(1966, Budapest, Hungary)
Levente Baranyai is primarily interested in the landscape, mostly the landscape inhibited and created by people but depicted without the people, together with all its social and philosophical implications. He often uses already manipulated photographs to create his paintings heavily burdened by paint, which, besides being embodiments of complicated questions on the aesthetics and epistemology of visual media, are shockingly real and astonishing works of art. His large canvases – almost without exceptions – depict the ground from a bird’s eye view, as aerial photographs do, many times using satellite pictures as a basis. This distant point of view enables him to present details and phenomena that are impossible to see and to show from up-close, from “being inside.” His paintings operate on this principle too; that is, when standing close to them, they fall apart into abstract dashes of color, and paint textures, while when observing them from the right distance, the traces and peculiar shapes become clear. He Lives And Works In Budapest, Hungary.
JÁNOS KURDY FEHÉR
THE BARANYAI ARCHAEOLOGY
T H E O EUV R E Levente Baranyai has unremittingly been painting the Portrait of Earth for thirty years. His unique oeuvre made up of some one hundred and fifty paintings is based on an archaeology he has developed. On his canvases we see spaces, landscapes and constructions that can either not be perceived from the surface of Earth or are not there any more because they has been pulled down or have never been constructed – in other words, were destroyed before coming into being. Through his exploratory trenches he leads his viewers by digging up space and time, the known and conjecturable with his artist’s cutter. As all archaeological quests, his expeditions are factual and critical as well. The figures of the past he excavates mobilize human knowledge, the imagination substituting it and the sense of responsibility arising from drawing the consequences.
The painter arranges his findings in series (Fleshscapes, Dusc, Mexican Alphabet, Industrial Mayday, Submerging Airplanes, National Land Art). The findings Baranyai unearths sometimes look confusing aerial photos, but they are always different, something more precise, and even manifestos. He draws together the natural and civilizing forces and their consequences separate in time and space, and splits them into layers. Then, turning them into part of the spectacle he represents them simultaneously in a single surface.
In his painting earthly distances square with and show man’s past and future perspectives. In the prior history of the Earth and man, perspective were coupled with conquest and exploitation after cognition. Baranyai saves perspective from the grasp of power, and thereby makes it an active part of our general contemplation and possible critical position. He points out that the destruction and lack of perspective confine and confound us, making us take wrong, sometimes catastrophic decisions. From a Baranyai kind of distance, the internal capacity of man to contemplate and interpret is equal to the technical and technological interfaces that expand human sense as well as their interaction. While the contents of Baranyai’s paintings upset our sense of justice, their colours and shapes prod the sense of beauty of the soul. They perhaps do so in the very rhythm our brains connect truth and happiness – simultaneously opening and closing, persisting and renewing. In the vortex of content and form of his pictures, craftsmanship and technological episteme become accessible and connected to one another. As a result of their spectacle they are transparent, yet the more we look, the more secret and enigmatic layers turn up. I am thinking of the traditional arsenal of the painterly knowledge of colour and perspective and those guerrilla memes that continually tempt him – narrative investigation, photo, cinema, design and abstraction taken to their very extremes.
P O I N T O F V I EW While Baranyai sets himself free from mundane semantics, and zooms on the dimension of space and (by way of its subjects) time, he always returns to the present through involving meaning. He presents the consequences of the broadly taken interaction between man and nature. He assembles a platform of presence that simultaneously preserves and examines the reality perceivable and absorbable by man’s eyes and the interfaces developed for him. We are enriched by the possible insights of a heightened global and historical point of view. Paradoxically, this point of view offers a look at ourselves from both within and without. The reason being that this point of view is an outcome of ourselves; it includes everything whereby we are able to imagine and experience the world. It is also beyond ourselves because it installs external information. It involves the data provided by science, technology and memory-enhancing interfaces (tool systems and patterns of perception). The reason why this is important is that this is what makes it clear that the Baranyai canvases produced by seemingly simple means (oil and knife) convey an immense amount spatial and temporal data on their surfaces as beautiful as they look at first sight.
