Local News from Nowhere, Catalogue Text, 2004, ISBN: 693 460 142 1
A nagy titkokat az egyszerû emberek kedvéért egy képben szeretnénk bemutatni, hogy elmélkedjenek arról, hogyan születnek isten és a kárhozat gyermekei a maguk eredetébôl, és milyenek földi életük során. Jakob Böhme: A kegyelmi kiválasztásról, avagy istennek az ember feletti rendelésérôl (1623)
For the sake of the simple people we would like to present the big secrets in one picture so that they may contemplate how the children of God and Perdition are born out of their own origins and what they are like during the course of their earthly lives. Jakob Böhme: On The Election of Grace and Theosophical Questions (1623)
Ha a fény által a térben a sötétség kiûzésével hagyott ûr még az összes különös tárgy távollétében sem egyenlô a semmivel, akkor maga ez az ûr van. Emmanuel Levinas: Teljesség és végtelen (1971)
If the space left behind after light has chased darkness away does not equal nothingness even in the absence of all peculiar objects, then this space is what is. Emmanuel Levinas: Totalité et infini (1971)
The reality of the man hiding behind the pillow
"There are many stories of the world made colour, or, colourless, and their lessons are often contradictory and confusing. Colour is both a fall into nature, which may in turn be a fall from grace or a fall into grace, and against nature, which may result in a corruption of nature or freedom from its corrupting forces. Colour is a lapse into decadence and a recovery of innocence, a false addition to a surface and the thruth beneath that surface. Colour is disorder and liberty, it is a drug, but a drug that can intoxicate, poison or cure. Colour is all of these things, and more besides, but very rarely is colour just neutral. In this sense, chromophobia and chromophilia are both utterly opposed and rather alike." David Batchelor1 1990-2000 Recent reviews have noted that Attila Szûcs's style is unique, and sophisticated, and by today the artist has undoubtedly become one of the protagonists of contemporary art in Hungary. For a short period in the late 1980's the painter (born in 1967) was a member of the Újlak group, a paradigmatic collective of artists, who grew up during the days of the communist regime, but started their careers about the time of its collapse and tried to face their own artistic and existential opportunities by reacting to the radically new situation. After graduating from the Budapest College of Fine Arts (1990) Szûcs, like other members of his generation, experimented with media other than painting, and created several installations and pieces for the outdoor. The end of this short period and the start of a new era that has lasted ever since was signalled by the material Szûcs displayed in Bartók 32 Gallery in 1994. He exhibited panel pictures created with a mixture of different techniques, and also a few objects. Let us recall two key works from this exhibition: a mental-logical model created by combining a red and a green cigarette lighter, and a picture postcard applied to a surface of gesso. Looking back from now the lighters can be seen as a model of confronting different material and symbolic qualities, whereas the use of the picture postcard has since proved to be the basic momentum of his art2. In the decade to follow (1994-2004) Szûcs exhibited traditional paintings – compositions in oil-colour on canvas – on significant individual and group exhibitions in Hungary and abroad. Attila Szûcs became an acknowledged figure of the Hungarian art scene in the latter half of the 90's. This is indicated by the large number of essays and critical reviews, and the number of his works appearing in private and public collections, as the museums – more and more open towards contemporary works –, together with the art market reacted to his pieces favourably. At the turn of the millennium his influence started to show in the works of several representatives of the then new wave of painting.3 The essays on Attila Szûcs's painting discuss two aspects of his works: the photographic origins or 'technorealism' thereof, and their metaphysics, which shows in the memory-like and vision-like melancholy. With very few exceptions Szûcs's works are the painted versions of picture postcards and illustrations from old newspapers. Reviews described the heterogeneous collection of his works experimenting with phrases like 'academic hyperrealism', 'technorealism', 'photorealism', 'hyper, super, radical photorealism', 'metaphysical realism', 'metaphysical naturalism', 'naturalism', or 'sensual conceptualism', and the large number of articles using the above terms mirrors the fact that Szûcs's paintings react to the powerful presence of a phenomenon in the Hungarian and international art scene.4 Almost all these essays connect Szûcs's art to the aforementioned tendencies – called 'technorealism' for simplicity's sake. The first part of the phrase reflects to the connection of a work of art to (even digital) technology (in Szûcs's case it is clearly photography) capable of multiplying it, while the latter part indicates the presence of representative artistic tradition, or to be more exact, the modus of realistic representation. The works that are called technorealistic are different, though. This difference can be found in the sources of the pictures, in the stages of the image forming process, in the rhetoric of the work, that is in the questions of how and why. Within the Hungarian discourse Sándor Hornyik is the most punctual. He sees the difference of realisms in the 'context of mapping' [i.e. mapping of reality. J.Sz.]. He believes the method of mapping, and the fact of mapping can be and should be interpreted in the context of the visual culture of an era – i.e. in the framework of a visual scheme – in order that the critics could pinpoint the differences between the different artists belonging here.5 Szûcs interprets the picture postcards he finds like this: 'There is an already existing image, a realistic and edited cutout of reality in a given space from a given angle. He modifies and repaints all this from the aspect of the PICTURE therein by getting rid of the redundant details'6. Similarly to Krisztinai Dékei's sculpture metaphor (I mean that the artist removes the residue) János Sturcz describes the method of omission: '…pictures are hiding. Attila Szûcs develops and extracts these from behind the surface of triviality by abstracting painting'7. 