A few thoughts before starting this second post. The trouble with letters directed to a group of friends, or worse still, to unknown persons, is first of all, the lack of contact; but even more important to me, the lack of context. I have always disliked group letters for their anonymity, lack of passion, and the inevitable reluctance to say anything that might be construed as a public complaint (which for some reason we Americans are loathe to do). I long ago gave up trying to actually write to each and every individual I knew, hoping that a few digital images sent out over the course of the year would satisfy. There is, though, the public voice , which I used with pleasure over the many years of teaching, lecturing, and writing research papers. In writing this blog, it is that public voice which needs to be coaxed out of its hibernation.
Now I am writing from Budapest. We left the Bernecebaráti Art Colony on Sunday afternoon and are settling into city life. Sadly, we just missed the annual Budapest Jewish Cultural Festival, but there will be more programs over the next two months than we could possibly manage to see (not to mention the high holidays – haven’t yet decided which community we’ll attend… ) It’s too early to write about that – besides which, I’ve fallen behind in my posting and have lots to say about the two weeks at the art camp (as artists’ colonies are affectionately called here in central europe).
Let me describe the art colony: it takes place for two weeks every September, is run by Budapest’s 15th district, and is situated in a facility owned by the district. A good friend Elöd Nagy (http://www.nelod.hu) is the director of the colony. When not an artists’ colony, it functions as a children’s summer camp, so there are many cabins, each with three small rooms, bunk-beds and a small bathroom. Each artist gets his or her own cabin.
I knew nearly all the other artists at the camp, all Hungarians – some from Budapest and it’s environs, some from Transylvania, the western border region of Romania (the Hungarians call it Erdélyi). Some were sculptors working in wood, some painters or graphic artists, some textile artists; about fifteen in all. Except for one young sculptor, the group this year was made up of older, established artists. It was a relaxed group, each artist comfortable with his or her own visual vocabulary and aesthetics.
I didn’t get to go on as many little exploratory trips in the lush hillsides as in previous years, instead mostly enjoying strolls along the tiny main road of the village. Small houses with huge roses, other gorgeous flowers and fruit gardens lined the road. Backyards opened into meadows behind the houses, occupied by sheep, goats, geese, and horses. Small dogs lingered at the front gates of nearly every little house, yapping with a friendly sort of aggression as we passed by.
Down the road a bit was a miniscule general store, where we picked up odds and ends – beer for me, sweets for Lew, extra soap, etc. In the side yard was a very relaxed kocsma (pub) where the artists sometimes joined the locals under the grape vines, for a glass of beer or palinka (Hungarian fruit brandy).
The weather was good, if unseasonably hot. Even the two partly rainy days were lovely – warm, soft weather; fragrant, with a sun-shower or two. For a few days the heat subsided and we had cooler weather, but then it was back to a pretty fierce heat. The humidity in Hungary is much lower than in Vermont, but the strength of the sun makes up for it, so we try not to be caught outside in the full intensity of the sun’s rays.
While at the camp, I worked steadily on a new series of small found postcard mixed-media pieces, continuing my use of soft Conte crayons onto the wetted, gessoed surface of these postcards (hope to post them soon). I’ve been experimenting with pressure against the back of a second thin sheet of watercolor paper placed onto the wet drawn surface of the card, creating a primitive kind of monotype, which I then work into further, creating a mirror-image variant of the drawn image on the card. Discussing this with another artist, I realized that for me, the most compelling aspect of printmaking is neither the option of multiples, nor the concept of the mark of the print itself (as in a fingerprint, or a footprint), but rather, the physicality of the pressure involved in making a print of any kind, especially by hand.
After about thirty small pieces, I switched back to the larger format of the recent Black Monolith series (visible on this site). As before, the drawing with various water soluble chalks and crayons was done on a gessoed surface brushed with much water. The softened surface of the gessoed paper is receptive to scratching, scoring and tearing, as well as to the velvety marks of the wet Conte crayon. Once I”m back to work here in Budapest, I’ll continue experimenting with transferring images from one paper to another wet to wet by hand pressure, on this larger scale.
Midway between the two weeks at the camp, Lew and I took a weekend bus/train trip into Budapest to see Mozes Kati’s exhibit at the Israeli Institute on Paulay Ede Street. (http://www.izraelikultura.hu/?setlang=english). Kati’s work is wonderful (http://mozes.arnolfini.hu). We have exhibited together in the past, and are both members of the Hungarian Painters’Association: (http://www.magyarfesteszet.hu/en). I am always excited to see what she’s doing, and was glad to catch the exhibition before it closed.
We traveled into the city by bus (to Szob) and then by train to the Nyugati station in Budapest, passing through one of the most beautiful places around Budapest – Zebegény, along the Danube bend. The buses and trains are frequent and generally punctual and are coordinated so that passengers can actually make connections (imagine that!). There is free wifi on the trains, and astonishingly, the national buses and trains are free for people over 65! There was some kind of train delay on our return, due to an electrical problem, but the train was brand new and air-conditioned, and we made the next bus connection in Szob with little wait time.
The two weeks at the art camp seemed to fly by as they unfolded in real time, but looking back I experience my usual contradictory feeling that I arrived ages ago – a very good parting sensation.
Now I’m looking forward to our extended time in the city – to the concerts and exhibits and social get-togethers with friends, to continuing my work… and to doing a bit of our own cooking again. The camp food was typical Hungarian institutional food, prepared by the local school kitchen for us artists. It was certainly very nice to be called to meals three times a day and not have to do anything but walk over to the dining hall, and it was great that they could accommodate us as vegetarians…. (that was a real problem in our early years here in Hungary – lots of funny stories about that, looking back).
I’ll soon set up some sort of work space in our rented flat, but am not too concerned about the details. The flat we’re renting used to belong to a good friend, so we’re very familiar with it. In fact, it’s just across the courtyard of where we used to stay for many years.
That’s it for now! More to follow, including new photos!
Tuesday, September 13, 2016. Budapest.