S T R AT I F I E D Baranyai’s canvases are made up of internal layers constituting the pictures and external layers suggested to the viewer of the sight. The former are the concrete layers of pigment the artist places on the canvas until completion. From the close-up these layers of oil paint seem to be abstract signs, while, seen from a growing distance, they coalesce and condense into spectacles: cityscapes, geological and landscape forms. The latter are the external mass of data that create (historical, geographical, biological and political) intersections in the semantics of the viewer in the course of ascribing meaning to the paintings. By employing this stratifiedness, Baranyai’s painting renders visible the invisible, that was accumulated behind the concrete as cause and effect, process, energy, and consequence. The way of perspective is outlined, brought into being as it were, in the high-pressure medium of the Baranyai layers. Though these layers can be separated, they make up and give dimension to one another like fractals. Repetitions and perspective changes enable reaching the unknown from the known and back within a system. A mark of paint leads to a series on the landscapes of Earth, or memory culture (history, politics) via Big Data (the mass of data and patterns produced by interfaces) and arrives at global human responsibility. In these layers historical events are compressed together with technological-scientific possibilities. The Baranyai archaeology not only splits the sequences of actions and events, but also presents the constellations of consequences as in a mandala. The mark of the past is pressed into the image of the present (and the future) and vice versa. As though we were visualizing the stream of consciousness of a Zen monk practicing meditation on the commitment to and love of Earth. Layers simultaneously float on surfaces or rise up from depths. The monk (with a quiet consciousness) recognizes how we create our world by repeating and applying continually our stories, knowledge, our good and bad fixations. Our 21st Century world leads to the conclusion in the canvases by Baranyai, as we read in Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s The Invisible and the Invisible: “that my body is made of the same flesh as the world (it is a perceived), and moreover that this flesh of my body is shared by the world, the world reflects it, encroaches upon it and it encroaches upon the world […] they are in relation of transgression or of overlapping.”
B E TWE E N A B OV E A N D B E LOW It is only through interfaces that we can look back and inspect the landscapes of Earth from above. In the pictures taken by airplanes, satellites and drones, patterns appear that can only be perceived as partial forms down below. Moreover the point of view above is one of information, which is enabled by reading into one another an unbelievable amount of scientific, technical and natural data. Contemporary man still feels that this point of view is an expansion of power. In the layers of Baranyai, this point of view however is transformed because the image re-shaped by the colours and simplified paint marks is a simultaneous psychic consequence of the desire to know. Baranyai raises his painterly point of view from the grasp of power to the capaciousness of space. Our eyes look back from the sky. We look back from a psychic layer that could only be reached before technological interfaces through contemplation, meditation and prayer. What cannot be grasped by the details below and may be understood from above. There above, in the deepest human desire knowledge, everything seems to harmonize: mathematics and music, art and philosophy and science. There above, even the depths of the soul become clear, come out and speak. The Baranyai archaeology reminds us that the human will to power can overcome and subvert the desire to know. The growth of knowledge is not in proportion to the growth of wisdom. For all the interfaces put in between, harmonia mundi fails to come about. Instead of a happy ending of result expectation, Baranyai places critique in the place of spectacle. He provides a spectacle of reality of what is in between. He provides a view that our steps conceived as rational for putting the world aright regularly go amiss; that the real is the non-rational per se. Law, rule, order, or whatever you name it are so improbable that they stand on the verge on non-existence. The rational is unusual and uncustomary, it is almost identical with non-existence, nil, nothingness. Disorder is almost ever present. In other words, it is cloud or sea, storm or roar, confusion and mass, chaos and tumult, as Michel Serres has it. Drawing the two layers together is thus a position of criticism, a call to assume responsibility.
