2015. október 30., péntek


The Small Graphics Circle invites all of you to a presentation by István Orosz on Nov. 3 on Tuesday. The location is the Auctioneer in Bedő House, Budapest VII., Erzsébet krt. 37. first floor, time: 5pm.
On the next day, (4th of November) the literary work of István Orosz will be the topic. His book The Ambassador and the Pharaoh (A követ és a fáraó) will be presented by Mary Illyés and The Chess Game on the Island (Sakkparti a szigeten) will be explained by Antal Babus, the director of The Manuscripts and Rare Books Department of OSZK. The location is the Makovecz hall in the Pesti Vigadó time:17 pm Nov. 4.
Two days later, on 6th of November (Friday) in Győr, in the frame of the Book Salon also The Chess Game will be discussed by Grászli Betti (Director of the local Museum) and the author. The presentation will take place on the podium of the National Theatre on 5 pm. (The otherwise unobtainable Chess Game on the Island will be available in both places.)

2015. október 12., hétfő


Poem and Poet from an Anamorphic Point of View

Artists have many sources of ideas, just as they have a favourite medium. In this article, I describe how I used the work of Edgar Allan Poe as the source of inspiration for a mirror anamorphosis. I not only used his poem The Raven but also his essay The Philosophy of Composition to guide my creation process just as he did for the poem.

