“...in spite of the hopelessness of existence, there is a driving force, which makes us fulfill our duty, makes us do something that can be defined in terms of creation and ‘contribution’ ... the aim of which is the development of life.” (1)
Petranyi Zsolt, author
An Existentialist Approach to Botond Részegh’s Works
The preceding quotation comes by way of a somewhat unusual occurrence that happened while the art historian Petranyi Zsolt was riding a tram to work. He looked up from his seat and noticed a homeless, elderly man approaching, begging for change while staggering along the aisle, clutching a Starbucks cup together with a few modestly hand-written notes scribbled on a paper bag. Petranyi took an interest in reading these abbreviated notes, an orthography, which more or less described the man’s misfortunes and point of view. While known primarily as a prestigious art historian at the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest, Petranyi inadvertently associated this event with the work of a friend, the well-known artist, Botond Részegh.
Installation view: Botond Részegh, Anatomy of War, 2018, acrylic on paper
The outstanding focus in Részegh’s career is his ongoing evolution of hyper-intensive drawings and paintings. For the majority of his followers, these are the works that continue to provoke a feeling of existentialist reality.
The outstanding focus in Részegh’s career is his ongoing evolution of hyper-intensive drawings and paintings. For the majority of his followers, these are the works that continue to provoke a feeling of existentialist reality. Recalling a statement from Søren Kierkegaard, the first nineteenth century existentialist, that “dread is the qualification of the dreaming spirit,” Petranyi’s analysis of Részegh linked dread to a form of innocence. Here, he introduces the following question: “… what can be the reason why Részegh keeps forming a faceless humanoid shape, a lonely figure, who seems to inwardly revolve and float in a space from where there is, evidently, no escape?” (2) Going one step further: Is it possible the artist’s reason may not exist in concrete terms? Perhaps, the “faceless humanoid” (3) is removed from the human condition as we know it today or comes from another planet, thus far unknown to us.
Born in Romania (1977) of Hungarian descent, Botond Részegh was raised in a society clearly aware of the pressures of everyday life; specifically, in Middle and Eastern Europe. As a young adult, Részegh tried to maintain his education and training through working in a post-Communist atmosphere; in his case, from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. Often, citizens from these countries remained in a psycho-sociological trauma for several years, living through the residue of the so-called Eastern Bloch. For Botond Részegh, this was an intense period of development in the midst of his adolescent and young adult years, a development that would shortly come to the surface of a reality he soon hoped to achieve. (4)
Installation view: Botond Részegh, Angel, 2021, acrylic on canvas, diptych
These years revealed a sullen Eastern European point of view that varied adolescents were drawn into ways of thinking, in which aspects of mind and body were seen differently from one another. The mind was represented by a philosophical position known as Positivism, whereas the body was defined as rational in opposition to the irrationality of post-war existentialism. There was no resolution between the two, or any possibility of unifying them. Contrary to keeping them officially apart, younger poets and artists, such as Részegh, sought to transform this duality by adhering to a singular mind-body — in other words, a self-contained perceptual modality closer to existentialism.
Részegh argued against the tainted influence of post-Communist educators in addition to a modest authoritarian upbringing made apparent by various adult peers. (5) His focus became a rigorous attempt to discover himself as an artist. While striving to realize this in everyday terms, he began reading Dostoevsky along with avant-garde literature (influenced by his friends). The most significant part of Részegh’s bohemian self-education, typical of Transylvania, was focused on free thinking, which he endorsed as a necessity in living the life of an artist. Over the years, this proved consistent, especially during his later graduate school training in Bucharest (1996–2002) with Prof. Mircea Dumitrescu and, eventually, his studies at the Hungarian Fine Arts University (2004-2008). (6) Even so, it took time before this freedom became the reality he wanted it to be. Through it all, his passion was apparent.
In Weekday Angel, the title of his current exhibition at Yi Gallery in Brooklyn, we are given the opportunity to see the direction this freedom has taken. While Részegh considers himself a figurative artist, his approach to figure drawing began to take liberties with abstraction in recent years. Given his equivocation between thickly painted and elegant linear styles, the drawings literarily transform into paintings, as seen in many of the works on display. Entering the space of Yi Gallery, one encounters a large, abstract, dry brush painting of thirty-five black markings from the Anatomy of War series (2018). The work is painted on two sheets of paper connected to one another by a line of masking tape running from the bottom to the top. Adjacent to it is a diptych, from the Angel series (2021), of intensely painted organic forms in black with touches of purple, pink and gray. Other related paintings are present throughout the interior ramparts of the gallery, many of which are smaller in scale.