'Life is photogenic in many ways and what technology dissects into particles, the eye of the painter condenses'8, Klára Hudra writes. Clearly, Szûcs's paintings are not the painted versions of picture postcards, but the radical adaptations thereof. On the one hand some of the elements of the postcard are omitted by the painter. First of all, the objects of the original image can not be placed in space on the paintings: the figures, the buildings, the trees, the beds, the armchairs or the animals levitate in an unidentifiable, endless space, or sometimes the space behind them is not endless, but unreasonably deep. Thus Szûcs's pictures are heterogeneous from two different aspects.9 The elements that he keeps by the European tradition of representative painting appear in coherent light and space, i.e. in a consistent system of perspective. However, compared to these the expansion of spatial relationships is inconsistent. On the other hand – and in a similar context – the painting of the figurative elements is different from that of the background, which mostly resembles informel painting. Thus, while the light flowing in through the lens of a camera creates a homogeneous image (regular shortening, regular distortions due to the shape of the lens etc.), the same rules do not apply to the painting based on this technology. At the same time – parallel to how the painter's work is expanding – the origins of these paintings naturally add to the knowledge of Szûcs's paintings. To put it simply: it is obvious that the works are not just the products of his imagination, but the source of the inspiration is definable. It is the world of photography. 'The visual starting points of Attila Szûcs's painting are the postcards selected from boxes in second hand bookshops and photos cut out from magazines that offer a defined framework and a tractable structure'10, Lívia Páldi writes. In the past decade Attila Szûcs has chosen postcards that are organized into thematic groups: bathers, playground, housing estates, armchairs, beds, trees, flowers, buildings. The majority of the postcards are from the past: from the 1950's to the 1980's. Those who try to make sense of them usually say that the interpreted postcards are 'metaphyisical', 'melancholic', and sometimes even border on kitsch. 'It can be authentic in its sentimentality'11, it is dominated by 'the silky mysticism of the neonized, ionized quartz lamp-like space'12, 'the burning passion, the hot loneliness of objects without people' is present. 'As our selves are locked in ourselves in the unidentifiable space where we are swept away by the temptation of the ever faster fall.'13 In Szûcs's pictures the objects 'radiate an enigmatic, mystic aura', 'in his paintings the disparate experiences and reminiscences of 20th century painting are whirling and unifying in soothingly harmonic style which is somewhat nostalgic and sentimental, but at the same time almost cynical, blasphemously eclectic, valueless, and is still able to recall the melancholy and unity of great works'14. On the other hand Szûcs's works are linked to memory, fragmental reminiscences and nostalgia about the past: 'As if someone who had committed a crime would try to forget about their victims, but they just would not go away…'15, says István Kemény. Attila Bartis adds: 'if it is true, then we are now in the room that Attila Szûcs can never leave. This is he home of memory. This is where past times live'16. So 'these paintings sharply expose one thing: our common memories'17. The picture postcard is a photograph, therefore it is influenced by the nature of the apparatus of photography (Vilem Flusser18). Undoubtedly, it has some documenting capability, because of which characteristic when it started to spread in the 19th century, it gradually took over the representing function of painting. Still, Attila Szûcs uses photographs. He does not paint what he sees in the landscape or in his studio. He does not edit the composition in his mind but has a photo as a starting point. The reason why we have to – somewhat tautologically – point out this fact is that this is one of those momentums that serves as a basis to all the conclusions that one can draw on Szûcs's art. The other such momentum is the added visual transformation that Szûcs applies. The recomposing of compositions indeed resulted in a humanless, weird, empty, if you like 'metaphysical' world. A good example is the lamb that steps out of we do not know where or the three black cats that form a repetitive pattern in order to increase the sinister effect.19 However, there is something else Szûcs is intrigued by: the nature of vision. He painted a stereo picture which would never work in a stereo camera (Stereoscopic Hunters20), he painted 'blind spots' (i.e. unfitting ellipses) bursting out of homogenous fields, he painted rosters of spots of light, he placed a cactus on hardly recognizable yellow and green squares21, and he also painted a blind Pekinese, with its eyes fitted in a geometric curtain of mismatching bright spots of light22. Some of his diptichons are half regular rooms with curtains or blinds, half layers of abstract rosters of light. Or as if a runway of fruit was leading towards the sun shining behind the bright white silk curtain. Szûcs's art does not seem to fit into any categories (see the above list of 'technos' and 'realisms'), it contains lots of disparate pictures. On the other hand it can be said about each of them that they are artistic decisions made from a painter's point of view – which means that the primary concept of building an image is the dynamics of shapes and the balance of colours (Klee). The objectivity preserved by the photograph, the fate symbolizing human relationships (e.g. the jungle gym on the playground), the defencelessness that provokes sentimentality (e.g. dog or deer), archetypical constellations that recall common memories (e.g. bed in a hotel room or empty bed) play crucial role, but they are not the only protagonists. Szûcs's pictures do not yearn to be narrative, although open ended stories may flash for the viewer. Besides, the objects in the pictures (as 'topics') define the dynamics of the colours, the system of proportions, and a certain method of painting. These methods play a crucial role in the effect Szûcs's pictures have on the viewer. While his works between 1990 and 2000 were enigmatic due to these mystic blind spots, colour combinations and the spaces open towards infinity, his paintings after 2001 are more coarsely and more sensitively but at the same time more rigidly tangible, and they clearly point to moral and cultural systems. And interestingly, they are more picturesque as well.