I studied graphic design at the University of Art and Design in Budapest, my diploma works were poster designs and later I started to make animated films, as well. The strange duality of posters, that is, they mean different things if seen from a distance and from close and the miracle of the moving image led me to experiment with illusion in fine arts. All these happened in the seventies and eighties in the previous century in that part of the world, where speaking enigmatically had a strange political piquancy. Enigmas and illusion lead to the anamorphosis, a design technique well-known in the Baroque and later forgotten. This two-dimensional technique uses a special point of view or a mirroring object to reveal the secret of the distorted image. Of course, if you start to draw anamorphoses, have to understand geometry and need to study the science of perspective. But once you take it up, sooner or later you will also fall in love with it. As for me, I already want to get others to fall in love with anamorphoses, and maybe this is the reason for this short text.
I write about such issues that occurred to me while designing a catoptric or mirror anamorphosis. The picture itself is an illustration of a poem, The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe. “The bonus” is in the mirror placed on the picture: the portrait of the poet. The text is going to explain the connection between the two illustrations with the help and criticism of Poe’s art philosophical ideas. 
Inspiration or design? When speaking about a work of art, you may want to know which of these predominated in its creation. The author of one work I chose to illustrate also asked this question and his answer was that a work of art can be created consciously “with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem”. The writer was Edgar Allan Poe and the work was The Raven. Poe wrote an essay, The Philosophy of Composition, in which he offers a radical theory on the creative process as he describes what lies behind his poem. (This essay is reproduced on page XX and the poem is on page XX.)
The Raven remains one of the most widely recognized and respected poems in literature. How the situation is established is astonishing, embarrassing and, it has to be admitted, faintly comic as well. A talking raven lands in a room: at a first reading (or listening), you can hardly take it or the situation seriously. However, with Poe, you can never tell what he takes seriously and how seriously he takes it. An idea making no sense could end in a question of life and death, and sentences that sound straightforward may be intended as parodies. Therefore The Philosophy of Composition too has to be read with certain reservations. Who would believe Poe’s claim that intuition is not needed to compose poems, that inspiration does not exist? That all you need to compose a poetical work is a logical, step-by-step design and that effects have to be cautiously and precisely calculated?
When translating the poem visually, my first step was to show the time and the place, or at least what we know of it from the text. Clearly, it is the home of the narrator, easily depicted through “homely” disorder (shoes kicked off, books all over the place etc., at least my home looks like this). I didn’t want to use these objects as a reference to the fact that the poem was written in 1845; I depicted them as of today and, quite selfishly, I “left” there some of the devices that I needed for creating illustrations and for designing my anamorphoses. Although this kind of self-reflection does connect to the Romanticism of Poe and to twentieth-century Postmodernism, the fine, etching-like character of the coloured drawing unmistakenly indicates the nineteenth-century time frame. Picturing the precise time of day, however, is more complex – the poem says it is midnight. The geometrical equivalent of midnight in the image is symmetry, and so I used a sphere within a square as the basic structure of the composition and distinctly highlighted its centre. The symmetry, present in Poe’s poem as well, is the result of viewing from above, a bird’s-eye perspective. Of course, if we were to be satisfied with the top-view, with the raven’s eye view of the milieu, that would definitely not be enough to fully interpret the situation; but to depict the raven itself would be perhaps overdoing it. This problem also goes back to the question whether a raven really does make its appearance, or is only the product of the narrator’s imagination. The greatest virtue of the poem is that it does not come down decisively on either side. If a real raven is depicted, then a side is taken. Is it possible for the illustrator, as it was for Poe, to keep an open mind? Yes, it is, if a depiction of the bird is avoided, and only its shadow, its image in a mirror is represented, or anything that refers to a raven —in this way an open mind is kept. My illustration presents all three possibilities. The dark shade in the middle of the picture can be taken as the shadow of the bird hovering above; in the wine cup, the beat of a wing is reflected; the illustrations in a natural history book lying open on the table also depict a raven.
The next issue is the identity of the narrator. He hovers between sleep and wakefulness, hence he is shown as slumped over the table (“While I nodded, nearly napping”), and this also circumvents the question whether Poe and the narrator are the same. The empty armchair opposite this figure and the drapery on it refer to the loss of the lady in the poem. To symbolize love, two books are intertwined.
In The Philosophy of Composition Poe argues at length that the monotony of the frequently repeated refrain lends the poem its melancholy. In the illustration, there is a monotony in the repetitive pattern of the parquet floor, and in the books and the sheets of paper scattered everywhere. The books and the illustrations on the pages bear out Poe’s notion that consciousness and calculation, intellect instead of “fine frenzy”, lead the creative process; it is also crucial that they allow none of the important details to be omitted. I would have been sorry to leave out the bust of Pallas Athene, highlighted by Poe in his essay too.
On re-reading the poem or Poe’s comments on its creation, one senses that he is intentionally hiding something. The blurred mystical-metaphysicality of the poem and the provocative brainstorming of The Philosophy of Composition seem to there to distract.  So that you wouldn’t recognize a soul torn by fear and doubt, so that you wouldn’t take the first-person narrator seriously, so that you shouldn’t identify him with Poe. He did not have a dead lover called Lenore, his room did not contain a bust of Pallas Athene; yet there is no doubt that the shadow of the raven hovers over Poe’s soul, destiny and life. If you have not been aware of this, the fifth line of the penultimate stanza (“Take thy beak from out my heart”) makes you sure that here it is the poet speaking and not his narrator, slumped over his books. This is the first metaphor that re-interprets the whole poem as it has developed and clarifies the symbolic character of the bird.
Someone viewing my illustration (I would call any such person a co-creator) will place a cylindrical mirror onto that point which covers the bird’s reflection in the wine glass; in so doing, they emphasize the metaphoric interpretation of the poem and of the picture. In the mirror is reflected Edgar Allan Poe’s virtual face, made up of the objects lying horizontally, the requisites of the illustration for The Raven. Once the cylinder is raised, the face disappears, what is left are these scattered objects, the shades, the man lying on his face and the empty room.
Poe claims in his essay that the most important effect to be created in a work of art is that which allows it to be interpreted backwards. His conclusion explains all the parts of the composition and their role in the whole. Poe was true to this in most of his works.  In fact, the same compositional scheme is at work for an anamorphosis that has a second meaning, since by placing a cylindrical mirror onto the centre of the paper, the viewer will realise why certain objects have been placed in the picture.  
How can you distort an image so that it only becomes visible and recognizable in a mirror of the right size and from a certain angle? This is what I did: I selected a photograph of Poe and made a line-drawing from it. (Figure 1)Then I produced a reflection of the picture (so that when its reflection appears in the mirror, the original image can be seen). I drew a grid of 11 columns and 9 lines upon the picture, adding numbers and letters for the sake of clarity. The drawing was first reflected vertically, and then horizontally to be reading to turn into the anamorphosis. (Figure 2)
Then I drew eleven concentric circles from the centre of the illustration, and split the area into nine pie slices. In other words I made a distorted form of the grid of squares. I then had to redraw the image in the small squares in the exact deformation into the exact plane figure. (Figure 3) I placed the cylindrical mirror from time to time onto the centre to check the work.

