Ilona Keserü: Infinite Line of Colour (1997)
After the more or less “traditional” abstract paintings and drawings made in the first half of the 1960s, I started painting dynamic gesture pictures with a personal intonation, using a palette, which, though intense, was restricted to just a few colours. In the second half of the decade, this manner of painting was accompanied by the use of large, isolated planar forms and relief-like, pre-constructed embossed canvases. From this point on, the language of my paintings was composed of the various methods of creation and the different manners of using material, either alternating with one another, or else applied together and building upon each other. At the end of the 1960s a new aspect appeared in my painted work, which I later named “colour research”. At that time I wanted t expand my previous use of colour, which was oriented mainly towards red, orange and oink, in the direction of other colour ranges of the spectrum. Among the first stages of this process were the Light Picture of 1969, and several sheets from the series of colour drawings titled Space in the Making (VÁLTOZOTT A CÍME), from 1971. I was particularly inspired by a photo of a candle flame that broke up the colours of the natural spectacle into its component parts, which I had received from Géza Ottlik around then, and which had probably come from a foreign pictorial calendar. This picture still hangs in my studio, radiating its sharp, pure colours as they disintegrate into bands.
In 1972 at the artists’ colony in Moravany I made a number of large painted embossed canvases. One of them, Waves, parades all the shades of colour that could then be mixed using my pigments in an intense blue space. The lines, or strips of colour float and weave in opposing directions across the plane of the painting and over the special waves generated by the embossed surface. (180 x 110 x 6 cm, Budapest Municipal Gallery, IKI.1972.975)
RAINBOW AND SKINCOLOURS
Around the same time I painted another picture (Space Taking Shape, oil on canvas and embossed canvas), which was in fact a regular mathematical wave surface, the longitudinal cross-section being an even sine wave, as opposed to the more random, handcrafted canvas reliefs. Over this relief-pattern, the individual hexagonal patches of pure colour, through very minor alterations and shades of mixing, approached each other patch by patch, without losing any of their purity. (If we mix elemental colours on the spectrum scale, which are further from each other, the power of the colours, their “purity”, is broken. Mixing the complementary colours, which are directly opposite each other on the colour wheel, results in a uniform brownish-grey.) By this I mean that every subsequent shade was a gradual shift, always moving just one step from the neighbouring shade on the colour scale.
As I worked alternately on several points of the embossed surface at the same time, it was only natural for clashes eventually to break out between the fields colour as they approached each other: a pale yellowish-green does not lend itself to a smooth transition with a purple or a pink. I was searching for an intermediate, neutral colour. Several possibilities presented themselves: either I could use an “industrial” grey mixed from black and white, or I could blend the clashing opposing colours into a fractured colour, or… as I was exploring, my gaze fell on my hand as it moved, holding the brush, before the flowing colour patches on the surface of the picture, and I noticed the colour of my skin, which one does not generally pay attention to while working. I began to move my hand to and fro next to the different fields of colour. I had found the solution, the colour that would provide the link, the transition and the neutrality. For me this was a great discovery. I began purposefully to use the human skin colour and to explore its tones. I discovered all kinds of reasons why we find that it exudes a feeling of warmth, that its presence is indifferent, yet also mysterious and personal. We see the colour of human skin so much, without noticing it as a colour: on each other’s aces and bodies we observe other things, expressions, shapes, signs of communication, movements. Our reflection in the mirror is a sight we are most accustomed to. All this takes place within a band of colour, which only catches our attention if a shade is significantly different from our own. I drew the conclusion that this “accustomed”, almost non-existent colour experience could be what their own shade of skin colour means to each and every person.
For many years I painted the vast majority of my pictures with this realization in mind. Experiments I had begun on my own skin led me to further questions. Working with pigments of oil paint, a group of colours developed before me: from a dark, blackish-brown that verged on purple to a light, pinkish-whitish ochre, with a multitude of shades of greenish, reddish and yellowish browns in-between. This world of fractured colours is hugely different from the colours of the refraction of light. It is reminiscent of earth colours, but with an added touch of every colour of the rainbow, along with black and white as well. To quote Goethe: “… the colour of the human skin, in all its varieties, is never an elementary colour, but presents, by means of organic concoction, a highly complicated result.”
Towards the end of the 1970-s I was able to give a precise definition of what had occupied me for so many years: each and every shade of colour of the rainbow is in harmony with each and every shade of skin colour of people living on Earth. I remember calling Dezső Korniss, with whom I often discussed important professional questions. After listening right to the end of my passionate and excited speech, he said that it seemed to be the truth.
