A consistently built painting oeuvre

Throughout his almost twenty-year career, Róbert Batykó has constantly renewed his painting tools, but his series are still organically sequential. One thing does remain constant though: painting as a framework.

As we sat down to talk, we discussed who would read the interview. I believe it’s important that it’s not just for a narrow professional audience, but I really think a lot about who is interested in fine arts in Hungary today. What do you see of this? Who is your audience?

It’s an ever-changing medium. When I started working with acb Gallery in 2007, my work was quickly discovered by the profession and a narrow circle of collectors, and at that time I knew almost everyone personally who was interested in my art in some way. Since then, this circle has obviously become wider, a bit more impersonal so to say, but of course I’m happy that more and more people know and appreciate what I do. In my opinion, people who are interested in contemporary art today have either had a very good education, or have grown up surrounded by art, or have seen it on the walls of people they know.

You spend a lot of time in the Netherlands, so I suppose that is a broader environment.

We may be catching up in some respects, but my participation in this year’s Art Rotterdam is a very recent experience, where hundreds of people came to see my work every day. There is no such level of interest in contemporary art in Hungary, which is obviously related to the quality of visual education and many other cultural and existential issues. Contemporary art is becoming more and more popular in our country, particularly painting which can act as a kind of „gateway drug” to attract people who may ideally later become interested in other genres, as the contemporary scene is not dominated by traditional art media, despite appearances.

You are labelled as a post-digital artist. Do you accept this category? Let’s break down what post-digital or technology related painting is.

At the moment I’m mostly identified with it, but if you know my early work you can see that I’ve always been characterized by the digital/analogue dialectic, although in the beginning it was more in the process of editing, later it became the actual inspiration for my paintings. It is typical of me to introduce new subjects and new painting techniques at certain intervals. I am in the initial stages of such a shift, and it is pointing towards a more complex – from the aspect of a painter – and surreal series. Without a doubt, my post-digital era was the longest and most productive so far, and these are the works included in the collection of Central Bank of Hungary.

Do you remember how your interest in fine arts began?

I was lucky because I knew from a very young age that I was interested in it. There were no artists in my immediate family, but there were art albums on the shelves, and I loved twentieth century paintings, Picasso in particular, as well as cartoons and comics. I was attracted to both pop culture and high art, which still defines the character of my visual world. I went from school to school to learn the basics of the profession, finally graduating in 2005 in Károly Klimó’s class. During my university years I experimented a lot with different styles of painting, eventually becoming comfortable on the border between abstraction and figurative expression. For a long time, I was concerned with the objects and sights around me, but later I took a much more global approach, with the amazing amount of data on the internet as a source of inspiration.

Everyone is looking for a fresh voice, but how do you find it?

At the beginning of one’s career, a person is always fresh, which is linked to their youthful lifestyle and constant dissolving into the zeitgeist. A much more interesting question is how to preserve this without becoming a parody of oneself. The fetishisation of novelty forces artists to renew themselves almost constantly, and those who are constitutionally capable of doing so do well, while others are much slower to respond. It would be rewarding for everyone to recognise where their limits are, otherwise they can fall into the trap of ill-timed shifts or impetuous artistic choices. To stay relevant in the long term, a creator needs to stay fresh and open not only technically but also intellectually, because the world around us is changing at an overwhelming pace.

It is good to hear that someone has received support that they can use. What was on the other side of this, what was difficult for you, that is perhaps less talked about, are there downsides to being an artist, and if so, what are they?

If you are passionate about something it can very easily become addictive, of course when a work of art comes out of it, you tend to forget that there can be downsides. Artists are typically unable to leave their work in the studio, as they are in a constant state of flow, and often have no energy left for the most mundane things. The attention and patience needed for civilian life has already been „burnt”. It’s a dream world that disconnects you from reality, a strange experimental existence. Yet, the biggest battle we have to fight is with ourselves, our own ego, which is both the fuel and the wheel clamp of our existence.  Unfortunately, many people fail in this struggle, even those who are extremely talented.

You’ve recently returned from a 6-month studio programme in the Netherlands, can you tell us a little bit about this period?

From mid-July last year, I was creating for six months in Haarlem at the DOC4 studio, where I was invited by a local arts organisation (37pk). This was the third time in the last 10 years that I have spent time in the Netherlands as an artist-in-residence, where I made many professional contacts and exhibited my work on several occasions. Studio programmes abroad are usually 2-3 months long, six months is a long time, but for me it was just the right time, because I wanted to break away from my own environment for a while. In addition, the idea of a new series was starting to form in my mind, and I knew I could use this kind of retreat. I also made the visual designs for the series there, so I had some time to get inspired. The studio was located in a rather meditative part of the city, right on the banks of the river Spaarne. I think it would be hard to imagine a more ideal place to create. In total I made 14 oil paintings in Haarlem, most of which were shown in the beautiful exhibition space of 37pk, and I also participated in a group exhibition at Horizonverticaal. And my works have been displayed in the windows of Vishal and Punch overlooking the street.

What’s next, what are your plans for the future?

On 8 February, a group exhibition of the artworks from the collection of Central Bank of Hungary titled Code + Canvas will open at the Collegium Hungaricum in Berlin. The exhibition presents works by Generation Y artists that can be associated with post-digital painting trends. In March, a comprehensive selection of the material created in the Netherlands will be on show at the acb Gallery, including a portrait film which was shot in a studio house in Haarlem. It’s a project that is very close to my heart, because it captures the special place where the paintings were made, and it’s the first time the painting machine can be seen in action. In May and June, I will be in London for a shorter but all the more exciting studio programme, where I would like to further develop the visual world I have been working on for the last six months.