"Seeing is a source of pleasure for me"
Exhibition On View: 18 November - 15 December, 2021
“For me, seeing is a source of pleasure, a source of joy”, declared János Fajó in his artistic credo, which he wrote for the catalogue of his 1968 exhibition at Fényes Adolf Terem (‘Adolf Fényes Hall’). He subsequently added that he paints because he wants to be able to see his “visions” and “ideations.” With monastic patience and a high degree of technical confidence, he worked on the kind of abstract works that provoked consternation within the official socialist artistic establishment. But Fajó was driven by a stubbornness of will to translate his inner ideas – condensed from the phenomena of the world following manifold reinterpretations – into visual and material form. A craftsman of small stature and possessing an enormous inner energy, he created a rich and infinitely consistent oeuvre. He was perfectly aware of the Western context of his geometrically-oriented art, from Concretism through the evergreen Constructivists to the fresh hard-edge. He kept measuring himself against this international yardstick, however much his abstract aesthetic was banned and restricted by the party state.
Fajó studied at the Iparművészeti Főiskola (‘College of Applied Arts’) in the second half of the 1950s, where he was “trained” to make socialist-modern murals. A decisive turning point in his career came in 1964, when he met the upright hermit of the classical avant-garde who never made any deals with the authorities and was marginalised because of his abstract painting: Lajos Kassák. Kassák took Fajó as his assistant and Fajó made Kassák his master. In the second half of the 1960s – partly through the influence of Kassák's pictorial architecture – his geometric artistic language matured, including motifs that would remain decisive elements of his art: triangular forms layered into each other, curves folding like female genitalia, or angular shapes passing through each other. All of this was achieved by moving freely between the second and third dimensions, as he stated in his artistic credo: “Sculpture entered painting, painting entered spatiality with its moulded canvases; unity, plastic totality was restored.”
As exhibitor and organiser, he played an important role at the debut of the neo-avant-garde generation taking wing –the 1966 exhibition of the Fiatal Képzőművészek Stúdiója (‘Studio of Young Artists’) – but the subsequent official crackdown of authorities made him turn away from the official scene. He did not take part in the IPARTERV exhibitions in 1968-1969 either, by which time he had been building his network of contacts in Western Europe on his own, with important figures such as the Swiss art dealer Carl László, pop art world star Victor Vasarely and the old Bauhäusler Max Bill. In the early 1970s he became familiar with the cutting-edge reproduction technique of the time: screen printing. Together with his artist friend – including Imre Bak and István Nádler – he founded the Pesti Műhely (‘Pest Workshop’) which from 1975 onwards supplied the Hungarian public with high-quality screen prints. In the meantime, as a restless art organizer (Józsefvárosi Galéria or ‘Józsefváros Gallery’) and teacher (szabadiskola or ‘free school’), he kept spreading the aesthetic messages of concrete-geometric art. In the 1970s, Fajó's range of motifs continued to expand: circles cut into sections, squares set on their corners, waves multiplied, the emblematic sponge shape used in a thousand ways, the equally characteristic Xs and drops intertwined like yin-yang. His painting is dominated by homogeneous fields of colour with a neutral surface, meticulously rendered brushwork and a foundation of colour contrasts of elemental force. But Fajó was confident in numerous techniques: in addition to traditional oil paintings, he created works painted on moulded canvas, countless silkscreen prints and sculptures in a variety of materials such as copper, cast iron, polished wood and carved marble.
After the prohibition characterising the 1970s, the air around Fajó's art eased. No longer was he only able to establish himself abroad, but became increasingly successful in the Hungarian scene. After the democratic transition, he became a highly respected figure of painting in the constructivist tradition of Kassák’s pictorial architecture. He continued to develop the earlier motifs of his art, remaining within the frameworks of the paradigms he had created. He passed away in 2018, his estate and studio apartment are run by the Fajó Foundation.
Written by Gábor Rieder.
Translated by Alexandra Koronkai-Kiss