The art of concentration

The artworks of Judit Horváth Lóczi are also included in the exhibition of post-digital artists from the MNB collection at the Collegium Hungaricum in Berlin. This is not the only exhibition where we can meet the artist, fortunately, in recent years we have been able to follow her creative attitude and way of thinking through numerous group and solo exhibitions. What’s most interesting is that she is not afraid to fill the geometric abstract genre – which is usually interpreted as austere – with emotions and content associated with being a woman.

How can feelings be expressed in geometric abstract works? I’m thinking of your quarantine series, or the group exhibition on motherhood at the end of last year at the MANK gallery in Szentendre, as it is not very common to include motherhood in the world of abstraction. How did you find the way of expression that is so characteristic of you?

I found my style pretty quickly, or rather, when I found myself, it showed up in my work almost immediately. The key moment was when I dared to compress the problems of my life, the questions that interested me into a geometric abstract composition.

Obviously, this is not a clear-cut narrative interpretation, but I compress the message within me, keep drawing in my notebook until I end up with a geometric abstract composition. I can reverse where, from which thought or feeling the image originated and how it evolved by the end of the process, but the viewer doesn’t necessarily know what I started from. This provides a very exciting opportunity to discourse, and I often ask people what they think about the works. My first exhibition, where I strongly took up the theme of motherhood and the problems that go with it, was the exhibition titled New Era in 2018 at the Zsófi Faur Gallery.

I imagine it took a certain courage, because that’s not what we’re used to with geometric abstraction, which used to be a very masculine thing, and the women who ventured into that area tended to use their masculine side. What or who emboldened you to start? Have you found an artist you observed?

I spend a lot of time following the national and international art scene, regardless of style. I’m lucky to live in a time when I am able to keep up to date with contemporary artists from other countries with the aid of the Internet, so I follow the moves and exhibitions of artist such as Rana Begum, Rachel Whiteread and Marina Abramovic. Lately, I have been putting a lot of energy into getting to know – following the international trend – those female artists who were either only appreciated at the end of their lives or never really at all, who were creating almost in isolation. It is incredible to me that we have all accepted an art historical canon that has excluded women. Now we really have something to make up for!

When I look at these life journeys, I can draw a lot of courage from them. Just think of Carmen Herrera, who recently died at the age of 107 and for a long time was making her art quietly at home, creating fantastic things. She had no feedback of any kind until the age of 89.

But it’s not just women. I appreciate the career of Cezanne the same way, who was rather ridiculed and despised throughout his life, while today he is one of the most respected artists in the world. Visiting his studio and his home, one is struck by the stubborn consistency, patience and energy with which he painted throughout his life, although unfortunately he did not live to see his own success.

For a long time, geometric abstraction was a male preserve, no female experience was compressed into it. Do you agree?  

People did look at me strangely at first, but I don’t believe in separating art into male and female art. I think there is only good art and bad art. My background in engineering and my good spatial vision allow me to switch between dimensions easily and quickly, both in drawing and in my head, and that’s what helps me a lot in this genre. From the beginning, I felt that less is more, and I tried to express my diverse message with as few tools as possible. An instinctive desire from within led me towards a purification, towards geometric abstraction. I knew that I didn’t want to paint figures, with glazed and delicate painting – which I can enjoy if someone else does it – it doesn’t feel right, and I don’t think this has anything to do with being a man or a woman. It actually really annoys me when people say, „Wow, what a lyrical picture of feminine colours”. Sometimes I get comments like that, and also feedback like „it looks as if a man did it”, and I’m not happy with that either. I simply don’t believe in it. You have to see a statue of Louise Nevelson, which is a totally masculine object. Nevelson has worked her whole life with a zeal that would make three men envious. It’s more a question of inner disposition, how you relate to life, how you can work, what tools you can use to express yourself.

How prolific an artist are you? I also think that this essential art requires a lot of brainwork. What is your working method

I’m constantly working, but it often manifests itself more in small drawings and internal work, so I always feel like there’s little work being done and I’m progressing slowly. This is also due to the technique. I work with acrylic paint, you have to apply a lot of layers to get a nice, uniform surface. I often use moulded canvas; it also takes time to make these. I have myself to thank for this lengthy workflow, but I don’t mind, because it gives me the opportunity to keep an idea in my head for a long time. It is actually self-therapy. By the end of the project, I am always in a different position compared to the original question, so I’m in a different place than when I posed it.

