helps diverting the tension, it does little to normalize the environment. If anything else, they function as an entry point for the viewer, who can easily identify with their generic look and share with them the burden of their impossible task next to such imposing scenario.

Paradoxically, Szász’s small canvases are where tones become more nightmarish. Harvester (2010) depicts a man coming towards the viewer holding an identified tool. Beheaded by the darkness behind him, he epitomizes the figure of the reaper coming to take his victims. Even the two men portrayed picking up unexploded explosive devices in Chambers of Secrets (2015-16), or the hooded men in Apostles (2015), while not so explicitly threatening, offer little reassurances. The zombie-like appearances of the figures in Chambers of Secrets in particular, supported by the gloomy sky and the decrepit rollercoaster behind them to reaffirm the never-fading concept of the game arcade as a scary place, is clearly open to interpretation, but it doesn’t seem to accompany to anywhere reassuring.

One final issue that needs to be discussed and that seems to regularly affect artists like Szász is how their technical ability, instead of enhancing their possibilities, sometimes ends up working against them. Regardless of content or legibility, an image, when it’s well done, implicates a degree of complacency from the artist that moves the meter from painting to illustration, titillating the appetite for destruction that all those who measure art by manual talent have for anything remotely not up to par. Szász’s lack of indecision with his brushstrokes frequently results in extremely elaborated if complex images (see for instance the rich multitude of references in Shadowhunters, 2016), but the recurrent presence of various elements, being pipes, balloons, lakes, clouds, working tools, industrial debris or even people, indicates the existence of a visual vocabulary in his mind that requires very specific requirements in order to be activated. The repetition, apart from implying that his work should be seen as an oeuvre, confirms that his characters are all different components belonging to the same dimension – a dimension simultaneously indebted with the highest history of art and the most accessible science fiction. And in line with the best science fiction, Szász’s deployment of elements from the past in a future setting, successfully serves the purpose of painting a picture that addresses a not so hypothetical present.

- Michele Robecchi, ​curator

Sándor Szász was born in 1976 in Târgu Mureș, Romania, an important historical and intellectual center of the Transylvanian region. He attended the High School of Fine Art and Craft in his hometown. Szász continued his academic training at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, Hungary, where he specialized in painting, between 1995 and 2001. In 2004 he was the recipient of the Strabag painting price, a Viennese international art award, which also entails his work being incorporated into the prestigious collection of the firm. Since then, a steady development can be examined in his career, which lists numerous art awards, solo and group exhibitions in the domestic and international domain alike.

Michele Robecchi is a writer and curator based in London. Former Managing Editor of Flash Art (2001-2004) and Senior Editor of Contemporary Magazine (2005-2007), he is currently an editor for contemporary art at Phaidon Press, a Visiting Lecturer at Christie’s Education, and London Editor of use Magazine. He has curated “TIP: Treands Ideas Priojects” (Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, 2004), “Beauty So Difficult” (Fondazione Stellin, Milan, 2005), and was one of the curators for the 1st and 2nd Tirana Biennale (2001 - 2003).

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Born in 1976, Sandor Szasz has already been remarked on the young contemporary art scene not only for the prizes and grants he won but also, because of his powerfull, haunting canvases, revealing an eerie atmosphere, that were exhibited in Europe and United States.

Q. On March 5th, Nevan Contempo, a young yet very promising gallery of contemporary art, is housing the opening of your first exhibition in Prague. Although each and every visitor will have their very own inner experience with your art, I would like to invite you to tell us about the concept behind the artworks included in this first exhibition on the Czech contemporary art scene. Because you know there is always an official story opposed to a personal perspective.
The works we exhibit on this show are selected by Mikulas Nevan and were created over the last 3 years. The story that triggered this series of works is quite old, it starts somewhere in 1988 when the people of Bezidu Nou - a small village located in Mures county, Transylvania - was sentenced to extinction. For no apparent reason, a dam was suddenly built above the houses. Gradually, the water flooded the lives of the villagers, the school, and the church, forcing people to leave their homes. They joined the many others who had been forced to take part in the formation of the “New Man” in the “Golden Age”. Throughout history, Bezidu Nou tattles its own tale of the village buried under water. This aquatic manner however is tagged along with symbolic violence in the city’s political and ideological disposition. Nevertheless, the power of the social reality comes off less calculated, personal, and it rather leans to the private decisions of the obedient whom are sought to reach a utopian socialist state.

