Nine Ateliers | Baksai

Nine Ateliers – The spirituality of training in the painting of József Baksai

“If it is your design to take up painting,
you must create harmony between heaven and earth”
Guo Zhongshu, 10th century

This article merely seeks to present the foundations and essence of József Baksai’s creative method; it is not out to analyse and interpret the artist’s works. Judit Szeifert’s monographs[1] reveal the concepts typical of Baksai’s painting, such as duality, the associative approach, the mutually complementing techniques of oil painting and graphic art, and recurring themes (the issue of time, life and death, animal motives etc.).

The choice of title calls for an explanation. Baksai has been painting for over 45 years, and has been practising Kyūdō, Japanese archery. Not wanting to establish far-fetched parallels between a Japanese martial art and Baksai’s creative method, but one cannot ignore the facts. In his study of about Kyūdō,[2] William R. B. Acker wrote “The art’s raison d’être is invariably said to be development of character, acquirement of poise, control of the mind, and spiritual training.” For József Baksai the connection between painting and Japanese archery is training itself. He believes that’s neither can be practised without quality training.

His working methods consists of reading several hours a day; that is the starting point of his pictures. As he reads, he makes small notes, sketches; in other words, the mental notes and emotional processes are put to paper, becoming visible. The artist proceeds to collect these small notes, with a view to making them the theme of a picture one day. Not all of them will become pictures, and neither is picking one or the other and processing it a conscious effort either. Countless projections of momentary experiences of the mind, the notes are sifted and the selected one is transformed into a drawing or a graphic work in mixed media. The dimension will vary from anything in A5 to 700×100 mm. The generic and technical advantage of graphic works is that they can be made relatively quickly, as opposed to oil paintings, which can take several months to accomplish. Consequently, apart from the fact that there is no doubt as to their interpretation as independent art, graphic works are suited to deal with several aspects. Some of the graphic works are turned into oil paintings eventually. The artist refers to his works as illustrations, albeit the expression can only be used in the sense that each of them was inspired by a literary work. Occasionally they are illustrations of specific works. In such cases the artist indicates the author of the literary work in parentheses. Often he adds inscriptions to his graphic works, which help the viewer in interpretation or encourage them to think about the theme. This might be single word, such as “POWER” or “THUNDER” or a line of poetry, or even three long lines Latin text (see “Sebek” [Scars]).

Often, he will deal with a theme and a motif in many different ways (e.g. Empedocles, the stag motif etc.). Each time he comes back to a motif, he enriches it with further readings, that is, elicits training to help deeper understanding. As the artist seeks truth, he penetrates to the depths of a theme, and the layers of understanding are revealed to him like the petals of a flower. Each and every sketch, and the drawings and oil paintings made from them, are a new layer bringing the viewer closer to the essential, the invisible and unreachable inner “heart”. That is the “cave of the heart” to which the wise yogi retires, to find the ultimate meaning of life, liberation. That is the Holy Grail the artist seeks through practicing art and Kyūdō.

This exhibition presents some of his recent, large-sized oil paintings (Morning Star, Book of the Elderly) as well as his latest 210×150-mm graphic works in white box frames. The graphic works feature animal motifs, the ground plans of buildings, ships, human figures and the above-mentioned one-word inscriptions and citations.


Mária Kondor-Szilágyi, curator of the exhibition


[1]     Judit Szeifert: Baksai József [József Baksai]. Globe Print, 2007. Idem: Baksai. Kugler Könyvek, T-Art Alapítvány, Budapest, 2014. Idem: Baksai József. Hungart, Budapest, 2017.

[2]     W. R. B. Acker: Kyudo: the Japanese Art of Archery. Tuttle Publishing, 1998, p. 48.

2018. February 16. - March 18.

Kunsthalle, Budapest

2018. January 19. - February 18.
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2018. February 23. - March 18.
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Derkó2018 | Reporting exhibition of the fine arts scholarship awardees