T H E F I N D I N G Following Baranyai’s cutter, we acquire aesthetic and critical insights. His archaeology reveals the global consequences of local political decisions that disregard the environment, the former results of history and culture. For instance, the Chinese politics of aggression against Tibet has been attempting to destroy the spiritual tradition of the land by demolishing Buddhist monasteries, expelling monks by the mass and population exchange in Larung Gar, which Baranyai protests against in the Free Tibet! (Larung Gar) series, Through ironic gestures, he also sheds light on the architectural mania of current Hungarian populist politics. He arranges his vast and weighty canvases in series where the surface of Earth, the living world and the outgrowths of civilization can be seen as developing and decaying cities, industrial and architectural belts. In his pictures, centres and peripheries wander. Meanwhile they leave behind marks, wounds and witnesses. In his portraits of Earth, invisible causes and processes – concealed destruction, the conceit of power and unequal opportunity – become visible. And also the fact, that, in spite of all, Earth is still and sometimes beguilingly beautiful. By way of the painterly archaeology of Baranyai, the collateral polluting phenomena of human existence and the possibilities of rehabilitation become simultaneously and directly visible. The point of view Baranyai has found interiorizes whatever man has achieved up to the 21st century. Science and technology are unfolded before us as a global vista. At the same time, Baranyai restores the exceptional function of the human eye in cognition. As a result, we see our own portraits in his portraits of Earth. Those are not external or unknown or menacing things, not enemies, but things within, belonging to us. From above, we are no innocent lambs, whose bites make grass grow rich. Rather, we are witnesses of a manic brontosaurus frenzy when he discoveres it has nothing to spend from his gigantic corporate check. We must know this about ourselves, just as the fact that neither self-appointed persons nor necessary processes can make decisions on and without ourselves. In contemplation, external images are projected on the inner ones. Chaos opens the way before misgivings. The sky might darken, but the Sun might come out.
Translated by: Péter Pásztor
Diving Planes 2013 / Merülő repülők
2013 Gallery Erika Deák
Since 1994 the Hungarian artist Levente Baranyai (*1966) is engaged with recording the topography of the world. In his monumental paintings he draws our attention to wasted landscapes where the outgrowth of civilisation and industrialisation have left their marks.
As a portraitist of the earth he unfolds the traces, wounds and testimonials of the destruction of our environment. At the same time the realistic paintings reveal a certain beauty and symmetry. One observes the earth from the bird perspective as it never appears in everyday life. Only recently the artist started utilizing "google map“ in order to select details of landscapes from satellite images for his paintings. His painterly style appears to be expressive, and the single motives are evolving only from a distant view at the paintings. Deliberately he breaks the rules of perspective and focuses on painting. Baranyai’s art refers to classic reliefs and 3-D worldmaps on the first sight; nevertheless due to his painterly style he takes a distance from photorealistic painting.
Levente Baranyai completed his studies at the University of Fine Arts in Budapest in 1994. Since then he has taken part in numerous solo as well as group exhibitions worldwide and is considered as one of the most important artists in Hungarian postmodernism.
Levente Baranyai’s new series, Diving Planes focuses on the imagery of no longer used, already wasted airplanes, which were put the so called „airplane cemeteries". In his large-size oil canvases, just as in his previous series, he is monitoring Earth from an eagle-eye position; from enough distance to point out not only the visual but the social, the civilizational, and the philosophical relations. This distant viewpoint is able to suggest such details and phenomenas, which are never visible from the inside but only appear when looked at from a great distance. His paintings work in the same technical way, as they fall apart into abstract shapes and paint textures when viewed too close, but from a proper distance, beautiful shapes and forms become clear, nature, as never seen comes to life.
Baranyai s richly textured works refer not only to classic reliefs but to 3D maps, yet do not want to be photorealistic at all. This series is a clear continuation of his earlier works, but now inserts a new object between the Earth and the observerving eye, and that is the old and already destructed airplanes. Man s primal desire to fly is realized by the first airplanes, and it is one of Baranyai s primal interest, and now this object of desire is realized by cold and distant blues while the colours of the ground is painted with the warmest browns. The lined-up planes make beautiful, ordered marks on the canvases, sometimes reminding us to eastern carpet patterns, sometimes flying birds, but mostly to the never ending movement of life itself.
Levente Baranyai born in 1966. Graduated from the Hungarian University of Fine Arts in 1994. His works can be found in several important public and private collections.