For the sake of knowing
András Bernát was still preparing to embark on a scientific career in his first year at secondary school. Shortly after deciding to pursue another path, he made his first nude photo-works, which he painted or cast and placed in an artificial environment or a landscape. During this period, still as a young artist, he observed the human body and the micro-landscape that immediately surrounded it, i.e. the seemingly unimportant objects, with great devotion. He knew already back then that the holistic representation of our existence requires long-term experimentation and silent contemplation.
These periods of experimentation, sometimes lasting for as long as decades, are meaningful and valuable stations in his oeuvre since they each represent a different phase in Bernát’s artistic approach.
In the second half of the 1980s paintings became the sole protagonist in his art: initially he painted quasi classical landscapes simultaneously with his ’anti-pictures” revealing realistic elements only upon close scrutiny. The challenges entailed by the exploration and capturing of all-encompassing space and spatial structure are shown best by Bernát’s visual representations that are still reminiscent of landscapes and those that in some cases only depict a corner of a room1.
Then came the period of numerous abstract pictures of swirling, amorphous, organic and surreal masses, which Lóránd Hegyi described as pseudo landscapes. It was around then that Bernát spent a more extended time on the Russian steppes, where he painted surreal landscapes and developed his unique painting genre significantly influenced/defined by spatial and temporal infinity. He took less and less interest in concrete details and his dream-like depictions in underground places or in environments resembling slow-motion monochrome films led him towards an objectless and pure narrative. This continued in his Object series, which he began working on in the early 1990s. He mixed metal powder in the paint from 1989 onwards, which determined the forms in his works too: the ‘objects’ in his previously amorphous-organic painting, which could be called landscape for lack of a better word, became three-dimensional shapes.
He mixed the malleable and the solid on the picture surface too. His attention was captivated by paths of refraction, while he cautiously allowed some vortices be seen and used the viewer as a catalyst to channel the motion of the unmoving/stillness back onto the picture surface: using bronze mixed in with aluminium powder enhanced the role of refraction in shaping the picture. The experiments with matte and glossy surfaces, which Bernát had begun years earlier, contributed to the success of this process too. The glazed visionary paintings were composed with straight brushstroke structures and included elements, which, although blurry, together with the background, clearly resembled ruins and architectural forms. These were followed by increasingly distinct and realistic, exact geometrical compositions.
The question of part and whole emerged in the paintings Bernát exhibited in Belgium: a desire to represent what is rational and customary appeared in greenish monochrome panels. The occasionally closed bodies of waves with ribbon-like edges are composed with short straight lines; their waving motion is perpendicular to the brushstrokes and resemble a crystalline architecture or plough lands rather than bodies of water. Things seemed to be settling. From the mid-1990s, although the works were titled Object and then Space-study for a while, malleability re-emerged as the main motif replacing the architectonic-geometrical content: forms were rounded off, more spherical and gradually morphed into endless waves. The canvases from this period are distinguished by a changing structure, a softer or harder, initially changeant monochromy; the later compositions are two-dimensional, evocative of endlessness even in their rich palette and unmoving from edge to edge. This was a time when Bernát’s art was “enriched inwards”2.
Displayed at the current exhibition are the painter’s Space-studies from recent years, with some of them completed only weeks before the opening of the show. These works present flashes of opening up: invitations into the distant and unknown space. Carrying the hope of transforming into bodies and coming to life, the flying ribbon-waves provide a glimpse into the surprisingly vivid – now debuting ‒ depths and heights. In the pictures from 2016 and 2017 the relatively sharp and coarse, at times amorphous ribbon-waves are typically painted in darker tones and are lent a more dramatic effect through the contrast between light and shade coupled with the more prominent refraction of light and the special painting technique. A Baroque euphoria, the desire to connect what is above with what is below, is manifest with an elemental force, while the act of inclusion and discernment is also made visible: the space thus far left ‘outside’ is silently present with its surface – or more precisely atoms – shining brightly and resplendently, allowing the clever game to continue into the sphere it embraces. Abstraction and realism are reconciled and a solution typical of Bernát is realised: the artist taps into temporality and spatiality despite their theoretical intangibility; these two unknowns are entwined and capture unambiguous revelations.
András Bernát has been captivated for decades by matter and universal space, and how tangible matter can be embedded in something intangible. The space and matter he explores equally form the visceral and the spiritual in all living beings, what is under the ground and under the water, what surrounds us theoretically horizontally as well as dimensions heading out to the universe. I do not think this is abstract illusionism since any image allowing an insight into the invisible is just as much part of reality. Bernát’s most recent paintings can be viewed realistically, from the perspective of standing on the ground: his aim is to help us understand our position and take his gentle prompt with which he calls our attention to the necessity and inevitability of acceptance that results from understanding.
curator of the exhibition
1 He painted one of his most important pictures from the corner of a room that is always in semidarkness – “the result was a greenish-grey, grimy mould-coloured and almost monochrome surface. It didn’t look like a picture” (András Bernát) – but the intention has remained the same to the present day: back then he sought to decipher (presumably present) visual phenomena verging on the borderline of perception, and continues to do so.
2 Quoted from András Bernát.
István Hajdu: Lebegve a határon – Bernát András fotói 1978‒1983 [Floating on the Edge – András Bernát’s Photographs 1978–1983]. Neon Galéria, 2020, ed. András Bernát, Árpád Tóth.
Barázdák. Bernát András és Károlyi Zsigmond beszélgetése [Grooves. András Bernát in conversation with Zsigmond Károlyi], Balkon, 2017/3.
István Hajdu: Bernát András | Test–Tér–Táj [András Bernát | Body–Space–Landscape]. Pauker Collection, Pauker Holding Ltd, 2019.