Szûcs called his new series Losers. Who is a loser? If on Andrássy street a businessman in an Armany suit drives his big black German made car out of the gate of his enormous house, everybody else is a loser – at least in his eyes. His world is the world of winners and losers, where the scoreboard indicating the standings of the race is one's bank account. Like earlier in America, today in Hungarian secondary schools it can happen that bullies, the students higher up in the social hierarchy can make a living hell out of the lives of the necessarily outcast pariahs, the losers of the class. The big question is then as Iggy Pop puts it: 'Winners and losers / Which one am I?' The point is: there exists only one point of view. In a world of finely tuned values you may be a loser here, but a winner there. Losers are considered losers by those who do not call themselves losers. 'Since we have lived in a competitive society this simple fact has become a mortifying experience for many people.'23 Thus with the title Losers Szûcs defines the orientation of the interpretation of the new series of paintings. But before anyone would think of some kind of neo-socialist-realism, let us note that his new works are at least as disparate as their predecessors, and that they all bear the basic features of Szûcs's long evolved style. As well as sticking to his usual topics (beds, armchairs, fruit, flowers, trees, parks), Szûcs paints far more compositions based on human figures. The working girls assorting flowers or candies, the telephone repair girl, or the self portrait by the fallen over shopping trolley are all unfortunate characters – at least they are unfortunate in the public eye. The slapstick hero that keeps appearing in the series, the archetypical loser, Buster Keaton makes Szûcs's intention obvious: he aims at depicting people in losing positions. By that logic the deer stepping in front of a car, the man playing golf, the pine trees waiting to be felled, or the homely girl all belong to the team of losers. There are two groups of paintings that are worth studying more closely. One of these groups is based on postcards and photos from magazines. The man hiding his face, the beaten and bandaged woman, the girl looking at the dog that has been run over, the boy who has cut his finger, the kneeling man, the bodies lying on the ground after the accident, the empty looking beds, the green-eyed face, the standing figure, and the buildings belong here. They are characterized by a homogeneous way of painting that is unusual in Szûcs's pictures, the light, pastel shades dominated by light green, grey and bluish grey – and they are also linked together by the painter's style and attitude. There is some extra horror in the minimal, fragmental situations: in the desperation of the kneeling man, in the humiliation of the middle-aged woman when she is beaten up, in the misery of the man lying in bed. The situations are stereotypical, but Szûcs's colours show them even more objectively and rigidly than the photographs do. After the adaptation of the photos the environment disappears – thus the selected elements of the pictures (i.e. the protagonists in the above mentioned pictures) are more emphatic, whether it be a monumental building seen from under, or a small cabin with its gloomy silence. These images are very much like scenes from the American films of the 1950's – at least this is where we know them from. Postcard from Lidice and a picture of the congress of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party with János Kádár belong in the other group. Lidice is a Czech village, from where the Nazis deported the children, who then disappeared. In the cards Szûcs selected there is a memorial and a group of visitors. Szûcs dissected the picture: he painted the details on separate canvases. These are small pictures, and they are all painted with the same method and the same colours – green and silvery dark grey. The topic reaches beyond the contemporary definition of loserness: it connects to universal morality and politics just like the picture in which János Kádár is addressing the congress of his party. The question is: is it really a picture of János Kádár? Is it not the adaptation of a photo of Kádár? Can the interpretation of the work stop at a certain layer (unless the viewer realizes the iconographic patterns in the picture they might think the scene takes place at an auditorium of a university or in the courtroom – as Panofsky's example shows24), or does it have to go further? As – and Szûcs is aware of that – Kádár's face and the situation is still easily identified by many, the identification can not be avoided. The question now is: what connotations does the painting of Kádár have? Should we see the pattern familiar from the walls of old cottages painted over the former general secretary of the party as symbolic? Does Szûcs try to scrape the surface to find the past below? Or is Kádár just another loser? Or are we the losers, and Kádár is the representative of the historical perspective and the genesis of our loserness? We have no reason to believe there is only one valid interpretation. It is clear why some people are horrified by just the idea that this face and the historical facts behind it are recalled but others' demand to think over the past is also understandable. Szûcs does not make his intentions clear, probably he is trying to extinguish the meaning of Kádár's portrait rather than exaggerating it or turning it into a political statement. Kádár is the same kind of loser as the girls assorting candies, or the deer stepping in front of the car – at least Szûcs ranks them together. Szûcs obviously does not make these losers look ridiculous. At the same time nothing indicates that he feels or tries to provoke sympathy. The rhetoric of the works