Q. Your multilayered, haunting canvases reveal a world wrapped in obscurity, desolate landscapes populated by characters without an identity, with no specific time or space connection. What are the sources of this world with post-apocalyptic overtones?  
Well, yeah, if we take a look at the residents of Bezidu Nou, those who left lost their identity, bearing the stigma of deserters; they became the living dead, caught in between two worlds and unable to belong to either. The spirit of those who stayed and died there is still haunting those places. That place is cursed, although it looks serene at first sight. If you go beyond that frail surface, one can see how all traces of normality and harmony were destroyed. 

Q. When and how have you started this journey as a painter?
I was studying music in elementary school, then I moved on to doing fine art. In high school we had a class with exceptional colleagues with whom I formed a group. It was a very intense period, we are all still very fond of it. Six members of this group were accepted into the Fine Arts Academy in Budapest, where we continued as if nothing had changed, and in 1997 we established the The Studio on the Border – Alesd. After graduation the Alesd group remained a solid base for me; we worked together in the years that followed, and later on, we created the ArtFactory.

Q. I know nowadays artists tend to use all sort of techniques, like light projectors for instance or photos reproduced, re-coded and filtered through their own perception.
My working method includes emotional as well as a clearly conscious parts. I mostly try to collect as more information as possible about what I am interested in – photos, films, or reports from that specific time, to deepen my personal experiences and impressions. Certainly, collecting all information can take some years too. All information to a topic is recorded in ring binders and constantly added with more details. Before painting I do some drawings and collages. Usually, I draw up many different variations to a topic and work at more than one painting at a time – I live in a symbiosis with these images. I watch and observe their transformation, mutation, and improvement.

Q. I know you have your studio in Budapest Art Factory, which is quite huge and looking at your works, you seem to rather go for bigger dimensions. How important is the space where you create and what impact does it have on your work?

Budapest ArtFactory certainly has a big influence in my work, it is an ideal studio space for an artist, regardless of his/her expectations. We have six studios in there where one could work without a worry and another space for public exhibitions. But not at last this Central-East European context provides me with a feeling of the present history consciousness, which is like a tool, if you want, that allows me to better understand reality and translate it into images.
Q. Now that we mentioned, the Art Factory – can you please give us more details about this place and it is happening there? I know you have a residency programme that has been opened for awhile now.

Budapest Art Factory (BAF) is an artist-run, not-for-profit studio, exhibition and project space founded in 2006. The studios of BAF have been installed in an 900m2 industrial hall hosting five permanent artists –Márta Kucsora, Dóra Juhász, Levente Herman, Eszter Csurka and Sandor Szasz.– BAF provides a platform for the dialogue of contemporary art in an international context.In addition to organizing exhibitions and studio visits, BAF launched a twofold residency program. The mandate of this program is to invite internationally recognized artists, curators and art critics to Budapest and showcase their activities before the Hungarian public. Q. Please tell me more about what is behind the name of the exhibition?
In Unmoving Targets, Unmoving Time I portray a vision of a world out of balance, a world simultaneously invaded by both past and future scenarios, full of absurd ideas, nonsensical, events that had no reason to happen and situations created under a sick ideology in which the power of the humans begins to create anomalies against his exploited environment. At the same time, I wanted to capture the social space as a place of self-exile where the isolated individual loses his personality and is transformed into a creation without identity and without humanity in relation to his fellow beings.

Q. One final question before the show begins... What plans do you have in the near future?
I am working on an upcoming solo show in Berlin with Michael Schultz Gallery.

Interview by Roxana Gamart

Interview by Linda Bérczi -Director Open Art Studios - Translation Evelin Pál
I talked with artist Sándor Szász at the Budapest Art Factory Bio inspiration, films, influences and experiences; what he is interested in and where he would like to go on a study tour…

What was the theme of your very first painting which you can recall?
As a child I drew a vast amount of martial scenes, war related themes at the bottom of the images soldiers, at the top aircrafts were depicted as they bombarded the ones below…all of this at the age of five. It is beyond me why, as I don’t remember watching films in connection with this.

Was this the period you decided to become an artist?
No, actually I didn’t decide on that quite soon, perhaps it came to me during my high school years…My parents discovered my talent, my mother remarked that I get along well with colored pencils. She encouraged me to choose this path.

