At the border visible and invisible
„In our everyday life we create stories using words. In the visual world, however, for me it is colours that are in the centre of creation: similarly to words, it is colours that combine and merge to create an individual story for each viewer.
I mainly work with traditional painting techniques. I collect colours and shapes that I need for my subject matter by making accurate sketches of the visible world. I consciously investigate the potential ways of combining these motifs with one another and when I find the widest range of possible combinations I link them together and make a visual narrative, in other words, a painting.”
Zsuzsa Kalas has comforted my idea that there is no image without the word and vice versa, there is no word without the picture. Declarations of this sort should only be made by philosophers or language philosophers but Kalas – who is a scientist as she is a psychologist – builds her own painting style based on such daring statements, and what is more, with her paintings she is able to verify the existence of this theory in practice. It is true that her modus operandi is very simple and logic. She starts from colour and instead of choosing the form (as most painters do: first apply the form and then add the colour), she takes another path. She writes a sentence, associates it with a colour and this colour with a brush stroke. To put it simple: for each idea she finds one or two visual representations – and by doing this she creates a painting.
In the Colour-Story series other concept-pairs appear as well, such as text and colour, depiction and abstraction – in the end the question is whether it is possible to tell a story just with colours. This is sort of a test to find out if colour can take on narrative. This artificially developed conceptual painting method does work in practice. Zsuzsa Kalas could have chosen not to say anything about the process and the result would perhaps seem more impressive and mysterious but this way it is certainly much more authentic and genuine. (It is another question why she has not shared her notes she was taking while painting.)
“Melt” is the title of another group of paintings the concept of which seem even more basic. The artist is creating sketches for years on a pier at Lake Balaton. Out of these colour sketches she derives as many hues as she feels she possibly can. Then she applies these shades over each other. The conceptual understanding becomes more difficult due to the initial meaning of the English title “Melt” and here certain metaphoric combinations of meaning allude to the technical properties of the different types of paints. In the Visible-Invisible series Kalas applies her process only to the different tones she sees in the skies in order to reach the subtle border of the figurative and the non-figurative. She and the viewer is left alone to justify whether she succeeded at her experiment or not – but in any case this creative process certainly results in some high quality paintings.
One of the milestones in Zsuzsa Kalas’s conceptual thinking is the “Details of the personal life of a yellow”. The artist herself acts like a private detective who is trying to reveal a person’s identity disguised by a hue of yellow. It imposes the question: Is it legitimate to paint by the rules of such a metaphoric construction? The answer is: Why not…?
A little surprising title of Kalas’ 2008 diploma work is “Colour Stereotype, or I Think It’s Green”. The artist employs deductive reasoning based on a methodology called ‘multi-step conceptual processing’ common in her former profession (she is a qualified psychologist) starting from still life through monochrome paintings to arrive to a summarizing video. Meanwhile, from the very beginning in fact, she renders the different vertical colour stripes which she derives from still lives and which she calls ‘Colour Samples’. Really these stripes could be the subjective reflections on the reminiscence of Dóra Maurer’s ‘countings’ (Maurer calls them ‘sticks’), lists á la Umberto Eco or eventually an inventory sample of the highly standardized and scientific Pantone Colour Chart.
The titles Zsuzsa Kalas gives are often unusual and lyrical – as if they were invented by a poetic intellect. Not Really, Danube Colour Samples, Deep.Blue, Never Converging, Crossings, etc. In professional circles it is said that title doesn’t matter (it is not the title that matters) but here, I think, there is something else. Kalas is a conceptual painter who is a writer as well who wrote fabulous stories for children. She creates narrative by the means of painting, most of all with colours. Her series that have not yet been mentioned are: Creation Myths, Little Red Riding Hood, Marriage, Illustration for a Tale…
She has non-figurative works where minor alterations of form constitute the plot. It is similar in speaking or writing to the semantic differences when the intonation reverses the meaning of a word or a sentence, or when during a debate a tiny difference of opinion ends up in a huge conflict.
It is needless to prove that the main category of Zsuzsa Kalas’s art is colour. In 20th century art Kandinszky, Klee, Itten, Malevich, the monochrome painter Ad Reinhardt, later Piero Dorazio, Morris Louis, Colour Field, Luc Tuymans etc. were the par excellence colour painters. Among Hungarian painters – at least for me – it is Ferenc Martyn, later, following his footsteps Ferenc Lantos and Ilona Keserű belong here, and there is Dóra Maurer – who is ever so important for Kalas –, Zsigmond Károlyi, and from the more recent generation it is Péter Paizs, Gizi Rákóczy, Csaba Szegedi, Nikoletta Kováts, Zoltán Hermann, Ferenc Gróf (former member of Société Réaliste) and András Gál.
If I am ever to organize an exhibition from colour stripes and colour lines, Zsuzsa Kalas will definitely have her place in the spotlight.