József Csató: Crossing the Invisible

17 February - 19 March 2022

Sean Horton (Presents) is pleased to announce the New York solo debut of Hungarian painter József Csató — the exhibition is the first in a year-long series to be held at 515 West 20th Street, 3rd Floor in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City.


In what has become his signature style, the paintings of József Csató are rooted in a practice that the artist refers to as “sketchbook mythologies.”  Emerging from a sort of doodle’s paradise, the artist’s mostly biomorphic, yet personified, pencil drawings sometimes sprout from page to canvas where they join others to build a brave new world. 


Calling his studio a “microcosm” where ideas “fertilize” others, the resulting paintings often establish a relationship between the natural and the human-made. And while the scenes are not overtly dystopian, there is the slightly sinister implication that we have just missed some sort of event or that we may be to blame for the interruption. In Calibrating Feelings (all works 2021), colorful stems and stalks are stuffed into pastel pottery-like containers that are hovering around a woodgrain-like surface with glowing eyes — one can’t help but think of that not-entirely-welcoming jangle of the shopkeeper’s bell that causes us to adjust to the sudden stillness of our local florist. “Just looking…” we say to alleviate the tension. 


While Csató paints mostly intuitively, there is a sense of display or organization that brings to mind words like diorama, menagerie, or collection, however, the experience of these scenes is freely meandering. For example, Finally We Meet could easily be a fairy tale version of an afternoon walk through a sculpture garden or a natural history museum — one where the artist’s turquoise overpainting recedes to become a sky with heavy, colorful clouds and the bulbous Miró-like form is guarded by the weathered minerality of some sort of beast…maybe prehistoric, maybe friendly? In Butterfly Trap II, a scene is set, in dramatic form, for a bashful central character that is ever-so-slightly revealed through Wisteria-colored curtains, but on this occasion the artist’s employment of a bone-colored surface melds into the shape of a bell jar. 


The artist’s affinity for dry pigments, matte surfaces, and pastel colors reveals a yearning for the past while his constant return to the sketchbook gives rise to an optimistic, unadulterated sense of imagination. To quote the artist: “I like to melt past and present together. I search to depict a world where our sufferings, anxieties, and everyday feelings can live together in a simple and sometimes funny way.”


József Csató (b. 1980, Mezökövesd, HU) lives and works in Budapest, HU. The artist attended the University of Fine Arts, Budapest, HU and the University of Fine Arts, Nürnberg, DE. He is a three-time recipient of the honorable Gyula Derkovits Scholarship, receiving the award from 2013-2015. In 2013, he also received the prominent Esterhazy Prize, a national award for Hungarian artists. His work has recently been featured in exhibitions at Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna, AT and Deák Erika Gallery, Budapest, HU; upcoming exhibitions include: Plus One Gallery, Antwerp, BE and Double Q Gallery, HK. His work was recently acquired by the Ludwig Museum, Budapest, HU. 



Q&A with József Csató

The title of the exhibition Crossing the invisible references a book by Jean-Luc Marion. I've also heard it said that central problem for abstract painters is "what" to paint. Where do you find inspiration and what guides your imagery?

I like the excitement of rendering a kind of semi-figurative painting into an abstract set of rules. I am in love with surfaces and structures, but at the same time I love to be surprised by the meetings of certain shapes too. The process is invisible. I often find inspiration in ontology or biology. I think sometimes we do cross the invisible — it can be wifi frequencies or maybe radio signals sent by aliens or maybe a bunch of other things we are not aware of or don't have enough knowledge about. For example, before scientific discoveries, illnesses were believed to be invisible curses from a witch, but now we understand that illnesses are caused by microbes and bacteria. Everything is just a matter of time. 


You live and work in Budapest, which is known for its architecture, but the abstracted forms of your paintings often reference nature. Are you able to experience nature on a regular basis in the city or do you have to escape to somewhere more rural?


I am really lucky with Budapest because it is a two-faced city, actually it was two cites in the old times (Buda and Pest) divided by the river Danube. Buda is the more green side and pest is the city. So if you feel like you can always escape inside the city to see green, or to have a few quiet hours by the river. I get inspired also by the architecture lately. On the other hand I grew up in the countryside, and my parents still live there, so it's also a good opportunity for me to get lost in the mountains for few days. Nature is really important to me.


Your palette reminds me of the sun-faded colors of Italian architecture or the aging murals of Mexico City. Do you have specific color references in mind while painting or do you work intuitively? 


Most of the time I work intuitively, but if have a vague plan it's always about colour. From time to time, I get inspired by everyday sights or situations — it could be an old lady’s clothing, ice cream on the pavement, or even dust on a car.


There also seems to be a ritual-like rhythm or symbolic repetition to some of your compositions. Does music plan an important role in your studio practice?

In my studio from time to time I go back to the same music, which I would rather call soundscapes. I like the kind of ambient carpets that have no rhythms — I really like the pieces which have an almost natural randomness, like Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon. It often feels like watching a tree in the soft breeze and guessing which leaves will move next. Repetition is important to me, but I also need to keep it in a natural randomness. Sometimes I only see the patterns a few years later in retrospect.

During these last two years of limited travel your studio practice seems to have truly flourished. Have you found that a heightened sense of interiority and escapism have allowed you to be more productive?

For sure all these things have an impact on my works. I feel glad when I think about my practice and the freedom I can experience through it. The day by day experiments and failures give me momentum and fuel the continuity. In this way my studio can become a microcosm, where ideas can circulate but at the same time they always can be fertilized by new inspirations. I’ve never had a hard time with productivity — it’s because of the studio life itself. There are always other things to do besides painting, which guides my attention to other dimensions. In my opinion, every human being should have a studio; a safe place where she/he can play around or just be alone for awhile, and leave it as it is, without the pressure of leaving it in a neat condition. The same goes for the paintings. I like to leave them while the ball is still bouncing. Nothing is more boring than going back to studio for a finished painting. And ‘boring’ is the opposite of ‘art’ in my vocabulary.