Tibor Weiner Sennyei: Painting of spring

This flowering of cherry trees had taken place during a long-gone spring, and you had inspected the branches as you lay on your back. It has happened, but one cannot take a photo of such a thing; a photo does not evoke scents, not ever.


I was gifted a small album, containing pictures taken of a few paintings by Agnes Kontra. These images just barely convey the delicacy of these paintings, barely communicating the sensation of the essence of the subject matter. I have been immersed in a deep silence for two days, studying them. I have great favorites that make me break out in a smile; there are also some heavy pictures that weigh me down and evoke memories of which I had believed to have been free of already. For an insensitive person, these paintings are at most colorful effusions, nothing else. I do not consider myself particularly sophisticated or sensitive; on the contrary, sometimes I perceive that my spoken words are elephants in the porcelain universe of human beings, but I do like beautiful. And what Agnes Kontra paints, is beautiful. Beautiful and true. True and good. Her pictures heal with such delicacy and without making a tangible trail, that it’s impossible to miss. It’s impossible not to come to a stop and ponder. How does she do it? Why?

Nowadays, we are living in the age of loud art as set by the tastes of the public at large, but one is a fool indeed when one judges on the basis of public taste. Loud art employs a grand set, demanding applause with circus-blast cacophony, poses on stage and that is all, as loud art is always derived from defiance and pique. It demolishes the old, but never really builds anything new in its place, as that could only be built upon its former tradition. It screams for acknowledgment, demanding candy, dollars, storms of applause and fans. As François Jullien put it: “From this objectivity, torn asunder with great noise and enthusiasm, from the systematically broken shaping, something has stubbornly remained: the wrathful destruction retains the traces of whatever it opposes, and the more pronounced the destruction is, the greater this effect is highlighted.” It is precisely the absence of story that is behind the cult of meaningless novels, the triumph of films produced by template, and the painting of the “heroes” of ordinary life (e.g. politicians). People do not have stories of their own, they have no lives, no adventures. A man who has a life of his own knows why it is good to read poetry, what really good theater is like, what a really great film is. He knows that there is no more tender form of art than painting. One does not look at paintings because he wants to look, but rather he looks, because he wants to see while seeing.

A person with a life of his own has a life precisely because he doesn’t give in to “loud art;” does not give him over to the tastelessness of the public, no matter how tempting that may be. A person who has an ounce of self respect knows that the previously referenced François Jullien was right when he quoted an old Chinese text, that “painting is none other than giving wings to the spirit through the creation of forms,” which “exceeds” the form itself.” And this is exactly what Agnes Kontra does, a painter who seems to have been dropped here from the Japanese Imperial court to the Budapest of today. A painter like Agnes Kontra might have been wandering in China for centuries, or is exactly like Agnes Kontra could be. After all, there is a serious contemporary prelude to this quiet art. I am thinking of the paintings of Istvan Nadler or Eva Krajcsovics, yet it is different nonetheless, and as a Nadler and Krajcsovics can be recognized on sight, Agnes Kontra has remained herself in all her paintings. With this “authorship” she is rather more attached to Western traditions, although just barely.

To me, her collections are describing a deliberate career path, highlighted by true gems. Among the paintings of the 2009 Horizon Space collection, Yellow Road, and in the 2010 Moisture collection, the Layers II. paintings presage the flood that has taken place since. In 2011, she paints the Branches and Roads paintings, so that she could finally reach the Himalaya collection in 2012. Let us take a peek at the painting titled “Runway of Souls.” Those who are touched by this painting are not lost people. What comes thereafter, however, is something that snobs and consumers – habituated to loud art - are going to turn away from with a frown, as it is better to be enamored of the smell of gasoline and sweat, than the scent of flowers. What Agnes Kontra had accomplished in the Flower Images collection in 2013 with the color pink is nothing less than astonishing. Regardless of which painting I study from the Flowering collection, it shocks me how this color – so distant from me – can touch me so deeply, how spring sprouts about me with such fervor. As I look out the window, I see that the cherry tree has already budded, but flowering is still to come. Would these paintings be the first flowers of spring? Undoubtedly, these are the paintings of eternal spring, just as the Balaton pictures of József Egry are the pictures of the eternal Balaton. We are undoubtedly retaining some kind of a primordial image of the Himalayas, of the Balaton, maybe even of spring, in ourselves. And this primordial image is not just a picture but a scent, a feeling, a tangible touch. These paintings evoke spring. These are the paintings of flowering, and Agnes Kontra is the painter of spring, the humble servant of flowering.

And then I have not yet spoken of the Clouds (2013) or the Revealed space (2014) collection. The latter collection, in particular, for example, the painting titled “Seemingly Parabola” brought me a little closer to an understanding of why this manner of painting effects me with such joyful strength. You look at the painting and you know that you have seen it already, that this primordial picture lives inside of you and I alike, but never to such a degree. This cherry flowering had taken place during a distant spring and you have seen these branches already, gazing up while lying on your back. It had happened, but such a thing could not be photographed, and such does not invoke scents, ever.  Agnes Kontra depicts by not being actually present; she displays by using what is missing. Her tool is absence. No, she is not the first to do so. It is best known in the east, they know it well, and precisely for this reason, her art is somewhere between East and West, exactly here, in Hungary. Let us gaze upon her paintings more often, as even if they are suppressed by the cacophony still, it is this fragile, delicate nature, this breath of joy, that is more valuable and lasting, than anyone would be willing to believe.