Hair hours, Skin minutes, Bone seconds
01.04 – 07.05.2023
József Csató's oeuvre evokes an immediate feeling of reliance. It is like coming home to well-known genres such as landscape, portrait, still life, narrative, and abstraction. Hints of recognition play with imagination. With a colour palette that makes sombre and lively clash until they embrace each other, the artist creates his free haven where wonder, confusion and chaos receive an honourable mention. The scenes and still lifes are brimming with life and noise as they move into tense compositions, with an exceptional eye for balance and the power of silence.
For Csató, painting is a continuous negotiation with form. Wobbly patterns and totemic, over-scaled, anthropomorphic components pulsate with personality. The artist collects the players on his canvases intuitively. Starting from sketches, he doodles ideas that ultimately never seem to fit on the canvas. ‘A painting is a painting’, he accepts, ‘and plans are to deviate from.’ The paintings have a thin, abstract layer as a nest for the dramaturgy of abstraction and figuration that unfolds later. His technique using both acrylic and oil on canvas gives plenty of room to play with the fluidity of forms. Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon through which illusion invites faces to be interpreted as arbitrary shapes. There is no direct focus on the creation of anthropomorphic figures. They arise from this whimsical play of the brain, and the artist moves along with what appears as a surprise. In the moment of chance, the confused form shows its true face; the artist then decides to keep what he sees and develops it further. Many small figures dance across the surface or one larger almost breaks out of the frame. Their fluid character does not bow to the boundaries of the canvas. When exhibited, new drawings can grow between the different works of art. Csató describes painting as mountaineering. He begins his journey, but soon notices he has forgotten something and returns, after which he takes another route back up. This happens over and over again. The struggle with composition, the incessant stream of forms born out of the search for solutions, and the constant surprise are the boundless incentives with which he intentionally creates his chaos where references and associations reach their full potential. The American painter Philip Guston writes: ‘Frustration is one of the great things in art. Satisfaction is nothing.’ Csató finds joy in this ongoing battle: ‘Painting is no cry for help, it is love for confusion.’
The freedom with which he takes on the challenge opens reflections on centuries of the history of painting. From Constructivism over Surrealism to Pop Art, the references are subtle and not limited to this list or even mere painting. Cartoons, street art, science and biology, science fiction, and shape shifting: Csató instinctively absorbs different styles, cultures, and eras to create, full of rhythm and poetry, something very fresh, contemporary, and personal. Plants, leaves, the sun and the moon, water features and blades of grass; the emphasis on botanical themes isn’t a coincidence. The artist draws his essence from nature. Without strict and functional rules, he allows his latent knowledge of popular iconography and art history to flow from sensory contours. This sometimes translates into the artworks as glimpses that are reminiscent of the popular Memphis group from the 1980s. Their main representative Ettore Sottsass knew: ‘It is important to realise that whatever we do or create has iconographic references, it comes from somewhere; any form is always metaphorical, never totally metaphysical; it is never a “destiny” but always a fact with some kind of historical reference.’ Ultimately, we always experience the world through our senses, but it is never pure; an unavoidable influence of culture is always present. In this way, Csató gives his protagonists a life, a story, and a soul, creating a mythology and symbolism of his own.
The elements of play take the lead in this continuous process of deconstruction and construction. With multi-panel canvases, such as Tamed the beast with a ball (2022), the artist elevates the phrase ‘the pleasure of painting’ to ‘pure painterly joy’ by literally creating a game for himself. Csató, who likes monumental surfaces but not waste, willingly takes on the remaining smaller pieces of canvas. Only to discover time and time again that this scale is limiting. For several days, he challenges himself to paint different parts of a composite canvas, and he attempts to make them fit from memory. A lot like the game where everyone takes turns drawing part of a figure, and then hides it with a fold. Ultimately, a reward or failure awaits. The artist has room for both: ‘Keep the ball bouncing, keep myself alive.’ The childish joy of playing also returns thematically. For example, in Path of snails (2022), little eyes follow the adventures of a gliding snail. Time fades until the toddler is just there with the surrounding fauna and flora. No one questions this childlike talent until adulthood strikes and it is considered escapism with a wry reverberation of shame. In ancient Greek there were two words for time, chronos, for chronological or consecutive time, and kairos, for an opportune or right moment, an opportunity. While chronos is quantitative, kairos has a qualitative, permanent character. Csató confronts us with how we experience time and pleads for losing ourselves in play and imagination: ‘Everyone needs a studio, a playground.’ The title of the exhibition, Hair hours, Skin minutes, Bone seconds, refers to a funny game in response to the question: 'What time is it?' In Hungary it isn’t 'time to get a watch', but a biological time reference staring at an empty wrist. This innocent play on words carries elements that are at the heart of Csató's oeuvre: fragmentation of objects and organisms, humour and fun, and a philosophical approach to time.
Minutes can become hours gazing at skin and hair, but when a bone break through the skin, it happens in one second. That is exactly how the artist grabs his scenes. Each canvas is a moment that breaks through the skin of the canvas. Four sunsets (2022) unites different views of this natural phenomenon and leaves it up for interpretation whether it concerns the same place at different times or a diffuse passage of time. This consideration can be generally applied to Csató's visual language. In contrast to the perfectly executed joy, there is also something ominous. It's not all fun and games. Is kairos in the end chronos? Are the proliferating collections presenting us with a threatening image of the future? As an artist of life, Csató knows the collateral damage of the contemporary rat race, and questions the way we deal with nature. With a game (obviously!) of peekaboo, he strikingly manifests the connection between humour and horror and that moment of utter surprise when we, like the thunderstruck child, don’t know yet whether to laugh or cry.