Fairplay
Ákos Ezer 

Exhibition On View: 1 September - 30 September 2022

Let’s Hang Out Together!

Concerning the Painterly Universe of Ákos Ezer

 

Ákos Ezer’s loud painterly visions evoke lads tumbling absent-mindedly into the ordeal of becoming expressive ornaments of a society gone bonkers. His protagonists transform into allegorical figures of painting: sporting patterned t-shirts, spaghetti-like hairdos and shiny, tube-like limbs that resonate across the entire colour spectrum. His Homo Inflexus (a term coined by influential proponent of the artist, art writer and curator Sasha Bogojev) falls into a fictional evolutionary category, where the elastic properties of abstract painting blend with the classical notions of the human body’s representation, resulting in a choreography of groovy heroes whose entanglement defies straightforward logic. The artist relies on eclectic sources: like many from his generation, Ákos Ezer dedicates himself to fusing the visual logic of pop culture with the material-oriented language of the London School, Heftige Malerei, Bad Painting and the other crashing waves of expressive figuration.

In the catalogue published following Ákos Ezer’s touchstone exhibition titled Ábstract Hungary (2019) at Künstlerhaus Halle für Kunst & Medien (KM –) in Graz, the curator Sandro Droschl interpreted Ákos Ezer’s work as a form of ironically twisted socialist-realist painting. Instead of the fabrication of the glorious socialist utopia, however, we confront the growing entropy of a weekend BBQ, the smoky adrenaline rush of a poker session or an innocent-looking shopping spree breaking down into multicolour chaos. In one of his interviews given to Juxtapoz, Ákos Ezer described himself as half storyteller, half deconstructionist. He tells stories of a generation who are without a sense of the future: the agitated, escapist souls find solace in each other’s company, inhabiting a drawn-out present tense. While being together alone, they also deconstruct the idea of singular individuality and – following the thoughts of French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy – reveal existence as co-presence. More simply put, hanging out – or chillaxing – with others is when you are truly yourself. The critical and compassionate narratives of Ákos Ezer are also platforms where the painter can go wild: well-fed gestures of straight-out-of-the-tube oil paint collide with smooth, metallic gradients, while the different layers bounce around till they collapse into the full-throttle frenzy of painting. 

At the beginning of the 2020s, the bumbling figures – slap-stick-slapped into place by the edges of the rectangular paintings –, are complemented by loners smoking cigarettes with elegant chrome-like fingers or eating an unruly tornado of pasta, dissolving calmly into the arcadian atmosphere or jazzing up the laid back vibe of quarantined hours. In the electrified classicism of this latter period, the smouldering smoke, the glimmering twigs and leaves and the random objects, formed by bright transitions of increasing colour intensity, have become the crucial elements of the compositions. Even in the case of Ákos Ezer’s latest cinematic-scale, panorama paintings, which are often created as seamless diptychs, we concentrate on the objects: a multi-camera smartphone ready to be dropped, a deliciously rolled-up foam mattress, a ping-pong table floating mid-air, a flash of a lethal yo-yo in the middle of a Hannah-Barbera-style fight scene or a gargantuan stack of plates ready to plummet, ensuing disaster. In both his portraits and his group compositions, the (fictional) inner world of the characters is often symbolized by – or substituted with – their gadgets. The private universe of each figure might be more accurately observed in the reflection of a gold wristwatch heated up in the afternoon sun, an unnaturally elongated, pointy-nosed sneaker or a plastic cup of gruesome vending machine coffee depicted with greasy painterliness, than by the gaze of the protagonists, which is often fixated upon distant points, as if the pupil were the best exit route from the burdens of independent existence.

The diverse painterly statements – which Ákos Ezer turns into the raw material of his stories – are inspired by the subversive technical shortcuts of kitsch, the overemphasised sense of gravity inherent to the hallucinations of neo-expressionist tendencies, the no-nonsense attitude of hip and glossy graphic design and the treasure trove of art kept safe in the temple-like chambers of museums. Ákos takes these influences and creates smooth visual cocktails, where there is always an extra cherry on top rewarding the attentive viewer. This attitude connects strongly to the current discourses concerning contemporary painting and reveals Ákos Ezer as an artist who is at ease with juggling multiple visual strategies simultaneously. He visualises the ambiguous phenomenon of somesthesia (or bodily perception) by creating surface-independent, levitating patterns on his protagonists’ outfits, turning arms and legs into twisting and turning chrome-like cylindrical shapes and by fragmenting the body into a labyrinth of sizzlingly hot and ice-cold patches of colour. These are some of the methods Ákos Ezer uses to create titillating tension between the various layers of his paintings, resulting in the pictorial space being experienced as a kind of puzzle by the viewer. Binding dusk-tinted highlights into the free-fall of brutal materiality, Ákos Ezer’s painterly constructions are complex beasts. Nevertheless, his paintings are always clear and straightforward. His painterly choices are radical and tongue-in-cheek solutions to the many questions that figurative art poses today. 