What impulses affect you, what inspires you?
A unique situation, a space replete with tension, a scene that attracts the same way it repulses one, this is what inspires me. Mostly personal memories, feelings stemming from my childhood. Currently I’m dealing with these which I elaborate and paint in different ways. This is quite variable. If I have ideas or emotions I look for source materials, I reshape them, use them in my individual work by altering its original form. Or I select elements from other images which I deem important in what I would like to create.

How much do you work? How many artworks are completed during a year?
Approximately 20-25 paintings, small and large scale alike. There are ones which require a month to work on, others a week or three days…

At present what concept interests you?
This is a former concept which I think is not completely finished.The relation of groups of defenseless people, their struggle with the world and with the effects present in their own environment.

Who influenced you/your work?
I can’t name one distinct personality, I would rather state that there are individuals who become the centre of my attention periodically. Although, if we are talking Bio names that struck me permanently I would say Caspar D. Friedrich, Hieronymus Bosch, Francis Bacon, Justin Mortimer, Adrien Ghenie, Alexander Tinei.

Is there any place which you really feel like visiting, where you would like to go on a study tour?
Alaska and Siberia, rather Siberia, however, I fear that I might never come back from there. To a place where one feels oneself a bit like in a fairy tale, from where one can predict to fall. Something like the southernmost part of Chile. To a place from where I couldn’t return, yet, I long for greatly.

What would you be if not an artist?
Postman. No, just joking. Executive undersecretary. No. Tender writer. No. Well, someone who deals with the issues of minorities. That would be interesting for me.

Favorite book, music, film?
The person I like the writings of very much is György Dragomán, I even know him personally. From earlier: Kafka, Herman Hesse, Thomas Mann. Regarding music, from the classics such as Bartók to Chemical Brothers, which are somewhat extremes. Anything I consider representing quality. For me music offers more than literature, especially symphonic live music, furthermore films; I have many favorites eg: the films of David Lynch, Jim Jarmush or Tarkovszky. I am also a sci-fi fan – I’m fond of the rather insane films.

What does it feel like, working in a space like Budapest Art Factory?
I have worked in many places; however, as a workplace I don’t desire anything else. The way I see it, Art Factory is very good, as is.

How do you see the situation of Hungarian art? How significant is it, is there a demand for it?
Of course, there is some kind of demand for it, but people have a lot of preoccupations, more important ones than to observe who is painting what at the given time. Unfortunately not many are involved in contemporary art, as in other fields of art, which are much more popular, such as music or literature. Surely there is interest, but to a lower extent. I believe this could change, or at least I hope it will change with time. Certainly, organizing similar programs to yours also contributes to this [change]. This also advances somehow to highlight things from a different perspective, unique places like ours, to arouse people’s interest. Every single droplet is essential, as we know it.

What is your opinion Bio the initiation, The Afternoon of Open Studios? How can you describe the feeling when you meet the audience? Meeting those people who are curious, although who are not really engaged in contemporary art?
It is a great idea, great initiation, there could be a long term outcome of this resulting in something useful. The guided tour is a good idea, it helps people in the uptake. In many ways…

Where can we see your artworks next time?
At Art Market Budapest, they will be exhibited by ZORZINI Gallery, and Budapest Art Factory.

Dog or cat?

Beer or wine?
At all times

Black or white?
Preferably black

Van Gogh or Picasso?

Yes or no?
I don’t know

Heart or brain?

Interview with Sandor Szasz Interview & translation by Orsolya Lukacs

How do you prepare for a new topic? How is the working process?
My working method includes an emotional as well as a clearly conscious part. I am full of emotions, ideas and impressions but I only can use them for my actual work when I am ready to do so. It sometimes takes years. The last four years I was handling with the events around 1989, which always have been occupying me. I have never been sure Bio how traumatic these events have been for me. It took time and distance, in my case 24 years. I mostly try to collect some photos, films or reports from that time to deepen my personal experiences and impressions. Certainly collecting all information can take some years too. All information to a topic is recorded in ring binders and constantly added with more details. Before starting an oil painting I do some drawings and collages. Usually, I draw up many different variations to a topic and work at more than one painting a time – I am living in a symbiosis with these images. I watch and observe their transformation, mutation and improvement. As soon as I think I can’t do any better and there is nothing more to add to the painting, it is done.

