Style and material development

The caption contains excerpts and quotes from an interview with the Hungarian art critic Ildiko Mester during an exhibition in Budapest, in honor of the 80th Birthday of Lajos Tscheligi in September 1993. In the István Csók Gallery there is an impressive section of the artist on display. After Paris, Cannes, Zurich, Basel, Amsterdam, London, Washington, Miami, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong and many other cities in the world, he was honored in his hometown for a lifetime achievement award.

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The development of his classic style

Initially, during the naturalistic phase, Lajos Tscheligi painted portraits, coal miners, scenes from the lives of farmers, crop images, fishing and scenery of the Tisza region. These were scenes and images of life, often with a lot of movement. City scapes too, which he brought alive with people. At one point in this naturalistic period he could see no further development. He had advanced to the painting technique of the Renaissance, in which the smallest element is worked out in the finest detail. But he was no longer satisfied with what the picture expressed. He felt that he had to make a radical change.

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The liberation

In 1957 after the escape to Switzerland, he freed himself from the pressure and restraint of the need to paint in order to survive. Despite the experiences of war, crisis and culture shock, from then on he painted what he really wanted. "As you know, naturalism is the money maker of painting. Everyone likes their own face and pays to have it painted. The artist then postpones what he would like to paint only to realize it when he has a full belly. For me there were two possibilities: either the people understood my pictures and I could give pleasure, or I had to go hungry. I realized that I had to endure, and this finding gave me a sense of liberation."


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The Emergence of Self

Not only was Tscheligi’s presentation very individual and unusual but also his painting style. He had originally painted in pastel and oil and now he used acrylic. He made use of this material in a special, masterly manner. At the same time he applied another color shading on a color that made the first coat of paint in some places shimmer through the layers, which gave his pictures depth and something foreboding. One often sees in his paintings delicate white spots, which softly lead to different color elements in the picture, making the composition appear transparent and ethereal. Patterns also appear in solid color.

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The three theses of the abstract

"The light and the transparency of the metaphysical painting is supposed to entice people to connect with inner nature. They should realize that the world does not reveal all secrets. It is not like a realistically painted image or a color photograph which shows the entire image to the viewer immediately."


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His philosophy of colors

Tscheligi created his own color theory based on his research, thoughts, feelings, and experiments with compositions and their meaning: "The five fingers of the hand represent the five colors. White is the beginning, black is the end, but for me neither black or white is a color. Blue symbolizes the infinite, the cosmos, the mystical. Red is the color of love, the articulation of life, but also the color of selfishness. Yellow is the color of the sun. …

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The light and the radiance

The light and its radiance are dominating elements in the pictures of the artist. He had dealt with the various light phenomena already in the 1950’s. When asked about this fascination he replied: "I love everything about the sun; for me it is the life-giving power par excellence. Therefore I regard the colors on a third level tone. I illuminate a red, blue or green and give it shadow and light. This third step is the radiance.

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The importance of shape

A further component in Tscheligi’s work is the picture design of softly flowing abstract forms, like floating, hazy figures. Often they are female figures, and occasionally couples, men and women, facing each other or moving towards each other. Entire groups are either moving, remaining close to each other or dancing. Such a fusion of abstract and figurative display painting is rare and unusual. How did he come to this portrayal?

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His handling of the materials

From his father he learned the manufacture of paints, the proper preparation for drawings, the handling of the brush and how to trace different shapes and motifs with the help of carbon dust. Tscheligi was a do-it-yourselfer and explorer of materials. He was looking for transparency and the representation of the light. His paintings and the characters should reflect light. Pastels came to him in this way. He learned a lot from Jenö Maróti Major, whom he regarded as one of the best pastel artists in Hungary.

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The artist as teacher

Lajos Tscheligi understood art not just for his own fulfillment. He wanted the knowledge and skill which he had acquired from his father and his teachers to be accessible to the younger generation. So he founded in 1959 in Chur a school for aspiring painters. At that time in the small town there was no such institution where artists could be taught.

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St. Moritz's studio-gallery

The artist moved from the family home in Chur to a village in the Engadine, where he lived in a small painting studio. Surrounded by nature and especially the sparkling, shining light of the valley, he could devote himself to his inspiration: "I sit before the empty canvas in my little studio, which also serves as a gallery, and consider what I should paint. I determine the name of the picture first. It will take one to two hours to crystallize my ideas. I imagine two people, who initially only have understanding for each other. Gradually out of understanding comes love, and they wonder if they might live together. And then comes from the love something more ...

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The critics and the acceptance in the professional world

One critic wrote in 1943 at Tscheligi’s first exhibition in the Art Center of Budapest Kossuth, where he showed for the first time oil and watercolor landscapes to a large audience, that the artist was profoundly a real Hungarian. “You can hear the sound of the water; feel the breath of the plain and all the freshness that nature brings." These initial reviews were good; the newspapers were full of praise.

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