The physicist György Grüner wrote recently about this: “… when we mix colours or pigments, doesn’t this create a skin colour (it is surely no coincidence that this is the colour of skin, for the skin filters out all the waves of light in roughly equal measure), and is it for this reason that skin colour harmonizes with all the colours of the rainbow? It is certain that this colour is not accidental, but is the product of evolution – just like the rest of our organs.”
I continued to paint easel works, wall paintings and objects composed in accordance with this stumbled-upon truth or rule. Meanwhile I had the suspicion that these works were of a somewhat demonstrative nature, with few truly good paintings among them. Now I can see that they are real paintings having at most something epic about them. Via this process, however, I branched out into fields of colour that I had previously avoided, and I took possession once more, albeit in a different way, of the greyish, blackish browns that I had been made to hate for so long by the filthy world of College studies in the 1950s. Throughout my many years of studying the profession, nobody ad ever said a word about colour theories, nor shown me anything practical. I did not conduct my later research with scientific rigour either, it was rather the practice of painting, the inner logic of desires and the (almost incidental) perception of the age’s scientific and technical advances that influenced the processes.
Again and again I am thrown into perplexity by the technique of offset printing, which is known for being able to create every shade of colour by portioning out and superimposing pixels of yellow, magenta, cyan and black. Of course, even if we look at our skin with a powerful magnifier, the colour is too “stewed together” for it to be broken down into elemental colours before our very eyes. Yet by breaking down the colours of a colour photograph of out skin, we can obtain the component elemental colours once more.
Light Picture, 1969, oil on canvas, 164 x 130 cm, IKI.1969.936
Forming Space 8, 1971, linocolour paint, paper print and coloured pencil on paper, 63.5 x 45.5 cm, IKI.1971.384
Space Taking Shape, 1972, oil on canvas-backed linoleum on a shaped wooden frame, 180 x 110 x 12 cm, IKI.1972.970
From the World 1, 1974, oil on canvas, 90 x 485 cm, IKI.1974-75.989
Colour Swirl, 1981, spatial composition measuring 300 x 600 x 40 cm, with rotating columns, in the entrance hall of the school in Dombóvár
All, series of pictures, numbered from 1 to 10, 1980-1990, mostly in private collections (Paris, Budapest, Munich, Bolzano, Los Angeles), also in public collections (Szentendre, Vienna)
Colour Mirror, 1982, oil on silvered glass and wood, 170 x 85 cm, IKI.1982.1046
Meeting Colour Groups, 1981, oil on canvas with pressed paper and wood, 65 x 55 x 11 cm, Modern Hungarian Gallery, Pécs, IKI.1981.1031
Panneaux I-IV, 1988, oil on canvas, each 140 x 200, IKI.1988.1993-1996
Ceiling painting at the College of Energetics at the Paks Nuclear Power Plant, 1989, al secco, 200 m2
Colour Groups, 1992, oil on canvas and wood, 109 x 68 x 20 cm
In the 1980s I began to take interest in another optical phenomenon: the world of the after-image. By this I mean the vision that appears behind your closed eyelids, which is a very intense, spectrum-coloured transitional image of a dark-and-light, chiaroscuro phenomenon that you have just been looking at. Dealing with this phenomenon is essentially a simple study of nature. It became a subject of my painting after I had spent a lot of time exploring the pure colours of the refraction of light and the greatest possible colour intensities that can be mixed in paint. The visions I have seen behind my closed eyelids are among my strongest experiences of colour. What is more, they are always different, depending on what they summon up from the external view. And they even continue to change as I observe them with closed eyes; they are in constant motion of two kinds: they move slowly upwards, and they are continuously transposed in colour. So a moving medium is needed to process all this, not least because they are colours of light, and this is a different colour scale from the one we sense in nature, and which can be mixed from pigment. Something similar can be seen in stained glass windows with light streaming through them and in the brilliant colours of a screen. Visions of the afterimage are processes that are fluctuating, swelling, dispelling, illuminating and happening. They are mesmerizingly beautiful. They are intoxicating, and yet they are a reality that exists.it is by no means certain that they can be captured or objectified. In a few of my paintings I have managed to come close.
The “afterimage” is also exciting because it is one of the physical and sensual experiences that every person shares. Similarly, a hit on the head makes us “see stars” (I see these stars, by the way, as cobalt blue), or we may get a “ringing in the ears”. These are absolute common physical human experiences.