does not infer any such things. If it were so Szûcs would have to supply a much more detailed narrative of the fates of the protagonists. However, his painting can not compete with photos, videos or the digital culture of the masses, or at least not with the quantity or the effectiveness thereof. When he depicts losers, does Szûcs feel sympathy? When he introduces human tragedies does his painting represent some moral commitment? And how do a bunch of flowers and an almost erotically ripe bunch of grapes fit into this world and artistic concept? It seems right to return to the basics of Szûcs's concept, the adaptation of pictures created with technology. Attila Szûcs works in an era when images are especially significant. Our environment is mostly the product of visual culture25, and the theory of contemporary art deals mainly with the pictures, the meanings and the discourse thereof. Photography captures reality, it documents its optical references, but the abundance of pictures and the more and more sophisticated techniques of manipulation destroyed its ability to represent what is below the surface. Can we see reality, its visual surface or a falsified reality? Szûcs does not analyze this. He does not deconstruct the chosen postcard, he does not follow the stories of the objects, people or landscapes in the pictures. However, he captures the structure of our memories about those elements – a tree, a dog, a building, a human figure. Something grabs his attention and while painting the artist concentrating on the central motif creates a context in which this central motif appears as a metaphor – unlike in the photo. Attila Szûcs creates this effect with the purely artistic tools of a painter. In the picture entitled Buster Keaton with a cat the artist is standing in an unidentifiable environment – an environment of colour – so characteristic of Szûcs's pictures. With this colour – or to be more exact with the multitude of these shades (different greens and black) – he creates an atmosphere which is not incidental, but serves as a tool to emphasize the chosen motif (here the loser of losers). 'Flowing' down from the cat on Buster Keaton's head there is a green line that rhymes with the flashing eyes of the cat and adds to the visual power of the picture with optical – and not logical – tools. The reality he creates is not expressive, and is not an inner reality in the artist's psyche that he wishes to convey. Szûcs is not interested in the objective analysis of the reality recognizable in the photo (i.e. the analysis of Buster Keaton's personality), but with his subjective, artistic means he wishes to reveal what is behind it. This revelation might seem to be the wording of the elements in the subconscious. The above mentioned Keaton-picture may be the embodiment of anguish itself, as Keaton represents the archetypical loser. Szûcs does not unveil this character by using allegory or symbols, but with the means of painting. Again: by composing shades of colours, forming different surfaces. In order to understand this unveiling we may draw a parallel with films. The most famous ones that are worth mentioning here are the works of Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch. In Vertigo, Lost Highway or Mulholland Drive it is also revealed that reality is not what it seems. We learn that underlyingly the structure of reality is different from what one might believe seeing only the surface – this is the message of Twin Peaks as well. But what reality is really like we never learn. The heroes in these films are hurt by some event and an until then unknown side, aspect or alternative of their lives is revealed. The viewers themselves have to overwrite the reality offered by the narrative of Mulholland Drive in case they wish to understand the rules of the world depicted in the film – of course any attempt to do so will necessarily fail. Lynch's tools are basically those of a painter – it is impossible not to recognize the sameness of Szûcs's red curtains and the red curtains of the final scenes of Twin Peaks26. But in the well-known house of the hero in Lost Highway the unknown spaces that suddenly open can be seen as parallel to the unidentifiable spaces defined by different colours in Szûcs's pictures. The concept behind Attila Szûcs's art is that he does not use technology in an environment of technology (photography, film, video, digital multimedia), but sees the photo as the representative of the surface of reality, whereas his art reveals its deep structures. The means of this revelation – as we have seen – is painting. Paint is a malleable material, its usage is akin to alchemy. In the case of a painting, concentrating on the selected object is a special act, as the picture itself is a personal, human sized surface. The seeming toollessness of painting covers a practically endless number of possible variations. The opposition of red and green has been present in Szûcs's art since the aforementioned object. Many of his pictures are dominated by red or pink paired with different greens (beds, big golfer, girl fixing the telephones, assorting candies at night, three apples, kneeling figure with a mattress, reception, etc.). This pairing is created by sliding the colours from the world of the colour photographs representing reality, thus creating an effect as if we were peeking into spaces lit by colourful bulbs. On the other hand in the series with roses a weighty, grave version of the same pairing appears supplemented by black contours. The reds of the paintings with the two beds or the caravan evoke images from Lynch's films again. The white barn or the white double beds represent a world that is completely different – although it is not any less depressing. The chairs standing in circle in the empty boardroom that levitates in the air shine in