It is difficult to say anything new about the work of Ádám Farkas. His evolving oeuvre has been followed for over four decades by sharp-eyed artists and sharp- witted critics. It is an oeuvre that has evolved from a handful of seemingly digestible principles, which the artist himself has repeatedly explained in his exquisitely written meditations. These cardinal principles include organicism, the involvement of nature in the creative process, the love of materials, and inspiration drawn from the forms observed in the microcosm and the macrocosm.
My task here seems all the more difficult personally as I am supposed to speak about a master whose career has followed pleasingly parallel tracks with my own intellectual adventures for half a century, the two of us often converging and running in kindred directions – for instance toward organic forms or Japanese art for a wellhead of inspiration. At times, I would not see my friend Ádám for an entire year, but I would always feel secure in the knowledge that he is still around, working and forging ahead, recklessly but steadily as a mighty river flowing inexorably in its broad but clearly cut-out bed, and in its authentic selfness of being.
Let us then set aside the oeuvre for a moment, with the intention of returning to it with a fresh gaze after a detour. A while back I uttered a keyword, one of the cornerstones of the oeuvre, which inevitably makes itself felt as an ordering principle of the exhibition itself. But it is in order to speak about the master first – the master who admittedly keeps disciples, and keeps them in a reciprocal relationship of commitment. It was indeed the subject of the relationship between master and disciple that my conversation with Ádám lingered on as we roamed the exhibition rooms, then still in the process of being slowly furnished. After a while, the conversation detached itself from the frame of reference of the exhibition, and we found ourselves overcome by poignancy reminiscing about our own masters and their purport for our lives. “I recognise two masters”, Ádám confessed, “who always come to mind whenever life presents me with a difficult situation, a challenge. ‘What would they do in my shoes?’ I ask myself. And they invariably come to the rescue with much-needed guidance. One of them is my father”, Ádám added. The other I am not going to name; I already feel I have breached the trust of a very private man. My only excuse for having done so is that I want to give you an idea of what I am thinking about – aloud. It is about the importance of masters, and of disciples. I labour the point because I feel far too little attention is devoted to this relationship these days, despite the fact that the bond between master and disciple is one of the most formative ties of which one can partake in life.
Indeed, one often feels there are no masters and disciples anymore nowadays. For the first time since time immemorial, for tens of thousands of years, it seems that they do not exist, at least on the face of it. And if this is true, all continuity of what we call the human will have ceased to exist as well.
Yet I like to believe that there is more than meets the eye. Yes, I believe that the master–disciple relationship could not be any more real today, except that it is masked by the rowdy and gaudy superficialities that fill the media-ridden culture of our age with the fake vitality supplied by the dizzy, never-stopping merry-go- round of celebrities, parties and hassle.
This is precisely the train of thought Ádám Farkas has set in motion and brought into our field of vision through his exhibition. What he himself told me about the subject leaves no doubt that the master–disciple relationship, in its deepest form, is nothing less than a vital spiritual bond. For both parties, I hasten to add. Woe unto the master abandoned by his disciples – and woe unto the disciple bereft of a master. For this bond, in its most essential manifestation, means nothing less than the rebirth of the parent–child relationship in the realm of the intellect and the arts.
The master who is surrounded by young disciples must renew himself on a daily basis if he is to meet the challenge of their intellectual greed, while his sources of spiritual energy will be constantly replenished by their attention and gratitude. The disciple can be spared the trouble of detours and false starts by the apt admonishment of the master, who in turn will be revealed new vistas by the fresh gaze of the disciple. Most importantly, the master’s entire being exudes a model of world view and self-conduct.
Of course, the master-disciple relationship builds up in a process not unlike the layering of an onion, from the initial solid bond through spiritual guidance to professional mentoring. In each of these forms, it will remain a seminal influence throughout a creative lifetime. In this regard, artists – and the artisans practising the old crafts – are at a special advantage compared to ordinary mortals. Methods, techniques, and the knowledge of materials and tools can only be relayed and mastered in a long and structured process transpiring in the shared space of a workshop or atelier. This intimacy of body and soul is in fact the envy of us writers and poets, who are seldom given the grace to know our masters in person; more often than not, we are relegated to meeting them in the quiet solitude of reading.
The other thing this exhibition shows us is the multiple faces that an artist’s sensitivity can assume, manifested in the various aspects of his art being carried forward by his disciples as they attain their own maturity as artists, recasting those features in their own likeness and alloying them with new elements. Some of them will go further along a path which Ádám took tentatively as a sort of game or experiment, but never pursued to its logical conclusion. A case in point is the art of the objet trouvé, embodied here in his first statue on display, called The Prophet. This was something our conversation also touched upon as we strolled the rooms earlier this week, Ádám contentedly acknowledging the diversity of his disciples’ work, commending one for the excellence of execution, another for the daring novelty of the core idea. It is testament to Farkas’s qualities as a mentor and human being that so many young artists have agreed to show their work in an exhibition hallmarked by his name. This proves that Ádám’s tutelage has been a liberating influence rather than an oppressive baggage for them.
Many will say there is something rather obsolete about this whole atelier business. In reality, as I have suggested, we are talking about an ancient tradition so deeply rooted that the latter-day postmodern chaos around the master–disciple relationship seems a mere ephemeral episode in its universal history. And let us hope it will remain just that.
The archaism of Ádám’s sense of mission as a mentor echoes traits in his art, personality, aura and way of life. It is an archaism that manages to be modern at the same time, which goes a long way to explain why so many of the younger generation feel they can subscribe to it. Mind that I say archaism; even the semblance of anachronism or obsolescence is out of the question when talking about Ádám. Indeed, his traditionalism, if you will, is very much contemporary and novel, although clearly nourished by a major trend in 20th-century art emblematised by figures like Brancusi, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and, among Hungarians, Béni Ferenczy and Miklós Dallos, the émigré in Paris undeservedly unrecognised back in his Hungarian homeland, who became one of Ádám’s dearest masters in 1968–1969, during his second study trip to France.
