Provocative geometry?

Information about a life-work

1990., Art Magazin

Now that the painter has decided to recapitulate his life and work (a manifestation of systematization and self-evaluation), his persistent critic has the task to confront this oeuvre. Indeed – if he has intruded among these works he must survey the aspects, alleged and possible results of his intrusion. About ten years ago I began my small study with these words: „János Fag reminds me of painters like the Dutch Piet Mandarin who confined his pictorial possibilities within severe rules with bewildering asceticism (horizontal-vertical direction, right angles, three basic colours) – and took this canonized asceticism very seriously, as as kind of ethic norm but at the same time within these limits, he created astoundingly rich variations proclaiming the elementary force or artistic imagination although more or less reduced only to composition, although I know that Fajó does not rely merely on composition, reduction seems to be an ethic must also in his case: the thorough analysis of visual phenomena, the well-considered clarification of form-giving, the precise transmission of experience (psychical energies) formulated to sight.“ I think I have no reason to change this characterization (not evaluation) essentially. Fajó has remained an unmistakably geometric painter, attached to the most conservative geometric school: the only significant change has happened in his utilization of colour. The question whether this rigid clinging to orthodox geometry is good or bad remains unanswerable because it would lead us far away from the essence of his oeuvre. However, if I consider that a „return“ of geometric character is now in the air in sometimes heedlessly disorganized fine art (see Great Eclectics –under different headings), Fajó’s persistence can even look like a victory although this is not the most important thing in his case. He is far removed from the intention of complying with commands of art trade, fashions or ephemeral trends, his self-building expresses itself also in consistent self-watching. In geometry disrupted by the new sensitivity (or other slogans) he was almost the only one who remained faithful to the once chosen course: he rigidly cuts himself off from the German-Italian-inspired „new wave“ dynamically trying to win hegemony among whose waves he is quite right to see also the foams of uninhibited dilettantism. (Influential „theorists“ adopt also obvious lack of talent enthusiastically, Fajó published his opposition in open debate, in the spirit of classic manifestos)
Is he dogmatic? This question can certainly not be evaded but I’ll try to give a nuanced answer as far as possible. Orthodoxy and dogmatism are related concepts, and I have said already that our painter was strongly attached to traditional geometry.(Traditional in the sense used in art, not according to the classifying viewpoints of scientific geometry. Since its need raised by the calculations of the Nile floods and the rural economy built on them in Egyptian geometry it has been of great intellectual attraction developed to a system of long-lasting validity by the Greek classics (Thales, Pythagorus, Euclid). Its attractiveness may reside mainly in its independence from the real world and its self-determined rules which do not (and never did) exclude the possibility of building a characteristic series of symbols on it. Just think of „holy geometry“, the geometric symbols of Christian (and other) religions relying on the perfection of geometry (equilateral triangle Holy Trinity). We must see clearly that geometry includes the chance of a radical break with reality and at the same time its remembrance through symbolism. This duality contains serious philosophical questions which we cannot analyze here: certain religions, such as the Eastern Church, utilize them deliberately, e.g. in its icon-problem complex.
Although I think Fajó would refuse to see symbols in individual geometrical basic forms and use them for giving information about the outside world, he has been attracted to geometry, like many other artists, by the order-creating discipline of classic contructivism, the severity which has been manifested already in the naturalist world of his early studies as well as in his cubistic analyses, in this sense in his case geometry must be understood as a kind of world image: a drive to realize a rational, deliberate order. This abstract need for order is a dogma in itself, man living in society has the unlimited right to decide his own claims and not fall victim to aircastle experiments degenerated to power, as it happened to some of us in the past decades. So I would prefer to conside it a recommendation if Fajó, beyond his stubborn consistency, did not suggest its general validity with his picture sizes and powerful colour fields. (His small sculptures, with their modest sizes, are much less challenging and more tolerant-even in interiors.) And exclusiveness or not, if I stand before his picture Dropping squares I cannot help but recall the history of the square and the spatial forms which started from it from the ground plan of pyramids, through the ziccurats to Malevich’s slightly distorted black square, because such a distinguished geometrical figure has its own emphatic history so much so that, do not understand why iconographers have not yet written its monography. With Fajó the square and its deviates are at least as frequent forms as the circle and its variants.
