Boxers in the Shadow of the Banana Trees - Gábor Király’s Works
Painting as a medium has always faced the challenge of modernity, the notion and possibility of revival through new options arising from the latest media (photo, video etc.). In late 2007 Ernst Museum presented the exhibition Uncut Version, dealing with the potential and relevant painting techniques and standpoints of today. Beyond technology and tradition, this issue examines the changes in painting as a genre through the study of imagery and the changing visual environment.”The exhibition, however, did not cover the entire range of contemporary painting, almost only focusing on alternatives that conspicuously neglect using technical aids and their effects, and thus giving us a fairly incomplete diagnosis.
The exhibition included the paintings of Gábor Király, one of the contemporary artists, or more precisely, painters who still favour figurativism but reject classic mimetic representation. Besides Gábor Király, it is József Csató among the contemporary Hungarian painters who strongly represents this tendency. From a certain perspective, Eszter Csurka as well as Zsuzsa Moizer also belong this group .
Though Király’s role models include numerous artists of widely different tastes and styles due to their thoughts about images, space and the impact of memory, it was outsider artists turned well-known and famous figures who influenced him greatly in terms of formal precedents and effects .
To name specific people and oeuvre, his art is akin to the works of Basquiat, an artist now extensively recognized, and Horace Pippin, an Afro-American autodidactic painter less known in Hungary. The latter’s style, his insignificant everyday scenes, the lack of space representation and stylization are similar to Király’s. Also, a powerful parallel can be drawn between Király’s paintings and the Australian aboriginal art, the ancient African art, graffiti or art brut. These, however, had no direct impact on his works but rather served as a source of inspiration, experience or as the manifestation of a similar view of the world and art.
Although art brut is definitely not a homogenous spiritual and formal style but a decidedly diverse form of art it is generally characterized by replacing traditional representation with an honest, visceral art born from rough and raw spontaneity where passion and the less controlled manifestation of the sub-conscious can be observed.
In addition to art brut he was also influenced by the black culture of the 70ies and 80ies, for instance graffiti where the figure and the text are simultaneous components of the „wall picture”, in particular the works of the above mentioned Basquiat. According to Gábor Király’s own account, „jointly influenced by these things I started to use new visual elements, painting human figures and portraits. The figure was no longer alone in the picture but was surrounded by an intimate interior or shown with an object I found important, to help as an aid to illustrate the figure’s state of mind and provide a clue or at least a guideline for the understanding of the figure’s existence. These objects taken from our everyday lives, such as a frying pan, a T-shirt or a mug did not lessen the content of the painting but became indispensable components of the picture and part of the figure.”
One common characteristic of these works of art (also typical of Király) is ignoring the classic rules of perspective. In fact, he was fascinated by „representation dissolving into the infinity of space” even in the fresco paintings of Pompeii. „I still don’t paint a space for these pictures but the dull flat background is replaced by a kind of atmosphere or indicative surface created by glazing or other painting methods. I used strong, exaggerated colours, usually complementary colour contrasts. These were not the conscious combination of colours but were inspired by the subject during work.”
Another dominant feature of these works (and Király’s paintings as well) is the mode of representation seizing the prevailing mood while lacking in minute detail. No wonder he likes Russian icons very much.
Preferring rustic and archaic surfaces, Gábor Király mostly uses randomly found wooden boards, wall boards or other wooden objects instead of a canvas, often leaving certain areas of the surface untouched. This raw power is also implied by his huge works though he has some smaller series depending on the found image carrier. Király’s mode of representation shows similarities to an archaic world, practically making his paintings new barbaric. For him, however, this is not only formalism. His view of the world is archaic as well, still based on a direct connection between nature and humans. This is manifest in his frequent depiction of plants and animals in his paintings, which, though not easily identified, are presented as symbolic signs.
His subjects are also marked by rusticity and bulkiness. All of Király’s painting eras have been characterized by the representation of a raw or even brutal male world. In our culture determined by gender ideology his art depicting the raw and archaic male world comes as a surprise. The male figures in some of his paintings involved in all kinds of „macho” activities might be viewed ironically and even interpreted as a criticism of the archetypal subjects of the male world but his works inspired by hunting definitely do not fall into this category.
Devoid of pathos or significant events, his subjects usually include the dull weekdays, painted as portraits, peculiar conversation pieces and still-lifes as well as interiors. Interestingly, the everydayness of his subjects makes his paintings akin to 17th century Dutch painting yet his mode of representation could not be farther from those minutely and finely elaborated works of art.
Several of his paintings, for instance Boxers, Butcher, Animal Trainer, Portrait of A Soldier are like archetypes while others are impressions of personal experience and memories, e.g. Engagement, Bathers, In the Studio. Yet the paintings associated with his private life are no realistic records of events either but rather serve as a starting point for very subjective impressions of moods and scenes filtered through his memories. It is no accident that Gábor Király calls these paintings, devoid of concrete narrative, as „subjective historism”.
Narration is even prevented by the extremely laconic and particular titles: Cleaner, Boxer, Footballer, Tired Footballer, Head, At the Sea-side, At the Coast etc. Several of his portraits are simply called Portrait. Their uniform, relatively homogenous background and similar mode of portrayal make them look like repetitions of the same image. Losing their personalities, the people in the portraits appear like icons yet without being represented as part of a sacral rite, the most important characteristic of icons.
The same simplicity and unadorned style, however, sometimes become decidedly funny, e.g. the paintings entitled The Right Way to Tend a Banana Tree and Meat Processor astonish us with their titles. As a strange twist, Gábor Király creates plenty of paintings depicting sportsmen: Boxer, Kayak Master, Gymnasts, On the Still Rings I-III, Weight-lifter whereas in his private life he is not particularly interested in these sports with only the scene and the Afro boxers’ faces grabbing his fancy.
According to Peter Weible painting in the 1990ies was characterized by hiding another picture behind each picture, i.e. art was dominated by art history and total response to the surrounding visual world. By the year 2000, however, painters were increasingly observed trying to avoid this too media-like imagery and finding new ways which are best reached through truly or at least apparently spontaneous painting flowing from the depths of the psyche. As a subject, the depths of the soul may also be depicted in a different way, sometimes in a highly sophisticated style, but for Gábor Király it is the painter’s gesture rather than the subject that is instinctive.