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Gábor Pap - Everything is Mud


"Everything flows," taught the Ephesian sage Heraclitus, thinking of the primordial element that pervades everything, water. "Everything is mud," replied the enfant terrible of Hungarian contemporary art, Gábor Pap, thinking of the all-pervading horse dung, which, mixed with mud, plastered the cracks of adobe houses in villages like archaic PUR foam. Pap lives in Öcsöd, on the banks of the Körös River, in the farmhouse he inherited from his grandmother, just a stone's throw from the wretched scene of Attila József's childhood. The brutally honest, individualistic art he represents feeds on the rural backyard trash; and can only be compared to the peasant expressionism of Menyhért Tóth or the agro art of Imre Bukta. In Pap's hands, the desolate mud of the Great Hungarian Plain turns fertile. In his new exhibition, his raw painting, constructed from autobiographical flashbacks and visual fragments, grows even more monumental and is accompanied by sculptures worthy of bad painting.

In the large gallery space, Pap's latest paintings are on display. These irregularly shaped tondos are stretched over brutally thick stretchers with bevelled edges, resembling giant potatoes or celestial clouds. Pap has enlarged sketch drawings of personal memories and free associations to monumental scale, featuring scenes such as mermaids sitting by a dry lake, dogs barking at the sky, newborn kittens, a curator girl giving the finger, a self-portrait while fishing, an ejaculating divine phallus, a Corinthian column capital and a distorted MÁV (Hungarian State Railways) logo. On the white surface, expressive acrylic smudges, spray-painted corners and pen-drawn details alternate like a flickering kaleidoscope. The heavy pictorial objects float like clouds above each other on the main wall, with beveled sides showing traces of paint rollers and beetles. "The pictures," says the artist, "are more like questions, half-spoken words, rather than answers. Not every element or factor has a hundred percent solution. The urge to read and decipher specific motifs is a delusion, misunderstanding is inevitable. The desired reaction: 'What the hell is this?'"


Among the paintings are "art brut" sculptures made from adobe and rural construction materials (All Mud series). The choice of materials reflects today's rural reality, where archaic raw materials (adobe, brick, horse manure used for plastering, hemp rope, pitch) and modern DIY store supplies (chicken wire, pur foam, plastic panels) are inseparably mixed together. The central piece is a dismantled, phallic mortar cannon, with one of its barrels broken off, surrounded by cannonballs with protruding wires. In a small painting on its raw, plastered surface, the military weapon is shown in its intact state, standing proudly. Next to the cannon is a self-portrait-like sculpture of a flower and a barrel object resembling a vagina, while a pair of white paintings reminiscent of butterfly wings (Butterfly-like 1–2) hangs in the room opposite it. The butterfly canvases are montages of images framed by thick, slanted edges with paint-smeared handprints. They feature several motifs, including a crosshair, a butterfly cocoon, the Roman Bocca della Verità and several motifs from the group of works in the neighboring room (triple testicle, Mother Teresa, etc.).


The brick room is dominated by a rotating sculpture of the Great T-Bagger, which stands over three meters tall. This spinning adobe monster, driven by the viewers, combines a pornographic genre with art historical iconography. It portrays an "archaic Apollo torso" stripped of its masculinity, a prayer wheel of sins and atonement, a gigantic antihero of contemporary Hungary. The homunculus, erected from materials found in rural areas, addresses the ermine symbolizing Leonardo's ideal of beauty with its mutant trio of testicles. Its pedestal is covered by a fragmented sea of gypsum-board ice floes reminiscent of a Caspar David Friedrich painting. Surrounding the sculpture are paintings on robust, slanted stretchers (Easypeasy) on which black-and-white memories flash, from the sanctity of Mother Teresa to sex chat girls, from erupting volcanoes to Ronaldinho's mouse teeth, from medicinal pills to idyllic scenes by the Kőrös River. These monochrome memory fragments are doubled and repeated as colourful episodes, turning the Toulouse-Lautrec-like brothel and hell journey into something bittersweet. The exhibition traces a path from the filth to the clouds and back to the dust. Because in the end, everything is just dust – everything is mud.


Text by Gábor Rieder, curator of the exhibition

Translated by: Viktória Popper

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