Poly-Dimensions in black and white

by Krisztina Passuth

The artistic career of János Szász Saxon began early – earlier than his enrolment to the College of Engineering (after his application to the College of Applied Arts had been turned down). He became associated with the Pesti Műhely (Pest Workshop) in 1982; since the 1990s, he has played a very active role in both the international and the Hungarian MADI movement. Part of that activity was, for instance, the ‘supreMADIsm’ exhibition and conference held in Moscow, Spring 2006, with the participation of other artists and critics.

His art activity proper, however, reaches beyond joint events; in reality, it is a privately individual achievement based on a conception ripened by the experience of several decades. He expands and develops this conception day by day, work by work, series by series – without ever revoking the previous stages.

What he does is rigorously conceptual and intellectual and, at the same time, fundamentally visual – incorporating aesthetic influences. He exists in his self-created universe, whose laws are at least as determined by an ‘inner view’ as by external sight. He is characterized by a combination of ascetic demands and perfectionism and a total and paradoxical lack of the dogmatism sometimes observable in geometric artists. For several decades he has been working within the same system; but, inside it, he moves, changes, and interprets freely. He steps from the plane into space; from the panel to the ‘object’; from two dimensions to ‘poly-dimensions’; from the horizontal and vertical to the diagonal; from the identical to the scale-shifted; and now, as his latest novelty, from the colourful to the black-and-white.

In the last ten years of his career, he has primarily worked with a yellow-and-white harmony. Yellow, for him, has meant human life; white, spiritual existence. In effect, he has chiefly been intrigued by the relations and transitions between the two. He has felt that however much the ‘spiritual white’ may dominate, there always remains in every work a smaller, more ‘down-to-earth’ yellow part as well.

After his journey to Moscow, it was the Malevich experience that triggered yet another change: a newer reductionism, a dismissal of colour, the exclusiveness of black and white – that is, the latest series exhibited here. In this series – if barely perceptibly – Malevich’s cross is reflected as an icon that has long been a point of departure for him. The black-and-white forms are smaller here than the previous, full-colour figurations – only the two larger-scale, monumental works break the unity of smaller sizes. Yet, these black forms seem to enclose the white area within them – the negative space, absence, the freely adapted version of Malevich’s cross. The presence of the negative element – this sense of absence – is what provides the positive, black elements with a meaning or function. And through these an event takes place: not as much in the individual works as in the series as a whole; namely, its adjacent, sequential parts – whether black or white – relate to one another; they change and move, step by step, as it were. Movement is best reflected by the changing but consistently diagonal placement of white planes.

According to the artist’s confession, he shifts the four smaller black squares together, folding a quarter of a square inside so that the next one is only half the size of the previous square and so on. Thus, a gradual scale-shifting ensues; this, however, is usually not repeated more than five times within one structure – otherwise, the work would become too tiny or even dwindle away.

The works are created in the artist’s mind, according to Malevich’s models. They are executed on real wood and plywood. He composes the outline of the prearranged structure on this plate, which he then cuts up and ‘lapjoints’, so that its constituents partly overlap. The third plane – also contributing to the whole – is the wall itself, on which the image object is hung. In this sense, then, Saxon also continues the international traditions of the earlier ‘shaped canvas’ tendency, one of whose main precursors, by the way, was another Hungarian, László Péri, in the 1920s.

He now paints his smaller image structures in acrylic, otherwise generally preferring oil. Acrylic simply allows faster drying. A main feature of his works produced in this way is scale-shifting and an opening for various solutions, a lack of restrictions. He usually adds to the basic square, thus composing outwards – but, occasionally, he also works his way inwards.

His idea is the world without an object created by Malevich almost a century ago by. This world is the supremacy of pure sensation; it does not state anything and is only identical with itself. It is the pure sensation that has primacy, the artist says, and the most important task is to introduce the cosmos into art. It appears to me that János Szász Saxon has managed to make this idea perceptible and truly manifest both in his previous works and in his latest creations.

Krisztina Passuth
December 2006, Gallery KAS, Budapest
(Translated by Boldizsár Fejérvári)