How did you experience the Ceausescu-­‐Regime and what does it mean to you today?
I call myself happy because I survived the change from a totalitarian dictatorship to a democratic system. Obviously, that brought lots of changes to me and to my values and characterizes me essentially. Personally, I thought the golden era (that is what the last ten years of the regime were called) is full of duality and absurdity. On the one hand, I was lucky to share my birthdate with Ceausescu. Such children were called “wonder children” and got presents from the government every year even though at that time the stores and shelves were empty. On the other hand, I belonged to the Hungarian minority in Romania so I already felt the impacts as child.

Theoretically, we should all have been equal because the government invented and established the so called “village systematisation program”. It was nothing else than a project to destroy villages with under 1000 inhabitants and force them to move elsewhere. People working and living from agriculture were forced to live in panel-­system buildings in outlying areas of the city, so the government could invest into industrialisation. This inferno led to a situation, when my native village got flooded by building a new dam.My sister who is seven years older experienced much more of the daily brutality and suppression. She always told me to free me one day and take me to America. 1988, in the age of 18, she finally made it on her second attempt. She could flee to Hungary and swam through the Lake Neusiedl, from there she went over the Alps to Germany and leftof to America. It must have happened a lot to drive someone so far and be sodetermined. Ten years later, I went to visit her in California and returned to Hungary to finish mystudies in Budapest. Ceausescu’s dictatorship was absurd and cynical. Through a political-­‐ideological spatialplanning they wanted to create a new human being and an obedient, utopic and socialiststate.

Which genres of art are you inspired by?
I am finding inspiration mostly in the details but film, music and photography affect me essential. They are present in my everyday life.

Which artists did influence your work of art?
During my studies I was impressed and influenced by Francis Bacon. I felt overwhelmed by his work and couldn’t shut of its influence anymore. At the same time I got to know the movies of Andrei Tarkovsky and David Lynch, books of Franz Kafka and music of Bela Bartok. I think the details are so inspiring they awake my interest for a certain artist. Right now I have great respect for the oeuvre of Neo Rauch, Michael Borremans, Tony Ousler, Alexander Tinei, Justin Mortimer, Zsolt Bodoni and Adrian Ghenie. Recently, I read “Nine stories” of J.D. Salinger and “The end of Illusion -­‐ Communism in the 20th century” of François Furet.

How is your painting “Green Forest” to be interpreted?
“Green Forest” is a reflexion on a destroyed system and at the same time a dark and surreal vision of nature. It symbolises humans being abandoned and exposed on a wounded landscape. Tragically in this painting is that it represents the majestic actions and destructive mind of humankind heroically.The figures in the painting “Three kings” again embody some individuals who have lost their identity because of a forced resettlement. Inhabitants of that flooded village were forced to leave and go to some place else. Therefore, they wander around the scenery lost and hopeless. They seem insecure and helplessly left to a surreal landscape. Thepainting’s name refers to the three kings / three wise men from the East. They symbolise the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.

SCHEUBLEIN Fine Art AG, Schloss Sihlberg, Sihlberg 10, CH 8002 Zurich,

Observator Cultural Nr.662 February 2013
Author: Roxana Gamart Translated by: Andreea Anca

Born in 1976, Sandor Szasz has already been remarked upon within the young contemporary art scene not only for the prizes and grants he has won, but also because of his several exhibitions around Europe. Sandor will come to Bucharest this summer to participate in a group exhibition entitled Forgotten Worlds, alongside Levente Herman. In an exclusive interview for the Observator Cultural he tells the story of the paths he has taken in his art and talks Bio his future plans.

Q: Sandor, would you talk to us a little Bio your art? What medium do you use and what is the context you can relate to in contemporary art?
At present, the way I see my own recent works could be described as a concretization of ideas reflected in a more distant space and time, ideas that usually co-exist at a more or less conscious level, which I allow to unfold without interfering.

In other words, I become a medium for the matter to express itself, I let things happen but in an organized manner, in a space that more often than not is a studio. And because I mentioned the studio, I'd like to say that the place I'm creating in has always been imperative for me, because I resonate keenly with the space around me. There are places full of energy, and then others totally lacking it, which convey nothing to me.

