Márta Kucsora, (ISBN 978-89441-8-4) Kálmán Makláry Fine Arts, 2021, Budapest
The dynamics of aleatory (in lieu of a foreword)
In 1937, Lee Krasner, one of the key figures of American Abstract Expressionism, created a painting. Based on an anecdote, her mentor – Hans Hofmann – made the following infamous comment on it: “This is so good you wouldn’t know it was done by a woman.”
Similar to Krasner’s work, Márta Kucsora’s compositions preserve the instinctive nature of gestural painters. They offer the imprint of a blocky dreamworld organised around an internal rhythm and utterly dismiss the idea of revealing the sex, age, or ethnicity of the creator. The actual subject matter of Kucsora’s non-figurative paintings can only be gleaned exclusively from the process of their creation – the performance of the very act of painting. In her paintings, the associative web ties forms to ever more new meanings, even though none of it is the end product of deductive logic. On the contrary, these works are entities of random effects; they are the products of a visceral struggle with the material. It would be pointless to try to solve the chain of internal contradictions between the component elements and the motifs of various states of existence. Vision, spatial and temporal perception – these traditional means are insufficient to navigate these paintings. We are cast adrift, entirely at the mercy of unbearably slow or inconceivably fast passages of time in nature. We travel through internal landscapes, lacking any semblance of an anchor, as everything is in motion, undergoing transformation and change.
The organic structure and fundamental biological essence of Márta Kucsora’s paintings are striking. We feel as if her works were communicating a miniature metaphysical event, born of the tension of matter that is frozen in time and then liquefied in turn. They seem to be continuously rewriting themselves, evoking the surrealist technique of decalcomania, écriture automatique or the chemigrams that became popular in the 1950s in the field of subjectless photography. Reminiscent of thickening mulberry jam, colour pigments crystallize in certain spots into geological structures, or turn into lava flows, bearing the signs of physical processes that come into being via deliberate or random dialectic, as a result of a peculiar “trial and error” methodology. We find ourselves in an experimental lab, a kitchen with chemical concoctions. Kucsora is cooking up a secret recipe, mixing up paints of varied density and viscosity, painting mediums, pastes, lacquers and gelatins, spraying, sprinkling these more or less diluted materials onto the completely dry or moistened canvas. Her choice depends on whether she wants the final product to bear the marks of the operation of physical laws on surface tension, or instead, the depiction of the dominance of centripetal or centrifugal forces.
When we encounter the artist’s action paintings, the impression is that of an explosion of layer upon layer of paint, constrained within the four-sided, enclosed visual field. The layers coalesce into geological formations, high mountain ridges and deep chasms. The painting’s seeming sculpturesque quality is merely an illusion, however. The consistency of materials, their drying times, how they mix with one another, as well as the direction of the paints that were added with the spray gun, none of these things changes the morphology of the plane that is the artwork. Contrary to her contemporaries with a similar mindset, artists who use similar mediums (e.g. Pat Steir), instead of patterns taken from art history or spiritual-philosophical references, Márta Kucsora is focused on the depiction of the aesthetic moment, encoded into temporal processes and the cycles of nature and life. Among her visual inspirations, we can find photographs of exotic forests, waterfalls, or stormy beaches, all taken on trips to Bretagne, the United Kingdom, or the west coast of the United States, as well as dreamlike images experienced as interstellar flickers of precognition; the colors and motifs here unconsciously and consciously shape the origin stories of the accidentally created paintings par-excellence. Directed randomness plays a paradigmatic role in the creation of Kucsora’s paintings, resulting in a strange interplay of cognitive functions and intuitive senses; this can be best compared to the cerebellum, which independently ensures the even contraction of voluntary muscles. In 1890, it was the psychologist William James who first coined the moniker “cerebralist” for those artists who strive to combine the sensual, spiritual, physical, and intellectual. Based on genealogy, technique and the sensory experience her paintings communicate, perhaps we are not mistaken when we perceive in Márta Kucsora a successor to the artistic approach that is characteristic of cerebralists.
Márton Orosz, PhD
Director, Vasarely Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest
The artistic transposition of the dynamic shifting of natural forces in a world that is in perpetual motion, the communication of the relativistic experience of time, this has remained a challenge to numerous classical, modern and contemporary artists. In Márta Kucsora’s paintings, these coalesce into a peculiar, new synthesis on both a technical and visual level.
Similar to the post WWII masters of lyrical abstraction (for e.g. Simon Hantai, Georges Mathieu or Sam Gilliam), Márta Kucsora integrates tangible natural effects – with particular emphasis on gravity and other physical forces – into the process of artistic creation. One can be said to be talking about the latest experiment of “brushless” painting that has created the revolutionary paintings of the 1950s, synthesizing paint mediums and colour effects in new ways on the canvas. Consequently, she is developing a new 21st century form of lyrical abstraction or action painting.