bright pink. Based on the photo Szûcs paints a new, autonomous picture which reflects the narrative of the original photo. However, as we have seen, the act of painting, the correlation of the colours, therefore the conservation and exploitation of the capabilities of painting is an especially significant factor in Szûcs's art. He reveals the rich referential systems – at least rich compared to those of his earlier pictures – of the Losers series by the restriction of these tools and the limited tools of his own style. Such a tool is the thick contour that is not motivated by the light in the picture – there is an intentional opposition between this and the realistic way Szûcs paints the central element in the picture. It looks as if a young painter were having troubles with the shadows, and he would try to create a silhouette with a thick line of paint to make it stand out of its environment. This may be observed on the kneeling figure, above the linen of the figure lying in bed, on the figure appearing in the red landscape or on those counting sacks. Beside the sophisticated surfaces Szûcs often represents objects – mainly fruits – with crudely painted thick layers of paint. The apples or the grapes do not radiate the airiness of traditional still lifes, but some grave and tragic atmosphere. Attila Szûcs's painting is not an isolated, lonely phenomenon. As was revealed in the debate on technorealism the tendencies in contemporary German painting are parallel to those in Hungary. Similarly, Attila Szûcs's paintings are often compared to works of previous eras and of the significant artists of today. From the aspect of the meditative contemplation about the selected object or objects and the study of the possibilities of painting Giorgio di Morandi is a landmark – Szûcs transforms the soft drink cans of the delegates in the picture of the party meeting into Morandi-like miniature still lifes as an homage to the master. Lívia Páldi compares Szûcs's pictures to Luc Truymans's works, although she discusses substantial differences beside the similarities. It does not seem to be practical to categorize Szûcs together with the representatives of earlier and current photorealistic tendencies, as although he uses photos as starting points his painting is clearly not photorealistic (cf. Tibor Csernus, László Lakner, László Méhes). Although László Fehér distanced himself from photorealism, his works are different from those of Szûcs from many aspects. Unlike Fehér, he does not use family snapshots representing his personal past, his usage of colours does not have descriptive and symbolic functions, the background of the picture is not neutral in order that the central motif may stand out, but his choice of colours and his surfaces show the deep structures to be revealed by the painting expressively27. We can not call Szûcs's works realistic or naturalistic either, although, undoubtedly, it is easy to find representational elements in his paintings. This realism is but a part of a heterogeneous picture building system and does not become a traditional 'window to the world' kind of artistic concept. Knowing Szûcs's artistic decisions and chosen tools the fact that he adapts images that originate in technology is less important than the context and the method of the adaptation and transformation of that image. In the visual culture of our age the speed of creating technical images and therefore the quantity of these images has become dominant. 'Art is culture in two different senses: as high art, too, but also as a product in the anthropological sense of the word. Nothing exists outside culture.'28 Attila Szûcs transposes the fragment of reality in the technical picture into a unique picture, a handmade painting created with the limited movements of a human body. The paint – i.e. the colours – will acquire a well defined function within a visual package of information. This step is the practice of attention, meditation and contemplation as to the human figures, landscapes or buildings. This seems slowing down, even a standstill compared to the speed of technical images. This slowing down and standstill make it possible that by the functional expressivity of their colours Szûcs's pictures shed light on and reveal the deep structure of the fragment of reality shown in the photograph. Should they be familiar we might call them common memories. Nevertheless, if they are not, the atmosphere of Szûcs's works convey some hardly verbalizeable content, mood or sentiment. Perhaps this factor, which is beyond language or logic, is what Szûcs's reviewers call metaphysical. The pictures are created and they represent what one might call 'a harmony parallel to nature' (Klee). When looking at them we see a melancholic world full of uncertainty, nostalgia or sometimes even anguish. Instead of trying to find answers to the whys and wherefores in the personality of the artist it sees useful to return to the era, place, design and moment the surface of which the photography captured. At the exact moment when the man hid behind the pillow. "Silence. The silence that colour may provoke is a mark of its power and autonomy. Silence is how we have to voice our respect for that which moves us beyond language. To fall into colour is to run out of words. This is the kind of sentence that should be found at the end of a chapter or book, not in the middle."29 János Szoboszlai, 2004, Budapest – Manchester
1 Batchelor, David. 2000. Chromophobia. Reaktion London: Books. p. 70.
2 See: Szoboszlai, János. Képkiállítás. Attila Szûcs's Exhibition in Bartók 32 Gallery, In: Balkon. 1994/4. p. 25.
3 Sándor Hornyik finds Attila Szûcs and János Kósa 'inspirations' for 'acedemic hyperrealism' (András Király, Tibor iski Kocsis, Adrián Kupcsik, László Gyôrffy): Az elmélet allegóriái. Mûértô. October 2003. p.7.
