Tamás Potyók
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The art of Árpád Bényi
Árpád Bényi was born on the 23rd of March in the year 1931 in Dicsőszentmárton, Transylvania.
He completed his schools in Dicsőszentmárton, Marosvásárhely, Győr, Debrecen and Szeged. He began to deal with drawing and painting in the free school lead by Ervin Tamás. In 1956 because of a poster made from one of his woodcuts with the words “Freedom for Hungary”, he was sentenced and punished for 792 nights in prison. These 792 days spent in prison and interrogatory rooms left a lifelong impression in the then 25 year-old young man. The paradox of life is that this tragedy of his personal life later became the nourishing soil of his art.
After being released from prison, very hard years followed. He could work as an unskilled worker in Berettyóújfalu. Since 1956 he continuously drew, painted and exhibited on individual and also group exhibitions. The year 1961 brought a significant change in his life, because on one hand he could teach again and on the other hand his personal life resolved again.
He was the leader of the Bihari Studio of Art Teachers. In 1966 he became a member of the Artistic Fund and in 1975 of the League of Hungarian Visual and Industrial Artists. Beginning with 1980 through 12 years he was the leader of the Drawing department of the Bessenyei György Teacher Training College of Nyíregyháza. He had a decisive role in the establishment of the art courses of the Medgyessy High School in Debrecen.
He was the President of Board of the “For The Munkácsy Trilogy” Foundation, also in Debrecen. Debrecen and Berettyóújfalu awarded him with “prominent citizen” title, and his native town Dicsőszentmárton awarded him with a Pro Urbe prize. He owned many honours and prizes and his works can be found at individual collectors as well as in common collections. This was the broad outline of the life of Árpád Bényi.
But who actually Árpád Bényi was? The exhibition compiled from the master’s drawings opened in 2009 in Debrecen takes us closer at all events to the answer to this question. We mention Árpád Bényi first of all concerning his paintings. As we hear his name, in front of us appear the Bényi pictures having such specific gestures and colours. The specialty of this exhibition is that it shows the master from a side which was usually hidden from the general public. We can see individually existing graphics and drawings or preparatory drawings to his pictures, which are created with the same pretension as his paintings.
Árpád Bényi was a drawer and a painter. He is from the caste of drawers and painters who work based on their inner sensations and not based on second hand information. Like all true artists He also made his way closer to himself and the world through drawing and painting. He felt a personal responsibility towards his own processes and processes going on in the world of art. His crystal clearly worded sentences that luckily for the posterity he often put on paper, speak of deep feelings and humanity. The drawings of Árpád Bényi speak of graphical meticulousness, versatility, elaboration. The mostly pencil drawings created in the 1950s and ‘60s show a drawer with steady hands and eyes. An observant who proves his masterful skills and sense of character by wording a human portrait. He masters his tool and forms with brilliant gracefulness the figure that provided him the theme. For example: A vagány, Feri, Kéményseprő, Öreg bácsi etc. He formed these early gems clearly, precisely and intelligently which means in the possession of the craft of drawing.
In the 1970s his drawings made with pen and ink were specific that create in the viewer an almost full sense of abstraction. Some titles from these: Repedések és varratok, Vonalak játéka II, III, IV., Figyelő stb.
This possibility of sight and drawing appears also later in a part of the works from the 80s. Some titles: Ábrándozások, Gyökértöredék, Szétszakadások, Indák és szálkák etc. These drawings hold a sensitive connection with the sensation of sight, and also with the visions taking place in the painter and the effect of this is the creation of the piece. Sometimes the lines tangle thickly and sometimes picturing their thin character they circle the shapes in a crisp almost biting way. Among the completely abstract shapes the drawer sometime leaves for the viewer a “handrail”, leaving there a tiny detail of recognisability.
Not long before his death, on the 7th of September 2006 Árpád Bényi confessed about this with the following words: “There is always a place for ingenuity in art, but on the long run no idea can replace the inexhaustible renewals of shape, the spirit of shaping”. Later he continues: “Nowadays this thought employs me: what will art be like in a hundred years? The principle of similarity won’t be a criteria but depiction will have honour. There will be a bigger contrast between depiction and abstract, but it releases energies storming through the creation, and the progress will be in the fact that these two poles will have the power of making one see with the opposition of never seen before opposites”.
These pieces carry drama, sometimes tragedy, but their final connotation is uplifting. It elevates the viewer into the realms of processes taking place in the soul, and via the tools of drawing transmits pictures from there.
The newer slices of Árpád Bényi’s exhibition are the graphics created in the 70s and 80s that express social criticism. Some titles: Láger az egész világ, Rácskészítők tablóképe, Európa peremén, Bürokraták etc. These pieces were created using the lithography techniques of etching and monotyping.
Among the exhibited works of Árpád Bényi we can find some nudes observed in the real world, sketches of a musician playing cello, portraits of his wife, of Tibor Déry, Richter, Kodály, Lőrinc Szabó and himself. The vast majority of these pieces are portraits. Some of them process the same theme more times. In the search of the final depiction, the one that is the closest to the original notion.
Finally we can also find a topic among the drawings that processes the trees of the wood.
We can find examples of everything from monograph-like studies to completely abstract depictions. For example a tree appears as a symbol in his work titled “Keleti őrfák”. The inexhaustible richness of depiction of the shapes of a tree is expressed in his works. Whether he depicts it as an individual tree or even as a dense forest or as an alley, his aim is the same in all cases: searching the forms of expression hidden in the shapes of a tree. To create a structure, compositions suitable for further thinking.
In the person of Árpád Bényi a strong and passionate personality stood in front of us. With his deeds and thoughts he has shown an example on how to mould drawing and painting into lifestyle. He has shown an example on how to create values and stand by values. What’s more, to fight for values by his own means. Life force and passion heated him. Also the knowledge of the old truth that in the borrowed life we have to be able to give an account of our deeds and thoughts. He left us the knowledge of responsibility according to which we have to notice our values and stand by them in the hope that the ones following us will do the same.
(was said in the Common House of Józsa in October, 2008)