“A certain coolness is my ideal. A temple that serves as an environment for passions, but without interfering.”
(Ludwig Wittgenstein: Culture and Value)
The above quote from Wittgenstein reminded me of one of the most beautiful sacral buildings built in the 21st century that can also serve as a starting point for the receptive experience to be expected from the monochrome paintings of the artist András Gál. The Chapel of Silence, a cylindrical, windowless building stands in one of Helsinki’s busiest squares. Its internal and external puritanism is different from any other church space I know, the emptiness of the bare, off-white walls is only counterbalanced by subdued lights, simple natural wooden benches and the people entering the chapel. A perfect place of contemplation for the faithful and atheists alike. The atmosphere for piety can be created in completely different spaces and circumstances. It takes a fundamentally different state of mind to look at Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican than it does to look at Mark Rothko’s essentially purple and black paintings in the ecumenical chapel in Houston.
Although Malevich’s Black Square is more than a hundred years old, people still tend to make thoughtless statements when they see a monochrome painting, even if it does not provoke enough elemental anger to evoke acts of vandalism as was the case in regard to Barnett Newman’s painting (Who is Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue) in 1986 in the Netherlands. However, it really does not take iconological knowledge or stylistic definition to take in these monochrome pictures, only openness, and a bit of inner attention to the feelings that arise in us in a calm, meditative state. Of course, within the non-representational arts, radical or monochrome painting has a significant ideological, philosophical, aesthetic, art-historical literature that the painters themselves are well acquainted with, and this theoretical thinking is much more embedded in their works than, for example, in case of figurative art. This international community – mainly with artists from the US and Germany – follows each other’s work and its members are in contact with each other. András Gál has been an active member of this community for more than two decades, and is a consistent exponent of single-colour painting in Hungary and abroad. He is one of the few painters living and working in Hungary who has been invited to participate in perhaps more exhibitions abroad than at home. Through his contacts we have seen the works of many foreign artists at domestic exhibitions, which also fulfils a kind of mission in the promotion and acceptance of colour painting in Hungary. It was his initiative and active participation that led to the large-scale international exhibition The Independent Life of Colour at Kunsthalle Budapest in 2002, which enabled Hungarian artists to introduce their works alongside well-known painters such as Marcia Hafif, Joseph Marioni, Phil Sims and many others.
In 2008 we organized a solo exhibition for him at the Ernst Museum, titled The Boundary of Painting, presenting everything that had characterised his monochrome colour painting up to that point and that has been an important aim for him ever since. Although his approach to painting is essentially conceptual, it is his structure, colour, form, size, his relationship to the wall-plane, to space and to the activity of painting itself that are essential. He places particular emphasis on the space defined and occupied by the images, as well as on the presentation of emotions evoked by the colours, of the sentiments and physical gestures that are involved in the creative process. In this type of painting, the precise stretching of the canvas, the aesthetic perfection of the presentation, the perfectionism of the implementation are also essential. Regarding their appearance, these are mostly shaped canvases with chopped off corners; squares or narrow, widely stretched rectangles, usually 5 to 10 centimetres thick, with the edges of the canvas left natural. He applies the dense paint to the canvases in several layers using a paint roller and then works it with a wide spatula, where the material and the vehemence of the movements jointly generate the structure and dynamics of the surfaces. Despite the seemingly mechanical nature of rolling, the personal and highly controlled gestures with the paintbrush sharply ‘cut’ at the edge of the canvas play an important role. These paintings can also be regarded as works of art that function as signs, with a single homogeneous facade of colour that reveals a highly diverse landscape when viewed up close. From the paint mass applied with a roller, surfaces of diverse stratification rise and sink, sometimes in a relatively regular order, vertically or horizontally, sometimes producing a varied facture. It is this facture that eventually makes the monochrome image polychrome: the overlaid layers of paint create a texture of light and shadow on the surface of the canvas . The artist once said that for him, the substance of the cold and wet paint is more prevalent than its pigment, yet the colours he used in his paintings are very characteristic of his respective periods: cheerful sunny yellows, bright reds, mellow flesh tones, pinks, or greys that can absorb every colour.
The exhibition at Kunsthalle Budapest titled Elegia Monochromia will feature not only his oil paintings but also a collection of watercolours painted over the last three years, which he first presented at the Bartók Gallery in 2018. While they also originate from monochrome paintings in a single colour, because of the watercolour technique used they are perhaps closer to the conceptual classification of gesture painting. In contrast to the heavy oil on canvas paintings, they are lyrical, soft, harmonious compositions with a light sense of line, delicate etudes with translucent, airy forms representing an entirely different atmosphere.
curator of the exhibition