4 See the debate over 'technorealism' in issue 4 of 2003 in Mûértô. The subject of the debate is the painting of András Király, Tibor iski Kocsis, Adrián Kupcsik, László Gyôrffy and the participants are Katalin Aknai, Gábor Rieder, Sándor Hornyik, József Mélyi, János Sturcz, István Sinkó, Gábor Lajta, Zsolt Petrányi, Andrea Bordács, József Kollár, József Készman and László Gyôrffy.
5 See Hornyik. Hornyik urges the writing of the history of the works in question, which would be a necessity for the comparison and categorisation of the different realisms. József Mélyi introduces a new, unavoidable aspect: the preferences of the market (Greenberg és a techno. Mûértô. November 2003. p.7.)
6 Dékei, Krisztina. Cím nélkül – Szûcs Attila festészetérôl. Új Mûvészet. 1998/6, pp. 4-6
7 Sturcz, János. Posztszoc és vanitas – Szûcs Attila kiállítása kapcsán. Új Mûvészet. 1998/6. pp. 7-8
8 Hudra, Klára. 1999. A látszat csal – nem igaz? Catalogue. Szûcs Attila 1990-1999. Published by A.SZ. Budapest. p. 7.
9 More on that in: Szoboszlai, János. Szûcs Attila legutóbbi festményei. Catalogue. Szent István Király Múzeum: Székesfehérvár. 1997
10 Páldi, Lívia. 2001. Tisztaszobák, Tisztaszoba Catalogue, BTM The Municipal Picture Gallery 119. p. 10.
11 Szoboszlai, János. Szûcs Attila. In: Magyar Narancs, 20 November 1995.
12 Sinkó, István: Kiállításbelsô töredékekkel. In: Élet és Irodalom, 20 February 1998.
13 See Dékei.
14 See Sturcz.
15 Kemény, István. Speech at the opening of the exhibition of Attila Szûcs. 10 May 1997. Szent István Király Múzeum, Székesfehérvár
16 Bartis, Attila. Speech at the opening of the exhibition of Attila Szûcs. 27 August 1999. Dorottya Gallery, Budapest.
17 See Dékei.
18 Flusser, Vilém. 1990. A fotográfia filozófiája. Tartóshullám-Belvedere-ELTE BTK.
19 See: Tisztaszoba, pp. 114, 116.
20 See: Szûcs, Attila 1990-1999, pp. 34-35.
21 See: Szûcs, Attila 1990-1999, p. 123
22 See: Tisztaszoba, p. 106.
23 Mérô, László. Maga itt a tánctanár? In: Magyar Narancs. 26 June 2003. pp. 48-49.
24 Ervin Panofsky uses this ex
Attila Szűcs's Latest Works
I. The works that Attila Szûcs produced in the mid-90s are figurative paintings. Although the objects and materials which provide his inspiration are clearly identifiable (trees, benches, people, buildings), what permeates all these works is an all-pervading sense of unreality. If we look back to the works the young artist was turning out at the beginning of the decade - where the objects depicted appear on a background of plaster or metal -, it becomes clear that representation and abstraction have always gone hand-in-hand in Szûcs's art. In those early works the image of an object springs out of the abstract medium, distinct from its background materially as well as representationally. The artist often uses photographs stuck onto plaster, for example, or onto oil-painting (Endlessly Accelerating, 1994). Later Szûcs abandons this juxtaposition of contrasting textures, along with the plastic arts and installations, and turns his attention towards oil and canvas, producing figurative works - though his '95 and '96 paintings still refrain from incorporating total coherence of image and coalescent portrayals of light, figures and space. Instead of obvious contrast he goes for subtle deviation; thus in his works the objects represented are barely distinguishable from their surroundings, differing in colour only by the subtlest shade. In these pictures we have the impression of a single colour dominating, though it is difficult to determine exactly what this colour is, for Szûcs's palette gives us a wide range of subtle tones. Primarily he favours greens, violets and blues, and, more characteristically, mixtures of these, resulting in shadowy, matt areas that differ from each other only very slightly. These areas - with a very few exceptions - are "transitional", that is they blend into each other softly, change colour subtly. Often the sky is allowed to blur with the land, and the horizon becomes difficult to distinguish. Judged from the point of view of homogenous art, it might appear that he puts in effects of light and shade without any justification, producing effects which can take the viewer aback. Certain things - usually identifiable images of objects - appear isolated in their plasticity. The works that Szûcs exhibited in '95 and '96, with their simultaneous use of several painting techniques, seem to metamorphose into one another. The stance of these works is uncertainty, ambiguity. They require intensive study on the part of the viewer, who is called on to question what he actually sees.