When traveling on various scholarships, I often had to improvise a corner where I could work, but I believe it is essential in the long run for an artist to have his own space, where he creates his own intimacy, and where he can work. In a studio, things transform themselves; when I close the door behind me, the reality I'd hitherto functioned in becomes a different world. But to get back to what I was saying ─ usually all topics have a phase of introductory research, in which I would collect as much information as possible; and then I would start drawing, making collages. I collect material and look for photographs, then make more collages which in the end get transposed onto the canvas, creating another world.

I often work on canvases, on walls, at more than one image at once. Finally, I would only fix the canvas on the frame if I feel that it is well worth it. Over the years, I've tried different ways and mediums of expression but in the end I would always make my way back to oil on canvas. I love the smell of oil; it gives me the feeling of time─ travel through the museums I visited in the past, or the college studios that I worked in. In Hungary contemporary art ─ especially when it comes to painting ─ tries to consolidate itself on the socio-cultural stage by going beyond geographical borders and having an impact on the international scene. I refer here to the recent successful exhibitions that brought together important groups of painters, from Leipzig to Cluj. I am personally still treading these paths.

Q: What were the most important moments that marked your career?
I think the first such moment was in 2004 when I won the STRABAG prize for painting. For the first time, the directors of three major contemporary museums noticed my work. This gave me the chance to work for four years afterwards with the DOVIN Gallery in Budapest, one of the most prestigious contemporary art galleries in Hungary.

In 2006 I received a two-month scholarship at the Hungarian Institute in Rome and in the meantime I'd started to work with Diane C. Brown, with whom we lay the foundation for the ArtFactory project. ArtFactory was and still is a very important place for many visual artists of my generation. It was a departure point for showing my work around the world.

In 2008 for instance I had an exhibition in Miami as part of the Turn Curtain project which ran parallel to the Art Basel Miami, a major art show in the USA. One other important moment in my career I’d like to mention was in 1997 when I received the DERKOVITS scholarship, which is a very significant recognition in Hungary's art world. The scholarship means financial support from the state for the winning artist for a period of three years, and it guarantees exhibiting the artist in museums and other Hungarian institutions all over Europe.

Thanks to Mrs. Dianne Brown, I had the opportunity to meet Jane Neil ─ a British curator with whom I had very interesting discussions Bio contemporary painting.

Last but not least, I would like to mention the ALESDEAN group and more recently the ArtFactory where we work, learn, and support each other on a daily basis; we are growing together.

Q: I'd like to discuss Bio your trajectory as an artist. How did you start this journey?
My first encounter was actually with music. I studied piano in my elementary school and a few years later I moved onto doing fine art. In high school we had a very good class, I had exceptional colleagues with whom I formed a group. It was a very intense period, we created and we worked day and night. I don't think any of us realized then in the least that we were laying our foundation for the future. Six members of this group were accepted into the Fine Arts Academy in Budapest, where we continued as if nothing had changed. We kept our rhythm, we were working with the same intensity and alongside the same people, and in the end we established the The Studio on the Border – Alesd. This was happening around 1997 and ever since then we spend around four weeks each summer together with other fellow artists as well, mostly painters who came from Transylvania.

After graduation the Alesd group remained a solid base for me; we worked together in the following years forming the ArtFactory later on.

Q: You mentioned ArtFactory… we met last year at the Art Market Budapest and we visited together ArtFactory where you have your studio. Can you tell us more Bio it? What is it? How did it all begin and what would you like to do there in the future?
I think the ArtFactory is an ideal studio space for an artist regardless of his/her expectations. It's 900 sqm and its walls are 15 m tall. We have six studios in there where one could work without a worry and another space for public exhibitions, which we renovated in autumn last year. We would like to use the latter for promoting various international events. Dianne C. Brown is an American gallery owner – a remarkable person – who wished to showcase local artists internationally, and established ArtFactory in 2006. She lived in Hungary for 15 years, two years ago she moved on to Dubai and she left us this space. There were five of us at ArtFactory, almost all from the ALESDEAN group – Dora Juhasz, Marta Kucsora, Zsolt Bodoni, Levente Herman, and myself, Sandor Szasz.

In 2013, we would like to launch a new program entitled "Artists in residence" and invite artists from outside Hungary to work here for a longer period of time.

ArtFactory it’s an industrial complex on the Pest side of the city, not too far from the center of town.

