State of the Art: Barnabás Lakatos Gelléri

Anna Walker 24 August 2021

We spoke with Hungarian artist Barnabás Lakatos Gelléri ahead of his new solo show at London’s The David Kovats Gallery

How would you describe your own artwork? 

Barnabas with one of his paintings

In my paintings, I present my life's different situations and experiences through a simplified system of symbols. I think that my sense of happiness, my struggles, and my feelings are general human experiences. Why do we return to the questions of ancient mythology? I think it is because the human condition has not changed much. In my paintings, I would like to reflect on the universal experiences present in all of us.

 My paintings and I are usually labelled as queer, punk, or Eastern European. My works are hard to classify because I have not met anyone yet who paints similarly. But in my mind, my life and my paintings are inseparable: my paintings are just projections of the life I live. From what kind of mug I use when I drink my coffee in the morning, or what colour my nail polish is, or what type of book I read, or what kind of music I listen to, or who I spend my time with—these all influence what I paint. So, I cannot, and I do not separate other areas of my life from my art. Labels, such as queer or punk, are all accurate because this is what my life is about.

What I paint is not directly about being queer, nor am I brandishing this tag or label, but I am still glad that people know this part of me because it is an essential part of my identity, and I want to encourage others.

"What I paint is not directly about being queer, nor am I brandishing this tag or label, but I am still glad that people know this part of me because it is an essential part of my identity, and I want to encourage others"

What can you tell us about upcoming show? 

My debut exhibition is presented in David Kovats Gallery between 5 August - 15 September. I think the exhibition showcases a good selection of my latest works, through which anyone can get insight into my world. It’s a great pleasure for me to finally see multiple works presented together; I think this way my art is so much more expressive and easier to interpret, and, maybe, they help people feel how I feel.

My art makes me feel like an outsider in Hungary. When I started to paint in this style, I never expected anyone to like it at all. Coloured and vivid bulls and snakes—yes, I like them, I see something in them, but I did not expect anyone back home to accept or appreciate my art at all.

Your work is notable for its vivid use of colour. How would you describe your relationship to colour? 

Painting entitled 'Love'

'Love'

Colours can express a lot on their own, much like sounds do. I think we need to let go of our rational concepts in order to let colours overwhelm us in their truest form. When work with colours, I completely let go of my feelings and thoughts. Colours have huge power, and this is something I want to show in my art as much as possible.

I believe that colours also have strong expressive power: I love these colours, and I do not explain them or explain why I love them. I use intuition to guide me when I paint. I really like complementary colours. That is pretty much all I can say about it.

"I use intuition to guide me when I paint"

How does your queer identity inform your artistic practice? 

Fighting bulls

Fighting Bulls

My paintings don’t speak directly about my queer identity, but being queer is definitely part of my art, as every part of my life is reproduced in my work. Being queer means that I do not put myself in a box, and perhaps this sense of freedom is also apparent in my paintings.

I don’t really have a problem with it because I am happy to say that I am queer and that I am known for this. What I paint is not directly about being queer, nor am I brandishing this tag or label; however, I am still glad that people know this part of me because it is an important part of my identity, and I want to encourage others.

In Hungary, we still are not equal in the eyes of politicians or the law: I find it ridiculous that in 2021 gay couples cannot get married and adopt. That is why I show that I am queer—it is a form of protest itself. People need to see that we are here, we are present. They need to get to know us, not follow propaganda; let them see who we really are.

Who are your biggest artistic influences?

It is tough for me to answer this. Medieval art is perhaps one of my most significant sources of inspiration. In terms of painting, however, I was most influenced by Fauvism, Expressionism, and Symbolism.

I am also inspired by certain philosophical questions, such as the importance of silence: I experimented with a few canvases where I did not paint anything in certain places. These carry meaning, like silence in music.

I played the cello for eight years. So, I have a strong background in classical music—in addition to my love of going to techno parties. I go to techno parties, but Mozart is still my favourite [musician]. Just because Pikachu is tattooed on my arm, I still read books and listen to Mozart.

"I go to techno parties, but Mozart is still my favourite [musician]"

Do any particular exhibitions you've visited stand out as formative to your own work?

Many artists and exhibitions have greatly influenced me, and new experiences constantly inspire me. Also, a constant inspiration of mine is antique, ancient, and medieval collections.

I have travelled a lot, but I never lived in a country for a long. I really like Budapest and Eastern Europe. They are the bastions of my identity: the culture, visual identity, the way of thinking. I genuinely consider myself to be Eastern European. I need factory buildings, melancholy, histrionics; I come from this, this is me.

Barnabás Lakatos Gelléri is showing at The David Kovats Gallery until 19 September 2021

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