Although the above characteristics still hold true, the paintings exhibited here (especially the 1995 "Stereoscopic Hunters", or "Roses") are more restrained, purer exponents of this style, concentrating on fewer elements. The main components of a landscape - ground, horizon and sky - are clearly separate from each other; the layers of paint used for these areas show calmer brushstrokes, are less "action-packed", and they tend to retain one dominant colour. The picture in its entirety is made up of clearly defined patches of colour and shade. Images which in earlier works loomed vaguely out of the background are now more obviously detachable from their backgrounds, even come under the spotlight as it were, which makes them stand out and reduces the power of their surroundings. The emphasis is much more on the represented object, more specifically, on the object in relation to the empty, static space around it. Although there are landscapes, it is immediately obvious that these owe more to ideal constructs of the landscape painting tradition than to painting inspired by actual views. Szûcs's compositions are in many ways akin to the still life genre. His landscapes are simple in their anti-naturalness, there is always something missing from them, something which should or could be included. It is as if the omission of these elements is done deliberately to draw attention to the single object, which is singled out for close scrutiny on its own.
In this way - slightly simplified - two mutually interrelated "events" rub shoulders in Attila Szûcs's paintings: the visible landscape or scene and the painting methodology. The former constitutes the narrative, and the latter comes in as a sort of "spanner in the works", allowing as it were for the expression of doubts or scruples.
This material world is totally static. And since these fragmented elements of landscape exist in an unidentifiable medium, they become transposed onto a metaphysical plane, characterised by associations of infinity, silence, tragedy and an everlasting present. A good verbalisation of the effect these pictures produce can be found in the poetry of János Pilinszky :
You are nowhere. How empty the world is.
A garden chair, a deckchair left out on the lawn.
Szûcs's earlier scenes are the empty (ie: people-less) playground, park, room, bed. Now he has moved on to the beach, bathing place, garden, and one or two human figures. Metaphysical preoccupations are discernible in Szûcs's earlier works, inferrable not simply from the titles he gives them (Long Road, 1991; Man's Dual Nature, 1993), but also from the system of connotation, sometimes dramatic, sometimes sentimental, but always pointing in a decisively metaphysical direction (Christmas tree lights, altars, candles etc). In his paintings of '95 and '96 he renounces some of the directness of these associations induced by objects, and turns more towards a meditative examination of things (Playground at Night, 1995; Stereoscopic Lake, 1995). Most characteristic of these paintings are the feelings of contemplativeness and melancholy.
II. In analysing Attila Szûcs's work we must look back at the stage art was at in the mid-90s, and within this context at the recognised areas governed by painting, as well as the relationship that these bore to the painting of the 80s .
In examining these several questions, it will be expedient to take a close look at the precepts of post-conceptual painting, since Szûcs's work can in many respects be likened to that of Gerhard Richter .
The following three assertions are all more or less concurrent: 1) Contemporary art is characterised by plurality; there is no one dominant style or genre; 2) The self-imposed winding-up of 60s and early 70s radically abstract, minimalist and conceptualist art is responsible for this; 3) The atmosphere consequent to this made the "return" to painting possible, especially to figurative and expressive painting.
Many are critical of this phenomenon - particularly in the case of abstract and expressive painting - because it seems regressive, and would appear to be reinstating the traditional conception of the objet d'art as something autonomous and intrinsically significant. Minimalism, conceptualist art and pop art all directed attention toward the ontology of the work of art, which is strictly bound up with those conditions and circumstances on which meaning depends. Conceptual art - and previous to this ready-made art - had seemed to sweep away the traditional aesthetic conceptions of the object, and built up a kind of radical orthodoxy instead. One of the chief characteristics of this was the denial of a role in the resultant work to the personality and creative imagination of the artist .
According to others this "return" to painting - or more accurately the repeated failure to renounce painting - is a critique of the above-mentioned orthodoxy of modern art. Surrounding circumstances - cultural, political and social - provide the artist with the impulse to stick to the principles of expressivity and imagination. The "crisis of late modernism" is characterised by a loss of mastery and particularity, and "in this world of mists - our present life perhaps - one thing only is, paradoxically, certain: that the claim to certainty rings hollow. It is precisely the clash of moral rectitudes, their cognitive undecidability inseparable from their experiential poverty, that reinstates engagement with the aesthetic as a critical necessity."
