Vomeronasale - An exhibition by József Csató

Stripes, Hoods, and Cyclops

József Csató’s recent paintings have featured increasingly fewer cacti, indigenous people playing the guitar, or female figures speaking on the phone, each of which can arguably be seen as representing so many respective artistic periods in Csató’s almost decade-long career. These already well-known motifs have been replaced by paintings, best definable as still-lifes and portraits, featuring pastel-colored exotic fruits, “Cyclops” with indecipherable faces, figures wearing striped hoods, and characters puffing up cigarette smoke. Another highly conspicuous change in the new pictures is related to colors: the gamut of greenish-yellowish-brownish colors, over which Csató has developed masterful control, is succeeded by a range of much more hard-contrast hues with lots of blue and pink inserts, whereby his former artistic style becomes gently subverted as well as more daring.

At the same time, the new pictures display many hallmarks of the artist’s earlier output, such as the characteristic representation of full figures in “cut-outs,” which gives us the odd character without a leg and/or head. The figures in Csató’s new paintings are ascribed merely traces of a personality, who thus acquire their identity through a reduced system of attributes, rather than by the representation of their specific characteristics. This is not a completely new phenomenon in Csató’s painting either, so we may safely say that the new paintings have preserved all the individual traits of his earlier work, which are now being combined with his new carnivalesque experiments, resulting in new colors, flamboyant characters, and colorful portraits. It is to be noted, moreover, that Csató now creates his characters out of dabs, thus the flat figures on the canvas are defined by their outlines and their surfaces of multi-layered color. The new paintings testify to a courage rarely evinced by artists: it is not often seen that a painter with an individual visual language embarks on and follows through with new experiments for the length of a full cycle, which then become vibrantly successful.

It remains to be seen whether the new indoor plants, pineapples, the portrait structures a la Lajos Vajda, the hoods, the stuck-out tongues, the stripes, the fluorescent colors, the metallic background usher in a brand new period. What is certain is that József Csató’s brushstrokes are now broader, but also more forceful than they used to be. They constitute highly concentrated structures on the richly textures canvases, which do not become overly emphatic elements apart from one or two sophisticated “pleasure portraits,” that is, they do not cross over to the bestial in terms of technical solutions. It is also notable that Csató’s paintings are increasingly more concentrated, yet they are large canvases composed in an experimental spirit, replacing his earlier pictures dominated by a single gesture and a minimal set of motifs.

Another interesting feature to notice is that Csató’s attitude towards the exotic is changing: he does not so much incorporate par excellence exotic elements into his pictures as turns his immediate environment exotic. We can also see in some of his pictures that Csató’s exoticism-collection, this his inspiration-pool, has been extended to include the fashionable camouflage patterns of urban culture.

Csató’s portraits nonetheless remain undeniably exotic, as the infant-heads, and the smokers puffing up some fabulous smoke all virtually turn into masks on the canvas. The paintings gently intimate the inextricable tensions of the double portraits, which are hinted at by the intertwining outlines of the figures. This is another central motif in Csató’s new sequence, since the figures are caught up in an apparent power-struggle, in which they come to dominate each other, then they are left alone, they overwrite one another, they get transformed, dissolved. In these pictures, Csató has been intrigued by the points of connection in elementary relationships, which can also be detected in the characteristically absurd title which the artist chose to give his exhibition: “vomeronasale”. The title refers to an olfactory organ, whose operation is not quite clear even to experts, but it is assumed that its function is to identify olfactory signals used in interpersonal communication, thus it plays a vital role in the emergence of various emotions.

Áron Fenyvesi

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