For me, it’s about compressing, not the composition or visuality, but the message behind the image. I believe that if you want to express something with a painting, and you have thoughts in your head all the while you are making it, then somehow the energy of those thoughts gets into the painting. Tamás Konok, whom I consider one of my most important masters, told me that what we painters do is magic because we create something from dead things, from the materials of the earth, from pigments, egg yolks and similar materials, which, thanks to our intervention, means much more in the end, almost becomes sacred, it awakens thoughts and raises questions. Art comes to life when we are able to do this, although obviously not every artist and not every painting can do it. It’s a difficult process and it takes a lot of mental energy to make this magic happen.

We’re sitting in your studio, a triptych in front of me, and I have to tell you that it’s like looking at an icon. It is probably not possible to get there without a long process of quieting down, of looking inwards.

The icon is also a compression. In past times, it was not the painter who invented what they wanted to paint, but was bound by strict rules about who could be portrayed and with what facial expression, posture, attributes, setting and use of colour. In fact, everything was prescribed for an icon painter, and each work told a complete story. I really like icons, and I enjoy looking at sacred art in general.  

You also incorporate old objects found in nature or in the trash into your geometric abstract works. What is the background to this?

I have a certain respect for old objects. I find beauty in an old surface, abraded by human hands as it has served generations. Unfortunately, today we often throw them away to buy a plastic object instead, even though they have served us for a long time and were created by our ancestors. We have a family heritage of valuing and preserving everything. And artistically, it’s an immensely exciting task to incorporate an old object with a story and a strange shape into my own seemingly hyper-modern shapes and colours.

It can provide a contrast that I like to play with. It’s not easy to find that narrow middle ground where harmony between the two worlds is almost achieved, but where there is still a bit of a cheeky tension. It easily tips over one way or the other, and then I have to start all over again. Often these objects sit in the studio for years before I figure out the perfect solution to bring the different worlds together.

Which of your works have been included in the collection of the Central Bank of Hungary?

The collection bought some very important works of mine. For example, my thesis, which is also a triptych, several paintings from one of my most important series, the Karantén (Quarantine) series, and my large work Hommage á Vera Molnár, which is a mobile work of 27 pieces, so it can be put together in many different ways, like a puzzle or a mosaic. I feel that what was included in the collection gives a beautiful profile of my work so far, one can witness the trail I have been on.

How can you sum up why Vera Molnár is so important to you?

Vera Molnar is a role model for me because of her art and her human character. As a woman, she began to cultivate a very rigorous, austere art in the middle of the twentieth century as an absolute pioneer. Nobody knew anything about computers at that time, and they didn’t even have the courage to try to create art with them, because that’s not what computers were designed for. The idea appeals to me greatly when someone who travels to a foreign country as a wife, not only runs a household, but also tries to make a very unique journey as an artist, to make friends and to organise an artistic community around herself. We now know that many similar women were living in Paris at the time. They left as a diplomat’s wife or an artist’s wife, often using their husband’s name – even their name did not give them a separate identity – but they quietly created fantastic art, between two meals. These are stories that I always have great respect for, when someone humbly but tenaciously sticks to their own artistic attitude and creates work in a way that they can never be sure anyone will ever see. Yet does not give up. Vera Molnár also worked for decades without being known outside her own small circle.

And her art is both tough and rigorous, yet incredibly playful. This duality is close to me.

But it seems to me that your career has been accompanied by positive feedback from the very beginning. Is that your experience from the inside?  

The support of Tamás Konok was very important, I kept going back to him for almost 15 years, we consulted, we discussed, he gave me both positive and negative criticism. The fact that such a world-class artist trusted me and pushed me forward made a huge impact. It was also determinant feedback when I received the Barcsay Prize. And the award of the Pollock-Krasner Scholarship was a milestone also, which is a New York scholarship awarded to several artists every year, regardless of gender or origin, completely outside the narrow and interest-driven Hungarian community.

Prizes are an incentive, but perhaps more important are the opportunities to exhibit, which mean I am being watched and I can show my ideas. I have been invited to three exciting group exhibitions in spring 2024. The MNB collection is taking an exhibition to Berlin, to the Collegium Hungaricum, exploring the visual world of the internet and post-internet, where I am part of a truly impressive contemporary roster. The second is an exhibition of selected works by Slovak-Hungarian artists in Kassa, where the theme is reinterpreting home, and the third is an abstract exhibition in a gallery in Budapest. And in the second half of the year, we will show a selection of my works on paper in Szentendre. The most valuable feedback for me is when the dialogue starts between my work and the audience.