After-Image 1 (Sun), 1982, oil on embossed canvas and wood, 50 x 35 x 2 cm, IKI.1982.1047
After-Image 2 (Light Signs), 1984, oil on canvas, 61.5 x 78.5 cm, private collection, Szentendre, Hungary, IKI.1984.1053
After-Image 8 (Mirage, Flashes 1), 1985, oil on canvas, 140 x 140 cm, IKI.1985.1180
Movements in Space (After-Image 10), 1986, oil and application on embossed canvas, 60 x 90 x 7 cm, private collection, Los Angeles, IKI.1986.1076
Away (After-Image 11), 1988, oil on embossed canvas, 110 x 200 x 5 cm, Szombathely Gallery, IKI.1988.1081
Sun After-Images, 1990, oil on canvas, 140 x 140 cm, IKI.1990.1185
Vida Doesn’t Like to Pose, 1987-1997, oil on canvas, IKI.1987.1189
INFINITE LINE OF COLOUR
To return to the colours of the rainbow or spectrum: in many of my works, the subject is simply the painting of the line of colour, such as in Colour Column 1974). The continuity of colours appears in Sound Colour Space – created jointly with László Vidovszky (1981, oil and 123 plastic tube-whistles, making an audible spatial installation measuring 300 x 1000 x 1000 cm), in Colour Eight (1981, ink, colour pencil and praphite on paper, 73 x 51 cm), and in the infinite bundle of strips of colour in Ephemeral (1982, oil and dried roses on canvas, 80 x 120 x 3 cm).
In other paintings, the whole range, or a slice of rainbow colours is a linguistic component among complex interrelations, a participant in a compositional harmony showcasing a diversity of painterly tools.
And then all of a sudden I made the Colour Möbius (1987). Clearly, it was bound to come into being, but I must admit that neither I nor any other person was aware that something had happened here: it was an Invention, and undoubtedly a Double Miracle itself. The first version features in a video recording from 1988, made in my studio and broadcast on Hungarian Television. This was seen by a lot of people. The second model (1988) is in a private collection. Its concept and construction (as an object of demonstration) became the subject of lessons I taught at the University of Pécs.
I have made and continue to make this motif in numerous sizes and variants, both as self-standing objects and as a motif in paintings. The large version (250 cm tall) of the painted spatial form is now a work-in-progress for an exhibition hall.
The form of the Möbius strip, as a miraculous spatial experience, was previously brought to my attention by the architect János Keserü, who suggestively demonstrated how many opportunities it had for variation.
A number of my contemporaries in the visual arts have been concerned with the Möbius and its structure of form and space. I saw, of course, the works of Max Bill at the Hall of Arts (Műcsarnok) in Budapest. My discovery in 1987 was to link the infinitized line of colour with the spatial form, which in essence means that shades of colour perpetually interconnect, smoothly and limitlessly, progressing eternally as a never-ending stream in an indecipherable space.
For many years I have been planning to make a very large version for display outdoors, as a colourful spatial shape standing on skinny legs, or balanced statically on the ground, or perhaps even suspended, in the grand courtyard of the Buda Palace, close to the entrance to the Budapest History Museum. I can also imagine other locations that would be ideal due to their architectural settings.
It would be good to design and install one for a modern building: the strip could be 4-5 metres wide, the space it occupies would be 14 x 16 x 9 metres, and people could walk beneath it, but also view it from above, perhaps even pass through it.
As the sculptured version of the Möbius strip would make countless solutions of form possible, the variants of colour and form that I have designed could result in the realization of several versions, with each one being a unique work. The most recent pictures and spatial models continue this exploration of infinite colour and space.
Colour Column, 1974, oil on turned wood, 188 x 38 x 38 cm, IKI.1974.988
Colour Eight I, 1981, ink, colour pencil and graphite on paper, 73 x 51 cm, private collection
Colour-Möbius I, 1987, oil on canvas
Two Colour-Möbius, 1987-1989, oil and application on canvas, 70 x 70 x 15 cm, IKI.1987.1186
Colour-Möbius II, 1988, oil and application on canvas, approx. 60 x 80 x 120 cm, private collection, Budapest
Spheres (Hommage á El Greco), 0991, oil and application on canvas, 280 x 140 x 15 cm, IKI.1991.1192
“Nothing is Noways” (Hommage á Géza Ottlik) II, 1991-1997, oil and mixed media on canvas, 200 x 140 cm, IKI.1991.1201
Originally published: Ilona Keserü, “Végtelen színsor” (Infinite Colour Sequence), in Tavaszi Műhely, Conference on Science and Arts (Pécs, 1997)
Translation by John King, Krisztina Sarkady-Hart