Prior to his New York exhibition, Részegh was at his studio in Miercurea Ciuc (Romania), working on systematizing his drawings and paintings into various series. Over the years, these series have taken on such titles as Weekdays, Anatomy of War, Angel and Untitled. Still, more recently, the artist has been using poetic lines, such as in Play with the Tormented Soul’s Mirror (2006 – 2008), as titles for his work, and they accompany a pulsating set of drawings from a more elegant erotic stylization, Play with the Sins of the Unpunishable Fantasy (2009), the latter suggesting erotic content integrated into figurative, expressionist form. One of the most recent publications in this erotic genre, Polyphony and Pleasure (2020), is a series of ultra-manicured line drawings, composed in the form of faceless nudes that occupy the spatiality of themselves in relation to one another. The companion to these excessive linear drawings is a self-published book, from the same year, entitled Weekdays Wrapped Up. (7)
Installation view: (L) Botond Részegh, Angel, 2021, acrylic on canvas; (R) Anatomy of War, 2018, acrylic on canvas
it would appear that angels play a role in creativity that go unnoticed in everyday life. There can be no proof of this, given that the role of angels is outside the realm of expectation. Creativity in the work of Botond Részegh is beyond the enterprise of knowing. His endurance moves ahead into the realm of what is essential. The abstract Angel of Részegh intervene in place of over-blown conceptual art. His Weekdays and Anatomy of War fill in the gap. Surrogates are put on stand-still.
Given Részegh’s poetic involvement with nudes and angels, it would be appropriate to cite the following passage from Benedek Totth’s analysis of the artist’s work: “Botond Részegh’s angels are not...inhabitants of the mythically overcolored sky, but rather powerful forces that are in tension with each other, part of and participating in our created world . . . angels are supernatural beings created like us, but unlike us, they are eternal, indestructible, and supernatural. They have personality, intelligence, and the ability to speak, emotions, will, and consciousness. Something is disturbing in this. Perhaps it is that we know ourselves too easily. But angels, meanwhile, are spiritual beings invisible to humans, able to appear in the flesh and participate in earthly events, which only adds to the unsettling nature of their existence.” (Everyday Angelology, 2022) (8)
Returning to the observation by Petranyi Zsolt at the outset of this essay, the issue came into being as to the role of creativity as the spur for “the aim of which is the development of life.”
From the perspective of Botond Részegh and his colleague, Benedek Totth, it would appear that angels play a role in creativity that go unnoticed in everyday life. There can be no proof of this, given that the role of angels is outside the realm of expectation. Creativity in the work of Botond Részegh is beyond the enterprise of knowing. His endurance moves ahead into the realm of what is essential. The abstract Angel
of Részegh intervene in place of over-blown conceptual art. His Weekdays
and Anatomy of War
fill in the gap. Surrogates are put on stand-still. The artistry of Részegh redefines how we think, what we feel and where we are going. (9) ■
Essay © Robert C. Morgan 2022
Robert C. Morgan is a painter, art critic and essayist. He is professor emeritus in art history at the Rochester Institute of Technology and currently teaches at the School of Visual Arts. He is author of books published by Cambridge, McFarland and Allworth, and editor of books by Johns Hopkins and the University of Minnesota. His recent exhibitions include the Scully Tomasko Foundation, in New York City (2022), and Proyectos Monclova, in Mexico City (2017).
Petranyi Zsolt, An Existentialist Approach to Botond Részegh’s Works in Botond Részegh, Ten Years (Tiz ev), Iskola Alapitvany Kiado, Bookart, Kolozsvar – Csikszereda, 2021; p. 58.
Soren Kierkegaard quoted in Petranyi, Ibid, pp.60 – 61.
Dialogue with the artist, November 16, 2022, Yi Gallery, 254 36th Street, Brooklyn, NY
(Biographical Chronology) Részegh Botond, op. cit., p. 318
Részegh Botond, Weekdays Wrapped Up, Mundus Imaginalis Egyesulet, 2020
Totth Benedek, Everyday Angelology, pp. 16/17 in Részegh Botond, Everyday Angel, Galeria UAP, 2020
Dan Lazea in Részegh Botond, op. cit., pp. 96 - 98