Q: When I visited your studio I saw some of your works, a few already completed, while others still work-in-progress. They reveal a world wrapped in obscurity, desolate landscapes full of people without an identity. What had inspired you to create such a world with post-apocalyptic overtones?
The story that triggered this series of works is quite old, it starts somewhere in 1988 when the people of Bezdiu Nou – a small village in in Mures county in Transylvania – were sentenced to extinction. For no apparent reason, a dam was suddenly built above the houses. Gradually, the water flooded the lives of the villagers, the school, and the church, forcing people to leave their homes. They joined the many others who had been forced to take part in the formation of the “New Man” in the “Golden Age”. Those who left lost their identity, bearing the stigma of deserters; they became the living dead, caught in between two worlds and unable to belong to either. The spirit of those who stayed and died there is still haunting those places. That place is cursed, despite it looking serene at first sight. If you go beyond that frail surface, one can see how all traces of normalcy and harmony were destroyed. This is a story that has been haunting me for the past 24 years, so I’ve gradually transposing it onto the canvas driven by an almost therapeutic instinct.

Q: All (artists) have their own points of reference. Could you identify the most important artists that influence your work? Who would they be and in what way did they influence you?
I was studying at the Fine Arts Academy when for the first time someone's work really surprised me to the point that I had to be seated. I was looking at Francis Bacon's work. Then there were Andrei Tarkovski, David Lynch and Bela Bartok's music. I was totally fascinated with their world; I had the feeling that I'd encountered works of art from another planet. Then I could also mention here Antoni Tapies, Arnuf Rainer, Willem de DeKooning, Tony Ousler, Bill Viola. I am usually influenced by more disciplines, be it literature or architecture.

There are several contemporary artists whom I consider very influential, not only because I feel their influence on me but also because their works, from various fields, have a special energy that can mean a lot: Neo Rauch, Justin Mortimer, Michael Borremans, Alexander Tinei, Zsolt Bodoni, Adrian Ghenie.

Being influenced is inevitable, more so for an artist like me who seeks to learn new practices and technics that I can integrate in my own work that would help me develop. The great magic is to integrate that influence without traces.

Q: What is at stake in your artistic approach?
I would very much like my works to portray the vision of a world out of balance, a world simultaneously invaded by both past and future scenarios, full of absurd ideas, nonsensical, of events that had no reason to happen and situations created under an ideology in which the power of the humans begins to create anomalies against his exploited environment. At the same time, I would like to capture the social space as a place of self-exile where the isolated individual loses his personality and is transformed into a creation without identity and without humanity in relation to his fellow beings.

Q: On a final note could you give us a few hints Bio your plans this year? What exhibitions are you preparing for? What art fares will you go to?
I have seven works at the ZONA exhibition at the Modem - Modern and Contemporary Art Center in Debrecen, which opened in January and where I participate together with the ALESDEAN group. Then on February 11 I have another group show in Budapest at the Klebelsberg Kulturkuria entitled F.F. where I participate with one work. On February 22 there is another group exhibition in Zurich - CH la Sheublein Fine Art entitled Budapest Tales, where six artists will exhibit their work. Then in June I prepare for the Forgotten Worlds exhibition in Bucharest, together with Levente Herman. We will go to Alesd in July, and in autumn there is the Art Market in Budapest.

Meanwhile, no doubt, there will be other things happening as well.

The artists chosen for the first Turn Curtain exhibition are Zsolt Bodoni, Sandor Szasz, Attila Szucs, Dora Juhasz, Luca Korodi, and Agnes Verebics.

Two of the featured artists -Zsolt Bodoni and Sandor Szasz- will travel to Miami for the exhibition. They will openly discuss their work and the inspiration behind it with visitors to the exhibition, including at a scheduled special event-"Art & Music Talk"-with patrons of the Lincoln Theatre concert series.

These artists represent some of the best talent in Hungary. All received very stringent training at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts. Several of them hold advanced degrees in Fine Arts; two are currently working on their Ph.D.s.

All of the artists are award winners. Dora Juhasz, Sandor Szasz and Agnes Verebics have won some of the most prestigious painting awards given in Hungary.

