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Another centennial is comingmillennium evenwith all of its troubles, moral misery, end-of-the-world mood and shivering loneliness of the individual. Centennialswe know it from bookshave always been like that. However, it is another thing to be compelled to live it through while standing about in the mud of chaos creeping up and lapping ones chest.
It is only natural that the art of the present fin de siècle should reflect this state of affairs. Dull and technicist schools rely upon the computer and the video as media, in comparison to which the recording/observing detachment appears to be quite a sentimental attitude.
At the beginning of the eighties the neo-Fauvist, neo-sensible art of painting became predominant in Hungary unscrupulously deriving from the avant-garde of the beginning of the century, the German expressionism as well as from the Italian and French metaphysicists. One can even discover Caravaggio paraphrases on the walls of Hungarian galleries.
This is the milieu in which István Molnáror Iscsu (pronounced: ishtchou) as he signs his minutely-detailed sensitive etchings made with fine craftsmanshipis building his oeuvre.
The artist, medieval illuminator of our age, sitting on a floating island suspended above postmodern landscapes and trans-avant-garde run-ways, is surrounded by his delicate instruments, copper plates, acid baths and needle-pointed pencils. However, Molnár puts Phrygian cap on his head peeping in or out through the windows of time as he pleases. He is only related to the diligent medieval monk through their shared sincerity and the intimate relationship that binds them to the work of art being created. And while the hooded monk strolling around on gloomy cloisters did his duty according to strict iconographic rules deprived of the possibility of trouvaille and creative thinking, Iscsu creates his private mythology: one would search in vain for the creatures of his bestiary among the symbols of any of the great civilizations. The leviathan or the unicorn may seem familiar, but the fuzzy human/animal contaminations are his own invention. And where could we find the archetypes of the fish fighting a duel, the mini-basilisks eating up each other, the ant-eater piglet, the roller-skating robin or the howling jackal?
These creatures may sometimes emerge as accessory figures in the strict composition, sometimes they have a decorative role, but very often they come to life andin the way of the characters of piquant talesthey are always up to some sexual mischief.
Molnárs forte is small graphics: the ex libris and the memorial leaf prepared for noted events. His sensitive craftsmanship comes into full display in this genre, and the given theme never tethers his characteristic wittiness and never blocks the way of inspiration and the flow of new ideas.
It is no accident that he won several awards in Italy, the real home of this intimate genre (the ex libris had been born during the Italian Quattrocento, the age of Masaccio and Fra Angelico): International Ex Libris Exhibition, Turin, 1991; International Ex Libris Competition, Lomazzo, 1995.
One cannot help noticing that even his large philosophical compositions of summarizing ambition are built from tiny sections like a mosaic. Actually, the individual scenes and stories can be regarded as independent small graphics. In his Tower of Babel the world is present in its whole complexity, uncertainty and unpredictability: people are making love to or hanging each other; they are carousing or day-dreaming in the cubicles on the different levels.
During the last couple of years ISCSU has prepared several compositions resembling some kind of a fabric. The horizontal and vertical braids cross one another often producing an organicalmost biologicalshape. In their vicinity one can sometimes observe the playful and frivolous creatures invented by the artist.
Within this group of compositions a separate ensemble is formed by the etudes in which the braids of the mesh-like fabric represent fish. One cannot help observing the symbolic importance of fish. Fish have special symbolic values in ancient cultures and religions. They are related to the goddess of love and fertility. Fish are also the objects of sacrificial meals and offerings. They are present in the Egyptian, Jewish, Christian and Chinese religions.
In the symbolism of astrology the Fishes (Pisces) is the last sign of the Zodiac. It is believed to rule the present world epoch which (according to some astrologers) is about to end soonHans Biedermann says.
Through inventing the Fish, Molnár has found an adequate symbolism for the representation of the mood of our troubled century-end as well. The theme is expounded in his low-circulation art book Fin de Siècle SonnetsSzázadvégi szonettek (Etchings by Iscsu, Budapest, 1996). The tiny book contains ten stamp-sized color etchings separated by sheets of genuine textile mesh wrapped in translucent tracing-paper. Looking through these filters the compositions will be reinterpreted by gaining an intimate/secretive quality characteristic of the artist. (The maestro used the same formal techniques in a completely different context in his other art-book created in memoriam Moholy-Nagy: Vizuális játék Moholy Nagy László emlékére, Budapest, 1995.)
István Molnár has been one of the most significant personages of the contemporary Hungarian art of graphics since the early eighties. His decorative etchings bear a resemblance to baroque, and the idea of secession also comes across ones mind on seeing them. His works of art are related to those of Margit Bella (baroque features, decorativeness), Mihály Gácsi (intellectuality; scenographic features of his early pieces), Csaba Rékassy (uncompromising commitment to perfection), Líviusz Gyulai (attraction to the Renaissance and the classic art), Arnold Gross (playfulness and devotion to fairy tales).
However, the sarcastic, wry, jokingly-gloomy quality of his art is unique in
the Hungarian art of graphics.
Written by Ferenc Hann, art historian, Member of the Paris Academy
Translated by Sándor Nagy
Vissza Nagy Sándor honlapjára.