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György Szőnyei's exhibition provides a unique opportunity to understand a creative process in which the inspirational visual elements are transformed into graphic symbols that formed the basis of the artist's visual language in the 1980s.

The art of the eighties is an era of its own. After the neo-avant-garde and geometric abstract tendencies of the seventies, art became liberated, elementary and expressive with the international upsurge of the postmodern approach. In this environment, however, the conceptual approach lived on, of which György Szőnyei is an outstanding example. His analytical attitude led him to study his environment, where he found several sources of inspiration, the visuality of which determined his painting during the decade. As Lóránt Hegyi writes in a study of this duality: "Fragments from extremely different areas and realms of reality are piled up around a single painterly gesture; and the gestures themselves are in constant contact with different fragments of reality."

Today we can still see, especially in the outskirts and in public buildings left over from the sixties, the richness of form that was the result of the random laying of Metlahi stone paving  on the one hand, and the patterns on fences that praised the ingenuity of the locksmiths on the other. The laying of the stone pavements was driven by necessity, as the broken scraps could be used to fill useful square metres. The creators of the resulting abstract patterns, which were completely random, had little to do with art, yet they created a conceptual system - the form determined the surface - where the evolution of colours and shapes was purely a matter of momentary choice. Szőnyei captured these shapes in photographs and continued to reflect on the working methods in his paintings. This research is evidenced by a tableau of photographs, which became the basis of his art as a metaphor for the disorderly system.

The idea of the locksmiths who shaped the fences was similar, but still resulted in different motif systems. Here again, the precious scraps of concrete iron provided the starting point for the patterns, but the function and the desire to approximate the patterns the client had hoped for - e.g. imitation of sunbeams - determined the final result. This figurative and irregular tracing is a familiar element in today's holiday landscapes.

György Szőnyei is an analytical artist, who draws visual lessons from the urban and architectural mistakes of his surroundings (Miklós Erdély). In the pictorial elements thus discovered, he assumes an inspirational line guide, or at other times a system of spots, which has initiated the graphic and painterly path that this exhibition is all about. One of the key concepts of the pictorial system is chance, which has art historical links to Miklós Erdély or László Beke. The unpredictable as a driving factor of art in the neo-avant-garde is an imprint of creativity in the world, a fact whose character and value artists can draw attention to.


Szőnyei's works presented here have antecedents in his oeuvre. Alongside his earlier pixel works analyzing printing techniques, then incorporating New Wave aesthetics into his art, environmental analysis was also part of his general interest.

If we look at the other elements of the series, we can discover steps of abstraction, a process of pictorial reduction along which the works approached purity and variations of form, from structures superimposed on each other.

Zsolt Petrányi

Art historian, Head of Department of the Contemporary Collection at the Hungarian National Gallery

Translated by: Viktória Popper

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