When Kazimir Malevich painted his Black Square in 1915, he virtually created the first pixel. This seemingly wild statement points well beyond the importance of suprematism and demonstrates the mechanisms of the impact this work exerted on the future. With Malevich’s painting art reached the tabula rasa point of previous trends: it became the origo of novel, free and autonomous thinking and significantly impacted the development of geometric abstraction and non-figurative trends. Malevich’s innovation, derived from cubism, is similar to Piet Mondrian’s Lozenge Composition with Two Lines (1931), which seeks to show the smallest element of the universe, which cannot be broken down further but can still be interpreted. In this canvas tension is created by two perpendicular lines within a square standing on one of its apexes. Generally, when squares are rotated, they preserve their stability but they continue in the beholder’s mind and, based on the principles of neoplasticism, create a virtual raster that the universe is built on. Red, yellow and blue primary colours as well as white filler- and black borderlines are ennobled into symbols bearing numerous meanings. The pixel, the smallest editable element in a digitally created raster, was first defined in 1965 by Frederic C. Billingsley as the components of the images of the Moon and Mars received from satellites.
The main cornerstones of György Szőnyei’s art are constituted by the concepts of Malevich’s classic square, Mondrian’s diamond – and his by far freer Broadway Boogie-Woogie (1942-43) – and the computer-made pixel, as well as the fonts the artist himself designed on artistic foundations. These elemental units make up his works displayed at Squares in the Műcsarnok #Box, with Szőnyei’s own fonts used in the exhibition space and in the accompanying catalogue.
A graduate of graphic design at the Hungarian Academy of Applied Arts, Szőnyei associated himself with the trends of new sensibility and new eclectics in the 1980s. He is active as a fine artist, graphic designer, typographer and teacher, representing an outstanding standard and utmost dedication in all these areas; therefore, different genres effortlessly co-exist in his oeuvre. Regarding himself not only as a fine artist, he equally engages with freely soaring processes and more defined, geometrically determined typographic challenges, as well as sacred and profane subject matters. He works with Indian ink, pen, tempera, acrylic and computers, while also creating collages and ready-mades. His works exhibited now in the Műcsarnok are compositions from the 1980s, based on a strict order and fitting in with the classic tradition of geometric abstraction, which Szőnyei developed further, expanding its boundaries and enriching it with novel and freer semantic fields as well as with lighter and gesture-like shapes, humour and irony. He pays tribute to Piet Mondrian’s art with homage-installations (Transformation, Worm-eaten Mondrian) and even with an entire type family. Interpreted as a Mondrian paraphrase, his conceptual composition folded from a squared tea towel showcases the invasive impact of art with humour as the Dutch master’s colours and patterns pop up even on everyday objects, confirming the tradition that works of art can have a visual impact even when users are unaware of the origin and significance of the motifs applied.
The hand-painted figurative and non-figurative works displayed at the exhibition are composed of the smallest and simplest units – standing and tilted black and colour squares – that transform into complex, multi-semantic structures and pictures. The painting technique drawing on ancient tradition preserves and carries on the strict system of the cross-stitch, known from folk art, as well as those of the houndstooth-patterned textiles, the Asian kilim rugs and the raster based on Victor Vasarely’s art. The compositional method of these pieces, i.e. the binary rhythm of squares painted black or left white, is akin to the constructional principle used by computers; this appeared in Szőnyei’s works already in the 1980s, when he had no access to computers even. This projection into the future rhymes with the opening statement of this writing, proposing that Malevich’s black square can be interpreted as the first pixel. The precision of the dark and ever-lighter rasters in Szőnyei’s works are most obviously manifest in the refraction of the faces and central motifs. His harmonious still-lifes composed of randomly arranged, by now forgotten cast plastic toys, kitchen pots and technical tools lend timelessness to snapshots and momentary constellations. The models are depicted with pixel-photorealism in his paraphrases, such as the reinterpretation of József Koszta’s The Three Magi, as well as in his self-portrait, and the portraits of known people (that of Péter Gémes, who was Szőnyei’s friend and fellow artist) and unknown persons (the portrait with an ambiguous (profanely and sacred) title: Chick / Mary). Being a bass guitar player, Szőnyei assigns an important role in his oeuvre to works and posters, which can be seen as unique pop music paraphrases of musical legends (e.g. Bob Dylan, for whom he designed a type face as a tribute, and Jimi Hendrix); his triptych Sex unter Wasser, painted to music, is also significant in this regard. His early works displayed here engage in a dialogue with the already computer-made, real pixel-based and richly colourful font designs and placards of the early 2000s, which pass down the same system of traditions as his accurately hand-painted works distinguished by purity through being composed of standard or tilted squares. The artistic aspirations of Szőnyei the typographer are manifest in his complete Archian type family design – included in the FontShop catalogue in 1999 – and in its playful variants, the Boogie-Woogie, and Wilmos, the latter paying homage to the painter and designer (De Stijl) Vilmos Huszár, as well as his type designs that are a tribute to the oeuvres of Victor Vasarely and Lajos Kassák. Every one of Szőnyei’s works is infused with the rich tradition of art history, adapted in individual ways to evoke ever more new associations.
curator of the exhibition