The physics of painting
Márta Kucsora’s paintings unveil a diverse universe of forms; these do not immediately reveal the creative process and unusual technique. The role of coincidence is undeniable in the creation of compositions, emerging from layers that flow unto and into each other, at first glance appearing as an instinctive splattering of paint, but in actuality, we are compelled to discover a consciously designed and controlled work process behind the development of the paintings. This duality – the interplay of unleashed natural laws and methodical concept driven design – enable the vibrant effect that makes it impossible to assume a reflexive and unemotional approach when contemplating the paintings. Thus, each and every one of these artworks can transform into a kind of visual code, a mystery to be solved (similarly to the abstract ars poetica of François Fiedler).
As a first step, Márta Kucsora executes an entire series of mental scripts before any paint even gets on the canvas. This is where the various reactions of colors and shapes are created, including the series of potential compositions that are born as the final result. The thought experiments – in this case, analogous to theoretical physics – are followed by the special ritual of actual artistic creation. The pre-selected acrylic or oil paint colours are layered by pouring, spraying or sprinkling the medium onto the canvas, one after another, each diluted in a peculiar manner. Searching for brushstrokes would be an unrewarding experience; the artist is not making contact with the canvas with any tool that could be considered traditional. The use of special lacquers, in contact with paint, also appears in numerous works and influence the processes visible on the canvas. The artist energetically reaches into the physical dimensions of painting while – in a meditative state – simultaneously observing the moment that freezes in time at the conclusion of the drying process.
The paintings nearly paint themselves, auto-generating the swirling shapes that confuse, in fact, even deactivate the spectator’s sense of space and time. Naturally, a self-aware artist does not remove herself from this process; by repeatedly moving and lifting the paintings, the layers are kept in motion, controlling and guiding the effect of gravity. She intentionally creates the structures and textures that form a “post-figurative treasure-trove of motifs,” that the spectator is practically forced to attempt to identify.
In other words, there is an essential correlation between the material, physical existence of the paintings and their visual aspect. Kucsora’s paintings have an internal narrative, which is ready to align the natural, intrinsic structures of their component materials. These documented interior movements take place when the layers of paint are still wet on the canvas, when natural laws still influence the materials. There is a precise meeting between the controlled or planned unpredictability and the artistic concept.
From the dynamics of water to free abstraction
The development of Márta Kucsora’s art can be easily traced; it is not merely about experimentation in technique, but also about thematic and stylistic change.
Until 2012, her inspiration was derived from the observation of nature, occurring simultaneously in an observer’s viewpoint and an analytical dimension alike. Of these, the most important one is the study of the motion, streaming, and the physical properties of water. One by one, we see how she uses her own tools in the studio to replay the dynamic interplay and repetitive rhythm of waterfalls and waves clashing against the shoreline. These “water paintings” (Mare Marium, and Aqua series) fundamentally differ from the perceptual horizon of a mimesis based landscape. Even though the image is undeniably identifiable for the receptive viewer, zooming in, however, one can be said to be talking about the building of an abstract painting.
Another important and once again recurring aspect of Kucsora’s paintings can be observed in the water paintings, namely, a continuous play with time. Just like in her series of successive experiments in the 2010s, she once again positions the particular temporal dimensions of the picture in parentheses. We are seeing her paintings simultaneously as a frozen snapshot, while also perceiving the power and motion that stretches through the energetically lathered paint. As a source of inspiration, we can mention the experiments of video artist Bill Viola, which also attempt to keep the unstoppable time and other natural forces (water as a sacred element is also a frequent motif for him) under an unusual form of artistic control. Márta’s sources of inspiration do not derive from a direct methodological search, but rather from absorption of multiple genres of contemporary art.
The “engraving paintings,” or as the artist calls them, the Plantagram series were created in 2013. We can once again identify them as new experiments in abstract depictions of nature. The moniker is an obvious reference to the photogram art of László Moholy-Nagy or Man Ray (defined as the early 20th century experimental photography technique where objects were placed in front of light sensitive photographic paper, thus giving rise to cameraless expositions, as a form of a negative imprint of reality), even though the foundation of this relationship is not stylistic. The Plantagrams are fundamentally technical and optical experiments. In both cases, it is the rethinking of the logic and optics of the rendering of reality that translates into the artistic concept.
On the canvases of the Plantagram series, the microscopic world of organic plants – stalks, flowers, leaves – provide form and shape, replacing everyday objects, with a paint spray gun relaying the exposition. Both series play with the uncertain negative-positive spatial awareness of human beings; we perceive the plants as vast and dominant, as they are towering at an indefinable distance from us. We may consider the nearly 2×4 meter abstract series of paintings from 2015 the pinnacle of the Plantagram concept, in which the impression of leaves participate as a developmental component of the painting, playing an active role in the increasingly less constrained forms of experimentation on the canvas.
Subsequent to this period, we witness one of Márta Kucsora’s most significant artistic shifts, since from 2015 onward, identifiable natural shapes disappear entirely. The paintings also refuse to provide conceptual guides, offering no hints as to what time space-dimension of reality we should be imagining ourselves in. This is when the artist also intentionally ceases to give titles to her work, as done by Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko during their move towards abstraction at the end of the 1940s. None of them want to steer the visual receptivity of the spectator into some forced or pre-ordained channel. The colour compositions created in the artist controlled gravitational, streaming and drying processes actually remove older, directly detectable natural colors from the palette, enabling the appearance of intensive, vibrant, even fluorescent, hues. Similar to most artworks of American Abstract Expressionism, there is no developed foreground and background, no gravitational centers through either geometric or other means, or points or jutting formations that, by virtue of their structure, guide the eyes of the spectator. We lose ourselves, at times directly falling into the abstract space of the artist’s creation. She is attempting to influence the freedom of the paints on canvas in ever more novel ways, permitting a handhold during the freefall of pigment on the paint’s path of least resistance. One might consider the scarlet pigmented, giant abstract canvasses of the New York contemporary artist Barnaby Furnas analogous.
