In 1966 Péter Ujházi, a student of Aurél Bernáth, returns home to his native town, Székesfehérvár, where he still lives, as a graduate of painting. The exhibition titled Life-carpet presents a selection of five decades of artistic output, comprising more than two thousand paintings, graphic works, collages, box assemblages and ceramic sculptures.
The first room is devoted to the artist’s early, realistic selfportraits, his self-depictions and metaphorical self-images that became increasingly ironic and imbued with humour over the years. Ujvári often depicts himself in various life situations, as an alchemist painter, a landscape painter looking for motifs on the seaside or even a globetrotting itinerant painter.
In some of the pictures he shows himself as a performer carrying the teatrum mundi on his back, traversing endless roads with the Great Theatre of the World enclosed in boxes. The clown – the key figure of the circus and a traditional symbol of the artist – also emerges among his metaphorical self-images. One of the scenes relating everyday situations is Meeting
, which is a reflection upon two famous meetings in art history, namely upon the picture titled Bonjour Monsieur Courbet
and its paraphrase, Bonjour Monsieur Gauguin
. Ujházi meets a drinking buddy and they have a drink to celebrate.
The self-reflecting works call the existence of objective reality into question, the subject of these depictions is the artist himself and the situations he personally experienced. We can see Ujházi from the inside and the outside: the artist is able to separate himself from himself. It is a mode of self-inspection, where pondering his own self is a means of self-exploration. Once asked about why he appears in his pictures so often, he said, “Because I’m close to myself, because I’m also there in the story, in the battle, the pub, the open air, the railway. The painter must be everywhere, if I love painting railway stations or rails, why couldn’t I be standing there? In any case, no matter how professionally a picture is produced, I must be seen, the picture cannot conceal me.”
From the 1970s Nadap became one of the main venues for Ujházi’s creative work. The village lying along the road crossing through the Velence Mountains is famous for its levelling stone, the topographical basepoint of Hungary. The artist often covered the twenty-kilometre distance between Székesfehérvár and Nadap by bike. “I think I needed a bicycle for my overall operation. It meant speed and the opportunity to get to places for example where I wouldn’t have gone on foot. This provincial biking speed has something to do with my way of seeing things, my moving pictures.” Some of the paintings in this hall allow us to examine this peculiar way of spatial vision.
The artist simultaneously uses depictions from various perspectives, arranging them to create the illusion of motion in the observer. Another group of works is made up of his landscapes and foliage pictures. With his natural depictions rendered with impressionistic gestures Ujházi sought to innovate landscape painting. Paintings with a square format typically provide the opportunity for an open compositional construction, for the creation of endlessly continuing landscape cycles. Besides capturing the experience of landscapes, Nadap was a source of inspiration for the artist’s narrative pictures. The pub paintings he made in Nadap and the depictions of the world of people show one of the main directions in Ujházi’s interest: he joined ranks with the chronicles of everyday stories and games of fate.
The third room introduces us to human profusion – the Great Theatre of the World, at times a veritable petri dish of Hell – through works from Ujházi’s early depictions to his pyramid pictures of the 1980s and the mass scenes at traffic junctions he painted in Budapest in the early part of the 21st century. Ujházi spoke about his experiences of the environs of Örs vezér Square and Kobánya-Kispest metro station, which he expressed in some pictures, thus: “The world is ugly, there are explosions nearby, you hear all the nightmare news in the world faster, disasters of all kinds can be heard and seen almost instantly. People have to live with all this, and add to this their own spectacles. Despite this, I don’t think ours is an extraordinary age.”
The closing picture of the exhibition, Bogeyman in the City Centre
, conceptually continues the visionary scenes recorded in the capital, but its venue is the artist’s native town of Székesfehérvár. Ujházi does not pass judgement but simply shows the absurdities of life and human failings. Although we might be embittered at times by what we see, Ujházi’s humour and irony dull the pain, while his brilliant paintings and sculptures rich in materials even lift our spirits. They bring to mind a famous saying by the 18th-century thinker, Horace Walpole, which he made about his own age but which especially chimes with Péter Ujházi’s worldview and artistic approach: “The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.”