This new wave in painting does, however, bear an inescapable relationship to conceptual art, and this post-conceptual painting operates on two distinct levels. Aside from the fact that it deliberately employs any known or extant representational painting strategy, it also sees itself as one of the secondary artistic (as distinct from painting) strategies.
III. "The emphasis on the unique significance of artistic creation, the underlining of the personal and of sensory-concrete corporeality, the abstract conceptual model - or "thesis" - replaced by the visual vitality of the concrete sensory, material picture coming to the foreground" can all be said to be characteristic of the new direction painting has taken, which has led one theorist to compare this type of painting with photography: "Their aesthetic, which synthesises tactile with optical qualities, defines itself in conscious opposition to photography and all forms of mechanical reproduction which seek to deprive the art work of its unique 'aura'" . It is perhaps no coincidence that post-modernist artistic practice as well as theory have focused their attention on photography, which is recognised (once again) as one of the most conceptualist of all representational forms. It is not the analysis of photography's quality as a copying mechanism which was brought into the forefront of consideration in the 80s, but the idea that "what photography shows us are images of its originals; photography is always re-presentation; its pictures are always snatched, stolen, confiscated, purloined images". What is interesting about the way photography has been used in the 80s and 90s is not the image's loss of "aura" so much as the relationship that exists between "image" and "original": this can be quantified as an absence, an original, fundamental and permanent absence.
Let us now take a closer look at the process by which the role of photography has gradually - although its presence has nevertheless been continuous - filtered into the works of Attila Szûcs. In his 1994 work "Untitled", he sticks a photograph (in this case a postcard) onto a plaster surface. The photograph shows a human form in a landscape - a skiing figure in the mountains - and besides the fact that materially it is distinct from the background on which it is placed, it also constitutes a particular visual representational method - the conceptualism of photography - allied with a very different sensory-individual abstract surface. The 1995 pair of pictures "Stereoscopic Hunters" is a "pure" medium: oil on canvas. Nevertheless, this work has many links with photography. Firstly, the pictures operate by means of contrast: blurred and photorealistic smudges constitute the image, and as a contrast to each other call into question all the principles of "correct' versus "faulty' vision. In addition to this, the pair of pictures plays with genres, hinting at the illusionism of stereoscopic photography, although this can in fact only operate on a conceptual plane, since spatial illusion is an optical impossibility (we are looking at a mirror image).
Szûcs's 1997 works, however, take photographs as their basis. The fundamental for each image in each case is a postcard. Szûcs doesn't simply reproduce them in paint, larger than life, however, but instead radically alters them. The essence of this alteration is selective omission, deletion, expunging of certain elements of the original. The effect of this process is not, however, tantamount to a throwing of certain motifs of the postcard into sharper relief, exploiting them and putting them into a new context. The omission part - what is left out - is of crucial importance. There is a great difference, after all, between leaving something out and enhancing something's importance. Szûcs remains faithful to the landscape depicted on the postcard. It is the "inessential" parts that get left out, the "superfluities". The result is the kind of illogical, non-landscape-type vacuum that has been mentioned above.
The postcard is not simply an available, reproducible, exploitable image-bank, useful to the painter as a practical accessory to the process of artistic creation. The postcard remains a photograph. In looking at the constituents of the image we are indeed seeing a pictorial composition, and thus the relationship between the constituents of the image and the circumstances of that image's coming into being are highly important. As a natural consequence of the documentative nature of the technology of the photographic genre, landscapes represented by photography exist in the past, as a record of the moment of meeting of camera and visible world . With his reorganisation and restructuring of the picture, Szûcs does not simply analyse the nature of the view, but also annihilates those above-mentioned characteristics of a picture which result from the mechanism of photography. His "corrections" are not criticisms, however. The "re-producing" of the image is not intended as an improvement; it is not his aim to bring back the "aura". The painting is a product of the artist's continuously developing relationship with the photograph, more accurately, a form arrived at by profound, analytic viewing, the visual expression and realisation of psychological shifts occasioned by prolonged scrutiny. When a living, moving scene is transformed into a still life-type composition, then the essence of Attila Szûcs's artistic method becomes apparent. He uses photography and painting simultaneously as two separate representational media, but made to relate to each other, right up to the point of absurdity when the photo is displayed as object, as the medium of creation.
And if in the case of 80s painting "we cannot trace back from the sensory-concrete-individual scene-phenomenon to some abstract model built wholly on theoretical principles, we cannot resconstruct a logical process from it" , then, in the 90s, looking at Attila Szûcs's art, perhaps it is precisely that "tracing back" which marks the difference between this and the painting of a decade ago. And if we cannot locate a strict "theoretical model" as the basis for Szûcs's paintings, we can recognise in them the conceptual, conscious use of two juxtaposed representational systems. This is the phenomenon which the heterogeneity of Attila Szûcs's picture-building technique was already foreshadowing right at the beginning of this decade.
János Szoboszlai, 2004, Budapest-Manchester