Ádám Farkas may be enmeshed with our age and embrace its technical advances, but his own ambitions remain fundamentally archetypal. The archaic tradition pulsing in everything around him supplies the archetypal wellspring that feeds his art. He is traditional also in the way he nurtures the intellectual legacy of his parents, the way he is part of the fold in a family of artists, the way he spares no effort to preserve the spirit of the paternal household even as he modernises it, the way he insists on surrounding himself with a Latinate-Transylvanian garden large enough to stimulate his ecological imagination through the abundant flora and fauna it sustains. Keeping such a garden, you might say, is a rare privilege these days in this country of ours, following half a century of the deepest turmoil. In reality, it is the fruit of a very deliberate effort and perseverance. Using the income from the statues he has sold over the years, Ádám certainly could have chosen to build an entirely different island for himself and his family.
In an essay published in 2007, I hailed Ádám Farkas as the champion of “modern traditionalism”, and borrowed the phrase of “vertical art” to describe what differentiates him and a handful of remarkable contemporaries from the postmodernists. Artists like Ádám synthesise rather than dissect experience. As I wrote back then: “In a traditionalist work, the various components coalesce into a ritual symbolic order that always obeys the guiding star of transcendent being – into a synthesis overlain by the entire universe. […] Beneath the reckless surface”, I added, “the spiritual substance of these works is supplied by the timeless, mythical dramas of the soul”. One of the iconic artists of this conviction was the poet János Pilinszky, who regarded fragmentation as one of the key features of modernism. “Strive for certainty and embrace the uncertain”, he once said aphoristically.
Indeed, the art of Ádám Farkas is of the symbolic and mythic kind, with exquisitely finished, closed surfaces almost invariably disrupted by recklessness and fragmentation. This is what sets him apart from his Neolithic or Egyptian forebears as well as from Brancusi. This is what makes him thoroughly modern and our own. The smoothly polished, serene sphere of perfection perched on top of his Recsk Memorial, underpinned by the fragmenting prison bars of totalitarianism, seems to say, “It is from these ashes that we must restart and attempt to rise over and over again”. From the inertia of objects, from suffering, from the vulgar.
This memorial is the exception in Ádám’s oeuvre by virtue of its raw power of representing disruption, fracture and decay. His art actually tends toward and makes its first impact by the serene and the amiable, for the world view on which it rests is ancient and timeless. However, as in nature, the imperturbable solidity and cosmic calm is threatened by the forces of rupture and fracture – the cast of Villány pitted against crystalline perfection. Indeed, Ádám’s Stonefall in Villány is the quintessential example of concept art or land art. Ecological and natural, this work is the result not of intervention but of discovery, and only bears a vanishingly subtle trace of the human hand.
The objet trouvé as a work of art is certainly lucrative in its sheer potential, but it can be treacherous when it tempts the artist to follow the path of least resistance. For Ádám Farkas, as we have seen, found objects are proffered by nature itself.
Early on in his career, his transmutations of the hills of the Pilis range into drawings and reliefs of near-geological precision already intimated the primordial female principle, the beauty of the female body as the source of life and love. The same geological inspiration found a far more natural vehicle of expression in the Stonefall at Villány.
Yes, this is indeed love – the love of an essentially ecological point of view, naturally fertilised by the temporal dimension and forms of microcosmic and macrocosmic processes. This art, with its cosmic scale and erosion of forms, has been hailed by a famous American physicist as the ultimate representation of entropy. Yet Ádám’s statues, the very same statues, at once portray the emergence of forms out of chaos, the act of Creation itself, which is ceaseless and never-ending in contrast to our own mutability.
One may be tempted to conclude that this Creation–Time in Ádám’s work is so gigantic in its sheer breadth and scale that it may seem inhumanly cold and aloof. In reality, however, it merely reduces our self-centred European ego back into the dimension to which it properly belongs, without smothering the fire of emotion. For these works always reveal wounds, the marks of passion and suffering. They always have their inception in the irrational, and emerge from a purely emotional inspiration, as Ádám himself has frequently confessed in interviews and reflections. In short, it all goes back to inspiration.
The susceptibility of Ádám Farkas to such volcanic eruptions of inspiration is so elemental that it is only matched by the power of his systematic, enormous exertion of the sculptor’s trade. In the process, which often takes months, the literally painstaking work of carving stone leaves sore muscles and bruised palms of hands as it transmutes matter into perfect forms which forge elemental feelings, the volcanic eruptions of world-engendering logos and the female principle, into an ordered unity with the composure and systematic discipline of masculine reason. In these works, we recognise our own eternal internal drama, the tension of twisted columns pressing against the confines of their own form.
It is the same drama that plays out in front of us in its many guises on the stage of this exhibition – the largest to date devoted to Ádám Farkas, who recently turned 70. Although the biggest works are represented in suitably sized photographs owing to their sheer scale and immovability, the exhibition makes up for their necessary absence by featuring a series of hitherto unseen works lent by private collectors, as well as a number of early works hitherto consigned to unworthy, dust-collecting oblivion in the artist’s home.
We express our gratitude to the city of Szentendre and the directors of Ferenczy Museum and the Art Mill to make this impressive exhibition possible. We would especially like to thank the two curators, Emőke Bodonyi and Bea Istvánkó, and, last but not least, the artist himself, for the scrupulous and demanding work of paving the way for this event and for the wonderfully structured, deliberate order of the exhibition space.
(The essay is an English version of the opening address of the exhibition, delivered on 18 September, 2015.)
Translation by Péter Balikó Lengyel