Basic forms and their variants, basic colours and their versions. Independence and freedom in connecting these elements (primarily in the painterly sence), in relating them to the picture’s basic form which can be – and frequently is – different from the usual forms of parallelograms. In modern painting this has been a long-standing problem just as increasing picture sizes, there are examples of it also in Fajó’s earlier pictures. He shuts himself into this world with its militant beauty-ideal, and enjoys also the absurdities of its possibility.
Despite this we must raise a more general and important question: the problem of possible geometric variations. In the geometrical-mathematical sence I do not think of contesting the endlessness of these variations, since with an adequate number of elements (form, colour) this becomes clear even with ordinary factoring. But in the optic and pictorial sence the situation is different so that after a while the eye used to the sight does not perceive the variants any more, similarity makes ti tired. It is like going to an important museum and seeing only 17th-18th century portraits in one hall, after the fiftieth they look all alike whether in the upper or nether row, we do not see their character and the sophisticated tricks of individualization. A red circle (see the Japanese flag) is a better reference to the sun, a yellow to the moon, and their green-blue variants may become uninteresting if these colours appear in masses because their character is too similar. So the least program exhausts itself relatively quickly, (think of the movement of minimal art which exerted the greatest impact on Fajó) and left almost no experience except the sobering gesture. It is another question how we fill these works with historical values, embedding them in the process of art history so that we can always refresh the act and repeat the experience. This, however, supposes a certain knowledge of history, and the ability to survey the process.
Fajó has seen the problems deriving from his special orthodoxy and tried to find solutions although always within the geometrical thesis. One of these attempts was with structures, essentially a method of ranging elements which exposes the picture to ornamentics, this danger is always lurking around geometrical compositions. In a sophisticated way, this ranging of elements has been the course embraced by Vasarely, there was a time when Fajó oriented himself towards this method although he was always reluctant to adopt well-tested solutions.
He found his real possibilities in the variations of simple and more complex basic forms in which the meetings of forms get a particular and original emphasis, together with the arbitrarily but rationally selected form-intersections and-penetrations. They are arbitrary but nor accidental, Fajó informs us all the time of a space existing at least in appearance (also in plane paintings) which determines the reciprocity of these meetings on the forms put together, i.e that two circles of the same form can „bite“ into each other in a way that they produce an individual cut characteristic only of Fajó where the unrestrained colour intensity of the red and yellow surface (unrestrained because the background does not show any intention of restraint signaled with a key or colour) intensifies this bite almost to painful. With this somewhat expressive description I wanted to suggest that these theoretically indifferent geometrical figures and ordinary everyday colours can arouse psychical response although the presence of symbolism is involuntary.
In the latter years many examples show that these intense colours have become softer and gentler: secondary, restrained shades and tints have taken over the role of basic colours or deviates (e.g. green) on vast monochrome surfaces. Here I wish only to mention that the problem of the vividness of colours has been a subject of research back in classical constructivism. We find many references to it in the work of Moholy-Nagy. The simplest explanation of restraint would be the painter’s growing age but this would be superficial. Maybe we could say that the painter does not wish to manifest his thesis of order so challengingly any more. This would raise the further thought that this independence from the outside world, the neutrality of geometry, is not so safe as demonstrated by the method, and maybe not even so closed if we consider that its existence independently from consciousness is rendered incontestable by its human utilization. Our age shows the defeat and failure of ideas extending to everything, and the concept of uninhibited world salvation: unambiguous, irrevocable and unassailable ideas and world concepts are disappearing although dogmas still exist. The modification of intensity in the paintings of Fajó has replaced statements and imperatives with much more uncertain and hence more authentic contemplation: his poster-like demonstrativeness has softened to meditation – on his almost totally white pictures.
This is not even an antithesis (Malevich’s white square is neither one), it is rather the melancholia of orthodoxy. Fajó has „kept warm“ geometry (and this is the reason for melancholia) for those who will soon step over from out-fashioned gesture painting into this stricter form-world.

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Fajó János