In recent years, Ákos Ezer has started to work on glazed ceramic pieces, which explore the spatial aspect of the figures who populate the artist’s canvases. In contrast with the paintings, these three-dimensional objects are always single figures, where the protagonist becomes a pedestal of sorts for random objects: perched on top of O-shaped lips we see a chewing gum or a tennis ball, but ephemeral materials such as smoke also materialise as shiny, amorphous masses of material. These humorous entities were first exhibited in Galerie Droste’s Paris Showroom in the exhibition titled Memories from the Future (2020), where the viewers could also see a special graphic print created by the artist with 3D modelling software. Since then the artist has also collaborated with AISHONANZUKA to create a limited edition 3D sculpture titled Delivery Man (2021), which will be followed by further exciting cooperations, transgressing the notions of art and design, enrichening the contemporary scene of collectable, special editions created by artists of the young generation.

Ákos Ezer is invested in a concept of the body’s morphology that has an enticing history. By remixing and terraforming the body – using it as a groovy font that can be stretched in many ways – he tells stories of human society and private experiences. For centuries, the starting point for the representation of the human figure has been the body itself, steeped in representational traditions and various humanist theories. It is a textbook cliché that the succession of historical styles called for certain modifications concerning the image of the body. While Mannerism merely lent its figures a more graceful neck and the Baroque era added a few extra vertebrae to the spine, the various –isms of modernism called for radical transformation: they shattered the body into pieces, flattened it and blew it apart. The twists and turns of art in the last few centuries gradually shifted the spotlight away from the figure and towards the ideas “manipulating the puppets”, in other words, the philosophical or ideological background structures. The steely-muscled heroes of Agitprop (propaganda art), the flattened workers of the Mexican muralists and the clay-cast individuals of the London School presented the individual in ever-new variations, expanding and distorting the self-image of man. 

Apart from this historical genealogy, the silhouette of the protagonists of Ákos Ezer’s work is informed by the pictorial language developed by the great modernist predecessors (Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Max Beckmann, Fernand Léger), an exciting dialogue with amazing contemporary artists (Dana Shutz, Nicole Eisenman, Kristina Schuldt), but also by the inner logic of moulding 3D objects in virtual spaces, the topsy-turviness of high-speed animation scenes, the notion of cartoon physics or the hilarious glitches of NPCs (Non-Playable Characters) in computer games. This cheeky celebration of low-brow culture connects Ezer’s artistic practice to the worlding of Neo-Surrealist magic kingdoms, where the emphasis is placed on the creation of universes and heroes that function according to a different set of rules. One might mention here the brash Cuteism of Szabolcs Bozó, the oversaturated party animals of Superfuturekid, the smooth & jazzy trompe l’oeil babes of Oli Epp or the hysterical crybabies of Joakim Ojanen’s sculptural microcosm – these are all artists who navigate the global village with ease, create enticing artistic personas and wreak havoc on the classical rules of bourgeois taste. 

Since his first explosive exhibitions[1] at Art+Text Budapest[2] organised by Gábor Einspach, Ákos Ezer has become one of these rising stars: he has shown his work all around the world, from Galerie Droste’s exhibition venues in Wuppertal (DE) and Paris (FR) to the exhibition space, AISHONANZUKA in Hong Kong (HK). He has participated in several notable art fairs, including a solo debut presentation at Art Berlin Contemporary with Art+Text Budapest and Tanja Pol, as well as a shared duo exhibition at Vienna Contemporary with artist Tamás Soós organised by Art+Text Budapest in 2018, and more recently: Art021 Shangai with AISHONANZUKA and Dallas Art Fair with Galerie Droste in 2022. He has proved himself in large-scale solo shows, such as his exhibition titled Ábstract Hungary (2019) at Künstlerhaus Halle für Kunst & Medien (KM –) in Graz, Austria and Closer Look (2019) at Cluj–Napoca Art Museum in Romania. The latter exhibition was organised with Gábor Einspach – a long-time supporter and the first gallerist to represent Ákos Ezer’s work in Hungary –, who has recently also positioned the artist’s first piece (Nightwatch, 2016) in the prestigious acquisitions programme of the Hungarian National Gallery’s Contemporary Collection. This international outreach affects his practice as well: with his paintings reaching a wide audience, Ákos Ezer spreads his helter-skelter mythology to each continent, showcasing an alternative mode of existence, where we might be able to hang out without destroying each other.

 

– Patrick Tayler, independent art writer based in Budapest

 

[1] (Accidentally, 2017; Boom… Crash… Bang…, 2018)

[2] (the predecessor of Einspach Fine Art & Photography)