Nagy’s other artistic endeavours do not lend themselves to use as a type of decoration in daily life. They deal too much with release mechanisms and the outward effects of the media. Among them are illustrated stories about personal encounters and aggression. And they are first and foremost pictures of women.
At this point we have to digress somewhat and take a closer look at art history. The image, in other words the notion one has of a female as motif in the visual arts, is one of a beautiful picture. The depiction of a beautiful woman, the nude figure of mythology, the beautiful portrait of a woman, the attractive nude, Renoir’s bathers, the nursing of a babe in the depictions of the Virgin Mary, the embroidery scenes of Vermeer, the Biedermeier-style painting or depiction of a rural household. Violence against women – something which doesn’t correspond to that beautiful image – is sublimated through the historical dimension the same way as violent scenes and crucifixions. The content is ignored and the focus is instead on the distinguishing stylistic features.
Generally speaking, there is no departure from this image until we come to view contemporary art. For the first time since the woman painter of the Renaissance, Artemisia Gentileschi, we encounter violence against women and perpetrated by women in public art galleries. Perhaps the appearance of brute force set in with Niki de Saint Phalle, who more or less shot her way out of the experiences which left their mark on her life. Or perhaps it was Valie Export with her provocative, feminist actions. Thereupon followed a breach of all conventions and taboos. The self-depictions made by women, encompassing all possible fields of possible and undreamt-of artistic expression, reached their climax in action and video art as well as in the New Media – often combined with sadomasochistic self-inflicted damage reaching to the maximum personally tolerable limit.
As an artist, Erzsebet Nagy stands in a row of women whose themes are derived from their own personalities, their own experience, from self-observation and their own accentuated view of events. But her methods of self-inspection and self-reflection are, in a contemporary sense, traditional in nature. She uses things like the collage, a mixture of artistic techniques on canvas and paper. The medium of the photograph, including her own photos, merely serve as raw material for the classical panel painting. Fiddling around with computer graphics is not her bag either. She needs to do manual work with the material, she needs a hands-on approach. In addition to the microcosm of the details depicted she needs the grand gesture of painting itself, of spontaneity and concealment.
The direct trigger for the photograph in an illustrated magazine is processed mechanically, torn out, cut out, pasted, removed again, painted over, covered up, drawn over, accentuated, combined with a text. Known things are made anonymous through the use of scraps of words stuck together. The beholder is put onto a certain track through the use of integrated headlines and titles. The inducement to read something is tantamount to a feeling of uneasiness on account of the assumed, but at the same time unrecognizable connections. Coarse artistic retouching reinforces to the extreme this trigger mechanism of lips and eyes. The appealing factors and eye-openers discerned in the mirror of professional make-up are transferred to the pictures through the use of coarse retouching, making them more distinct and deliberate.
The effect of the commercialized sexual appeals is encapsulated in the images within the focused parts. This effect, which is supposed to be unconscious, is laid on ‚thick’, both literally and metaphorically. And is thus uncovered and betrayed by the resulting likeness of a mask.
As ‚superficial’ as Nagy’s pictures might be – the basic material remains the slick resemblance of beautiful people. In such a manner, the artistic gesture and reworking process concentrates, clarifies and distorts this slickness. Illustrations of these symbols of sex merely serve as a peg to hang things on, as a guide and as an eye-catcher. It is not about sex, on the contrary it’s all about its absence and the search for it.
As much as Nagy’s pictures display power and force and as international as they may be on account of the use of mainly Anglo-American titles and text integrations, they hardly at all reflect politics. This is something which scarcely moves the artist. Current themes are something we will only discover in the reflection on war from the year 1999 which is comprised of a collage of pictures from TV – called ‚after-storming’ . The models could just as easily be from the year 2003. An air of hopeless timelessness surrounds the monochrome illustrated story.
Things historical and political such as the legendary photograph depicting the end of the war in 1945 in Time Square in New York, with its expression of spontaneity and joy at the return of the victors, are transformed into a personal love story. The perfect symbol of the end of fear turns into a personally anonymous ‚kissing’.