Personal | Fresh 2021 | Exploration along geometry | János Dréher’s plaster images

Material, facture and surface are lent an especially prominent role in János Dréher’s works. Thanks to the unique layering process he has developed through experimentation, his compositions have a unique plasticity and a three-dimensional quality. He uses a special plastic-based, water-soluble adhesive to bond the sand-based and layered mass of plaster, which forms the structured surface of the work. He uses a hautes pâtes, i.e. a thick, bulky material or paste to create his images, applying the material to the surface in multiple layers.

Dréher’s technique retains some of the elements of the traditional fresco and secco, i.e. wet and dry plaster painting, but other precursors to his works are the European neo-Avant-garde movements in painting, which emerged after the Second World War: lyrical abstraction and more closely art informel, where the artwork is not the image of something that already exists but rather represents a “meaning for its own sake”[1], whereas paint, the processed material state of the substance that makes up the work, is the ‘message’ itself. János Dréher compares his own works mainly to the material images of Jean Fautrier, Jean Dubuffet and Antoni Tàpies, as well as to the stucco and sgraffito works of contemporary Hungarian artists such as László Kovács, István Birkás, Ádám Gáll and Ferenc Kis-Tóth.

The works are imbued with a sensual joy in the use and shaping of the material. As Dréher himself put it: “Actually, I am just doing what an absent-minded and dreamy house painter and mason dismissed from his job does, using tools he has made or found himself, only applying – for his own pleasure – one plaster piece of a certain size at a time to a pseudo wall surface, which is then covered, concealed and rearranged, recomposed, maybe even scratched and repainted using different layers of material in many colours, thicknesses and surfaces, and, where appropriate, repeated, highlighted, rewritten and reformulated.”[2]

In the creative process, which allows room for free associations and ideas, for thoughts and moods that appear and disappear, the composition is arranged in the inspiration of the moment into a geometrically regular pictorial surface. This does not mean, however, that the artist leaves any room for chance and contingency in the creation of the image: his works are characterised by a purposeful, geometric structure; he is familiar with the material and the facture’s own laws of operation (drying, discolouration, the interaction of layers), which he exploits and controls.

The works are mural-like: their materials and techniques as well as their architectural articulations and relief-like quality make them akin to murals. A kind of plaster-architecture is created: the compositions are characterised by geometric articulations, line structures, and panelled articulation of the individual series. The architectural character is confirmed by the titles of some of the works: Reclaimed Foundations, Space-Division, Basic Geometries, Architectural Fossils.

Despite their rigorously structured composition, the works have a subtle lyricism, and this lyricism is multi-layered. On the one hand, it derives from the aesthetics of chromatics and optics, i.e. from the simultaneous presence of and the subtle interplay between the full spectrum of sand and earth colours and the various shades of ‘white on white’ of his recent paintings as the shades change constantly according to the light-shadow conditions created by the plasticity of the works.

On the other hand, this lyricism is manifest in the artist’s associations linked to the slow descent of civilisation. Dréher is admittedly inspired by the decaying walls of houses with plaster peeling off them. The aesthetics of fragmentation, amortisation and the lyricism of slow decay appear in the overlaid and scraped-back layers of the material. Pieces of metal appear as signs in some of the works, as if they were props from a bygone age and culture. But these same signs and fragments of signs also trigger other, more organic, geohistorical associations: the mineral efflorescence of the plaster structure is reminiscent of a vein of ore;  at other times fossil-like elements appear in the composition, while the layers of plaster and their trenches evoke rock strata and fault lines.

The layers of plaster also convey a specific narrative: as earlier layers emerge, glimmering from underneath the newer ones, the fault lines and gaps reveal the secrets of earlier layers: the works acquire a historical nature, a temporal aspect. As Lajos Szakolczay put it at the opening of a Dréher exhibition: “these plaster images are motifs of time summed up in relief”.[3]

Complex and autonomous works are created through the internal laws of the material, the way the material ‘works’ on the surface, and the practical process of its application, inviting the observer to engage in an intellectual play. They have their own spatial and temporal character, are imbued with ambiguity, and generate different associations and moods – ultimately creating a passage from the material to the intangible.



[1]The medium is the message” – Marshall McLuhan: Understanding Media, 1964. The basic premise of the book is that the medium used is not a tool, not a carrier of content or message in human communication, but has its own meaning. It not only modifies and sometimes distorts the content conveyed, but also influences the essence of the content to be conveyed, and even has an intrinsic value.

[2] Dréher János – Magamról [János Dréher – About Myself], content=magamrol.

[3] Szakolczay Lajos: Képszintézisek [Lajos Szakolczay: Image Syntheses], spoken at the opening of János Dréher's 2009 exhibition at the Pécs Gallery; Vigilia 2009/7.

2021. December 15. - 2022. February 13.
2021. December 8. - 2022. February 20.
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