Katona György – from the world, into the Light
The cultural melting pot of Transylvania with its spiritual and geographical dimensions comprised in the Romanian philosopher Lucian Blaga concept of hill-valley, valley-hill, represented for many generations of artists the matrix of the native land, but also the living water fountain and everlasting spring of creativity. This is the case of with the complex artist, who is more than a painter - Katona György.
He was born in the town of Oradea in 1960, but he spent the childhood in the village of Sărmășag, Sălaj county, where his family had lived for generations already. Having been initiated in the taste of artistic craftsmanship by his father, he moved to Cluj-Napoca where he graduated from the Art High School and later on from the „Ion Andreescu” Art Institute, class of 1984. He integrated into the local artistic movement and the exhibition network of region. He returned to his origins and settled down in Oradea from where he would emigrate in 1989 to Hungary. He made that new place home, becoming, after a time, a teacher at the local Reformed College in the town of Pápa, near Győr, Hungary.
I wandered myself through the places where Katona György used to live, not far by the Austrian border, in order to get to the place where he found his peace - the school and his house and workshop where he spent half of his life. From the long hallway of the building that used to be a school, his paintings lined up on the walls lead the visitor - just like an honor committee - to the epicenter of the place: his workshop. In there you can find a labyrinth made up from stacks of paintings that are everywhere, and where one steps in timidly, afraid not to disturb the works of the apprentice wizard whose presence can be still felt everywhere in the place.
The hundreds of paintings that are scattered all over the workshop and around the house, stand as proof of a creator for whom his art was the Alpha and Omega - the beginning and the end, daily spiritual food and tireless work done until the very end.
Seeing the number of paintings done, one is overwhelmed by the multitude of works that make the chaotic diversity of the workshop. By taking a close look, one can distinguish organized categories that enhance the viewers’ sight and allow him/her to get close to the author’s original thought, to his creative struggle .
Trained at both the Romanian and Hungarian art schools, after he lived in the Romanian cultural environment, rhere were no visible cultural borders for Katona György; he felt free in his artistic expression and movement like the birds in the sky. The themes of his creation unveil a versatile artist. His artistic repertoire includes a nucleus of recurrent themes, permanently enriched with fresh new topics. His frequent participations at the creation workshops from Jebucu, Mădăraș, Buda, Tihany and others transformed him into a traveller through a wonderful landscape. He described in his paintings landscapes, reliefs, vegetation, the atmosphere but also some artificial landscape.
Katona György descends from the stylistic tradition of the Baia Mare painting school – plein air - that has an inclination for places from nature, houses, churches or modest edifices that are rundown or even abandoned. He even manages to cast upon them a lively light that makes us perceive them as a paradise lost.
The human face is a topic generally tackled, singled out in individual portraits, group portraits or even self-portraits. Since they are many, they form a gallery in which there are characters from the painter’s close circle - family and friends - or even his own person in a series of representations that allow the artist to reach the emotional, psychological and spiritual side dimension of the subject painted.
The sacred and the mythology altogether represent a different chapter in his constant preoccupations that are always reiterated: Jonah, Adam and Eve, The Last Supper, Dinner at Emmaus, The Veil of Saint Veronica etc. The themes belonging to this art register bring together works that are in a series, like beads on a string, stretched along many years apart and loaded with a complex web of meanings.
Katona György’s workshop used to be a lab for technical experiments and endless search in a game of the apprentice wizard. The artwork techniques come together in a diverse repertoire, unexpected in many way: oil on canvas and plywood, even acrylic and a multitude of blended artistic technique approaches. We can notice watercolors, crayon and charcoal drawings, India inks, hatching firm lines that are elegant and precise, and also have wide surfaces.
He took on the etching technique by working in ink, with negatives manufactured with the needle on aluminum plates. On those are represented revered artists and poets like József Attila and Petőfi Sándor through letters and lines from their poems. Through hard work and perseverance he managed to forge
his own specific artistic language like many other artists haunted by the mystery of searching different forms of expression and different meanings of creation.
He worked as a painter - and being also the son of a sculptor, Katona György actually tried in some of his works to make the paint stick out of the canvas, combining different textures of thick rugged paste. In some other cases he added to his paintings patinated gypsum that lead to a surprising symbiosis with the canvas. This technique was conducive to the tactile perception of the deep lines, valleys, ridges and contours on which light flows like a stream of water and breaks down in different angles available to the eye of the viewer. For this kind of artworks he looked for and insisted on old people’s complexions with wrinkled facial features like the one represented in Saint Veronica’s Veil or his mother’s portrait or even his self-portrait.
A different technique that he refined through a lot of practice lead him to the filtering of details and decomposing them in distinct fragments contained within intersected lines that add up into straight or curved networks of pathways. The whole compositional structure relates strikingly to the illusion of stained glass that is flooded with light. By using this technique, Katona György reuses some of former artistic themes that he had worked on in a rather conventional manner at first or he approaches new ones related to the statuary representations of King Mathias Corvin or Count Wesselényi, which are works of the artist Fádrusz János.
His whole life was just a whisper, tireless search for perfection. Like an authentic alchemist he worked in his house/workshop until his took his last breath.
Late at night, in the wee hours of 4th December night in 2021, right before dawn, while his brush was still clenched to the colors of his canvas, he told his son Dávid that his painting was done. Then he went to sleep and at daybreak, while still dreaming, he left into the Light.
Written by Florin Gherasim, June 2022
Translated by Sebastian Rus