One of the notable, recent characteristics of the 2018 paintings is the appearance of uniquely recycled “studio trash,” glued into the visual space like a collage consisting of knotted string, bundles, solid chunks of acrylic paint, bits of foil, and strips of lace. The objective of this paint-drenched trash is not a relief-style depiction of three dimensional space within the two dimensions of the painting, but rather the capture of thinned paint, shepherding natural streams of colour in new directions. The “hills and valleys” are actually tools that build the composition of the plane of the painting.
Calligraphic motifs dominate the 2019 paintings. We recognise fractals or even the shapes of chaos geometry in the artworks. Márta Kucsora takes full advantage of the entire surface area of the painting: there are no central focal points or surfaces that are hierarchically elevated, or diminished in the background; the all-over effect – also characteristic of Tachisme – takes over completely. As these patterns do not offer a recognisable shape to the mind of the spectator, they compel the viewer of these paintings to conduct a peculiar ocular exercise: we are forced to scan the entire artwork along the lines, while we perceive the momentum and vibration of these threads that stretch the visual field apart.
The calligraphy itself is placed on the white canvas in the form of a gelatinous additive which does not easily mix with the watery base. All additional paint layers, thick or thin, are repulsed by the gel, thus the pattern of the painting doubles as its deepest layer as well, instead of acting as its finishing decoration. These lines and strings bear their own strange dynamism, playing a defining role in the subsequent development of the canvas surface’s spontaneous gravity stage, integrating much more deeply into the interior universe of the painting than surrealist painters who have also experimented with gestures and calligraphic symbols, or the artists who brought the abstract revolution of the 1950 and 60s. We can discover parallels of these Márta Kucsora paintings in the artworks of François Fiedler from the 1970s, in which the elevated calligraphy also breaks through the fractured paint that was deposited on top.
Up to the end of 2019, the artist’s latest experimental phase further complicates the creative process; the most apt name for it, perhaps – mostly due to how parchment in antiquity were scraped off and reused – is the “palimpsest method.” After the drying out of the first paint layer, the artist creates a cracked and peeled surface by the scraping off, washing off, “destruction” of the upper layers, onto which new paints are layered, reacting with and absorbed into previous layers. The calligraphic motifs roam through the entire canvas, forming a vibrating network inside the painting’s private universe. The materials that comprise the paintings engage in a peculiar back and forth phenomenon of time travel. The paintings have already left behind the physics of water and the rhythms of nature; instead, they are forming their own peculiar resonance, capable of filling up even larger spaces, reminiscent of what modern music does in an auditorium. There are no peripheries on these paintings, no sections that can be abandoned, or sections that retreat into the backdrop. Every square centimeter on the paintings is identical as far as the points of emphasis and level of development of the art itself is concerned.
Impulsive contemplation and cosmic abstraction
Reviewing the paintings of the past decade and a half, we can see how the artist has progressed from the impulse driven recreation of nature to an entirely liberated and continuously renewing abstraction. The artist’s most important goal is the very discovery of material processes, a material archeology of art.
The organic and multiscope plurality of Márta Kucsora’s works and gestures instantly generates associations in our minds, as she does not offer any pointers for “solving” her paintings. The viewer’s imagination is inevitably drawn to discover the images of a classic science fiction universe, including astrophotography, satellite imagery, and modern, vertical drone photos taken of terrestrial landscapes. None of these are the sources of inspiration for her paintings, however. The solitary common element between the paintings and the referenced associations is the material, moved by natural laws that operate through micro and macroscopic dimensions.
It is not merely their size that lends Márta Kucsora’s paintings a monumental scale; they exude a peculiar aura over spectators that share space with the artwork, an aura they cannot resist. Even though her fundamental inspirations derive from impressions that arise from nature, in actuality, we are witnessing the visual dance of the basic laws of physics and fractals. To understand and comprehend this phenomenon, we need to concentrate, to study the paintings from up close, detail by detail, as well as from a distance. The paintings truly dominate the space before them, lending a new, deeper dimension to the reality that comprises their environment. They appear to be a window into a world in which only the cosmic rhythm of nature exists, entirely disrupting one’s sense of distance and time. This flow-based formulation – reminiscent of Helen Frankenthaler – of perceiving a painting, arises out of a respect of the forces that shape the cosmos.
Márta Kucsora’s abstract art is like improvisational jazz without song. Both are unique, unrepeatable experiences, and their essence is identical, namely, the harmony of physical laws that are induced into motion by the creators. Thus to capture the essence of Márta’s art, we are fully justified in call it a form of cosmic abstraction.