On the pictures of Éva Mónika Horváth
Since 2012, Éva Mónika Horváth has energetically painted the flowing movement of crowds, the induced, orchestrated, unspontaneous, massing of people in urban spaces. The artist is a learned philosopher, and in my experience, her thinking does not separate science from creativity.
A formative artistic encounter of my youth was seeing Paolo Uccello’s battle scene in the Uffizi, in which the triumph of Florence over Siena in 1432 is really just a pretext: the main theme is the maelstrom of the lances of the armoured knights. This early arrangement of vectors represents a modern approach, and counts as a milestone in art history.
The artist’s latest cycle, exhibited here, does not show the “warriers” from Uccello’s frontal standpoint, but instead views its subject, namely the sprouting of a dragon’s teeth plantation, from above. This perspective has its own historical antecedent: the bird’s-eye plans depicting the modern, international city born from the savage gesture of urban planning with which Baron Haussmann obliterated mediaeval Paris, or James Hobrecht the old Berlin. Art also mirrored the events of architectural history, and while Claude Monet or Camille Pissarro were not yet depicting the denizens of the boulevards as anonymous urbanites, Georg Grosz or Ludwig Meidner had already kneaded the flood of people in the German metropolises into a faceless mass. In the early 20th century, during protests pencil sketches were often made, and later made into oil paintings in the studio, an example being Franz Skarbina’s famous Nighttime Crowd in Front of Berlin Palace (1907). An image of every type of present-day political manipulation has long been present on some painter’s canvas.
To our great enjoyment, one of my teachers at university, the painter Iván Máriási Masznyik, projected slides of reproduction paintings and various forms of photography at his famous art philosophy lectures given at the R-klub, which took in a broad cultural-anthropological horizon. His slides included metallurgical photographs taken with an electron microscope, ground-breaking at the time, which revealed the secrets of the materials and provided inspiration for his painting. Among these – to give a sense of the analogy of microcosm and macrocosm – he interposed an aerial shot of a similarly composed crowd of swimmers and sunbathers on a sandy beach, and commented that humankind is a dangerous skin disease on the Earth’s body. We smiled; but today, with the planet’s population set to top ten billion in two decades, with all the upheavals that this entails, the master’s sarcastic remark seems more like an objective description of the global situation. We can sense how this transforms into an art manifesto, an opportunity for composition in Éva Mónika Horváth’s works: “We see a joyful carnival crowd, their joy and light-heartedness are underscored by the picture’s colouring, the homeliness of the reds and greens in harmony with each other – and at the same time, we are (also) brought face to face with the horror of annihilation, the monstrous anamorphic heads grinding their teeth at humankind from the cresting wave of the ocean tide, the spectacle of apocalyptic destruction.”(1)
The painter and philosopher Éva Mónika Horváth has also worked as the choreographer for dance films, and regularly uses dance-inspired performances as a means of “commenting” messages that cannot be fully expressed with the brush much to the delight of those contemporaries, from Márta Júlia Nagy to Ferenc Takács, who are more receptive to this form of expression). Éva Mónika Horváth is motivated by the artistic projection of the clairvoyant prediction described above. (Her earlier, soft, contourless pictures, almost evocative of János Vaszary, gave way to a sharply expressed, new visual world with outlined colours.
The painter knows what is hard, what is sharp and what is flexible, changeable on the canvas; and she suspects what these are in today’s movements of society. Éva Mónika Horváth’s fluid, often emotional, intimately themed pastel drawing gave over to oil-painted sequences of brush strokes and ideas. This is one of the things she wrote about in her essay Psychomorphia as Conceptualist Art. She believes that psychomorphia reflects the emotional and mental changes in human life. Éva Mónika Horváth scrutinises the visual analogies of the symbol set of our collective psyche, constantly seeking out the borderlines that cannot be described in words, but can be expressed with pictures. “Becoming faceless in the grip of mass hysteria? That’s too simple. I should be able to ascribe some kind of significance to the vibrant, vivid colours, the rapture pulsing out from the movements of the figures dancing towards the rainbow.”(2)
Now, as I contemplate her art, the enlarged picture painted by her is still hanging in the Fővám tér Metro station on line 4. Surrounded by the architecture envisioned by the designers of the Sporaarchitects studio (Tibor Dékány, Sándor Finta, Ádám Hatvani, Orsolya Vadász, Tamás Komoróczky), which also invokes the highly dynamic sense of macro and micro material structures, Éva Mónika Horváth’s picture hangs above our head like a mirror on the constant flow of travellers below it. On one of her canvases from the beginning of the cycle, she captured the essence of the torpedo-like, kamikaze human vectors, a “sharp”, swirling variant of which became a vision of beachgoers being swept away by a tsunami. Iván Masznyik teaches that the vortexes of the flood and undulating urban crowds are moved by some kind of common energy. It is up to the viewer whether he or she sees, in the maelstrom, the end of the world, rainbow geometry, a smart anthill, mass hysteria or a revolutionary movement. Éva Mónika Horváth’s installation-esque exhibition at Kunsthalle Budapest depicts the revolution of collective acceptance.
György Szegő, curator of the exhibition
The quotes used are extracts from writings on Éva Mónika Horváth’s art, recited at a Litera.hu literary event, by the following authors:
(1) Ferenc Takáts
(2) Márta Júlia Nagy