Two artists in the Turn Curtain group, Zsolt Bodoni and Sandor Szasz, are ethnic Hungarians from Transylvania. Once the heart of pure Hungarian folk culture—Transylvania arbitrarily became part of Romania following WWI and the signing of the Treaty of Trianon. The Hungarians in that region maintained their culture and language, but at some expense. Hungarians in Romania are often reviled and discriminated against. Yet, after so many decades they have no place in their original homeland either. This historical background is often seen in the dark mood of their art.

Bodoni and Szasz are founding members, along with Dora Juhasz, of the Elesd Art Camp that this year celebrated its 10 year anniversary. Every summer a group of 15-18 artists live and work together in the village of Elesd, in the Transylvanian region of Romania. In January 2007 the group will have an exhibition at Budapest's prestigious Ernst Museum, an event that will enter them into Hungarian art history books.

All of the artists in this group have or will exhibit at Dianne Brown's Sparks Gallery for Emerging Artists in Budapest. In addition to Sparks, Dianne Brown also oversees the Art Factory, a private non-profit studio and exhibition space. Bodoni, Szasz and Juhasz have their studios in the Art Factory.

A video will be made of the artists working in their studios, with voiceovers of them talking Bio their lives and work. This video will be available for the media and will be played at the exhibition's scheduled events at the Lincoln Theatre. Catalogues and CVs will also be available.

Plan B is delighted to present “15 Hungarian and Romanian Painters”, an exhibition focused solely on painting and featuring the work of some of the most interesting Hungarian and Romanian artists currently emerging onto the international art scene: Marius Bercea, Istvan Betuker, Zsolt Bodoni, Andrei Campan, Radu Comsa, Liana Dragomir, Oana Farcas, Cantemir Hausi, Roland Horvath, Ioana Iacob, Herman Levente, Mircea Suciu, Peter Sudar, Sandor Szasz, Leonard Vartic. From the beginning of their collaboration on this project, Jane Neal and Mihai Pop felt that geographically and historically, an artist-run space in Transylvania would make an interesting context for the first assembling of these diverse and talented painters.

What unites all these artists is their passion for paint. Each artist has made a decision to trust painting as the medium for their work and each delights in its qualities: its visceral nature and its ability to subtly convey a particular mood or atmosphere through controlled and tender (or wildly expressive) brushwork. Besides a passion for paint, the artists in this exhibition share a fascination for figuration and landscape. There is a certain vulnerability present in many of the works in the show such as in Ioana Iacob’s intimate scenes of everyday life which reveal her friends at their daily ablutions. In one work a girl steps into the shower, her unselfconscious pose suggesting she is either oblivious to being observed, or unconcerned Bio being watched. Liana Dragomir’s subjects are more removed from us; depicted relaxing in hammocks or thumbing through books, their faces are blurred to preserve their anonymity and to allow us to imagine ourselves savouring such moments. Marius Bercea’s strangely compelling swimmers strike a different note. Though his protagonists are ordinary people participating in an ordinary activity, the atmosphere is charged as if this triumphant group has achieved some heroic feat. Oana Farcas veers to the left of this sentiment, affording some of her subjects a tender, almost loving treatment that suggests a very human vulnerability as we find with the two figures in a steam bath; but this tender touch gives way to a merciless uncovering of silent terror in her small but chilling portraits.

Roland Horvath transforms the household fittings and objects he meticulously observes into objects of wonder. Simple and spare of extraneous detail he allows them to shine, illuminating the honesty of functionality and usefulness, as in his softly glowing lamp. Levente Herman’s canvases are awash with the detritus of abandoned €˜tools for modern living’ and the Utopian dream of a glorious modernity has been replaced by a Dystopian culture groaning under the weight of its own excess. The legacy and pain of grand dreams long faded is evoked by the dark monuments of Zsolt Bodoni. Reminiscent of El Greco, the stone figures become freakishly animated by the supernatural lighting; the reassuring form of the Madonna transformed into an angel of death.

Cantemir Hausi’s works reveal the cost of our dreams of glory. The white hunter, sitting proudly behind the dead bulk of the magnificent rhino, takes centre-stage, and yet it is the black figure, marginalised to his left, who prepared the ground. Yet pretensions of grandeur can be humorous as well as horrible. The props Peter Sudar employs to ape Velasquez’s Mars (c 1599) a vivid blue helmet and rubber sandals introduce a levity that also allows for poignancy. This is at odds with his depiction of a lone businessman who looks conspicuously ridiculous in the ploughed field in which he stands. Another surprise is Leonard Vartic’s compelling portrait of a boy. The focal point of the image is not the boy himself, but the badge sewn onto his sleeve the only part of the painting in sharp focus a decision that causes us to wonder at what the badge might reveal to us. Mircea Suciu’s works address anger and punishment. A woman stands in the corner; we know nothing of her crime, but we feel her shame, creating our own narratives to accompany the haunting image. Suciu boldly encourages this and pushes this further: his depiction of a groundless condom might lead us down any number of avenues, but ultimately it functions as a reminder that even the grandest passion can be contained.

The symbolism and mysticism of landscape holds a strong fascination for Sandor Szasz. The darkly auratic quality of the hills and lakes of Transylvania is strangely potent when condensed and captured on a small scale. Andrei Campan’s magical landscapes pay homage to the densely protective, often intensely foreboding nature of the forest and its dark, ancient power. Even inside a walled city the forest prevails, slowly reclaiming the land it once gave up to man. Radu Comsa’s moonlit, forest clearing is anything other than romantic. A lone figure waits for us; his back towards us, he is probably uniformed but perhaps not. The composition itself recalls Magritte at his darkest. The scene has its own beauty but there is no serenity here, only unease. Attention to detail can make for a compelling composition: Istvan Betuker’s model purses his lips as he pinches the folds of his vest. The fold of the cloth makes a line that draws up the eye to the figure’s puckered mouth, instantly evoking the sensuality of the lips in all their soft suppleness while simultaneously evoking a strange and mountainous landscape.

All the artists in this exhibition grew up during communism and have witnessed the changing landscapes actual, political and social that its presence and disintegration has wrought. While there are certainly elements in the artists works that draw directly from shared childhood experiences of a particular political system, much more of their work is Bio the shared, global concerns of what it means to exist now in a world fraught with tension, injustice and irregularity – in a landscape dictated by the ghosts of the past and amongst surroundings offering small moments of beauty and reassurance.

Jane Neal is an independent critic and curator. Her special focus over the past years has been the developing art scene in Central and Eastern Europe. She contributes to a wide variety of international art publications.

Galeria Plan B
a project by Mihai Pop and Mihaela Lutea
supported by Target Capital & Finas

Special thanks to: Art Factory Gallery and Studio, CHUNG KING PROJECT,
Citric Gallery, Bianca Comsa, Norbert Costin, fa projects,
Ivan Gallery, Alice Marcu, Mihnea Mircan, SLAG Gallery,
Marilena Stanciu, Varfok Galeria.

March, 4 – April, 4, 2004
In conformity with its eight-year tradition, the STRABAG Painting CompetitionKovacsLola has remained a high-standard forum for talented young representatives of painting in Hungary. Selecting the award winners proved to be a more difficult task for the jury this year than ever before, given the number of entries that would have deserved awards.

The Grand Prize, by the unanimous decision of the jury, went to Lola KOVÁCS (1970). Her large-size canvases comprising details of female faces, with unusual image cuts and sensual surface treatments, exercise a surprisingly strong effect on the viewer. Having followed her activities with great attention for years, the jury appreciated her consistent artistic approach.

The four artists to receive grant awards were Mária CHILF, Dóra JUHÁSZ, András KAPITÁNY and Sándor SZÁSZ.

Mária CHILF (1966), in her submitted works, had expanded her watercolour technique as well as enlarged the dimensions of her works on paper. Her motifs exploring the biological constitution of the human body are transformed into constituents of an enigmatic pictorial world.

Dóra JUHÁSZ (1974) had already been a candidate for an award last year. Her art is based on the tradition of analytical, non-representational painting, while combining the fundamental structure with a colourist sensibility, painterly dynamism and rich details.

The paintings by András KAPITÁNY (1964), who is also known to the public as a media artist, partly combine kinetic art with a geometric structural practice, and partly incorporate the visual world of computer art. His perspectival structures suggestive of spatiality, with their light effects uncommon in abstract art, signify a new voice in Hungarian painting.

Sándor SZÁSZ (1976), the youngest of the award winners, gave the jury the greatest surprise by his mature, elaborate landscapes of restrained colours and lyrical effects. His works demonstrating an exquisite painterly technique and fine colourism offer the viewer a poetic vision of nature.

Dr Lóránd Hegyi
Katalin Néray
Márta Kovalovszky