Once the squares are filled in correctly, Poe’s image appears in the mirror. Now came the most interesting part: what I had to figure out was how the elements of the distorted image can be exchanged for other details, for other objects in the picture. How can a round desk-top stand for the curve of the forehead, a pen or a pencil for the eyebrow, a watch for a necktie, the shadow of the raven for the writer’s waistcoat, etc. These objects were drawn conventionally as shown in figure 4. Then they were arranged as in figure 5.
If we consider The Philosophy of Composition, this is no more than practical creation, logical composition and a systematic sorting out within the possible solutions. The procedure I have followed in composing an anamorphosis is actually what Poe suggested in his essay. What the artist should do is first to dismantle and deform reality, then create, through his imagination and intellect, a new but unreal world out of these realities. This creative process does not require inspiration—at least so Poe says—and there is no place for irrational melancholy or for subconscious instincts. Art should stand apart from the uncontrollable flow of emotions, creativity should be led intellectually, so that pure art can be created merely on a mathematical basis.
I find it interesting that Poe expressed great interest in the characteristics of optics and visual perception. In his short story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, the detective, Auguste Dupin, explains how the details and the different viewpoints should be used to examine something as a whole—and then, with surprising precision, describes the technique of distorted perception.
Truth is not always in a well. In fact, as regards the more important knowledge, I do believe that it is invariably superficial. The depth lies in the valleys where we seek it, and not upon the mountain-tops where it is found. The modes and sources of this kind of error are well typified in the contemplation of the heavenly bodies. To look at a star by glances—to view it in a side-long way, by turning toward it the exterior portions of the retina (more susceptible to feeble impressions of light than the interior), is to behold the star distinctly—is to have the best appreciation of its lustre—a lustre which grows dim just in proportion as we turn our vision fully upon it. A greater number of rays actually fall upon the eye in the latter case, but in the former, there is the more refined capacity for comprehension.
When designing my anamorphosis to Poe’s poem, I attempted to work with a conscious and calculating mind, but I was also aware of traps such childish logic might lead me into. All I could hope for was that the ‘inexplicable’, too, always has and will have a role in all kind of creative work.

2015. október 4., vasárnap


It was in a mirror, at some time, in some place, that the first act of recognition occurred, the point when man stared into the ocean, saw his face in its infinity, grew anxious, and began to ask, ‘Who is that?...’

(Sándor Márai: Casanova in Bolzano)

Who would not be tempted, would not be thrown into a fever at times, trying to visualise the world fettered to the three dimensions of existence, on the two-dimensional plane, or even in the four-dimensional hyperspace? Beautiful as it may be, the undertaking is futile: foredoomed to failure. For all intents and purposes, we are unable to imagine our visible world other than in its three dimensions, neither from here nor from beyond. Even when thinking of points, lines or planes, we always do so as parts of space; moreover, let us admit, when we envisage the notion of time, even then it is along endless networks oscillating in space that nostalgias projected into the past and the future haunt us. There is one single component of our created world, one physical and metaphysical entity that is an exception, and that is the mirror. The mirror and the mirror-image. Behind the luminous surface, the replica of reality without dimension, existence faced with itself, visibly three-dimensional, yet its planar image, the dividing line that can touch the whole universe. Not space – only its husked vision, not depth – only its releasing mystery, not creation – only its symbol divested of dimensions: the mirror. Albeit obscurely, nevertheless through the mirror we can recognise the world. Videmus nunc per speculum in aenigmate[1] And perhaps it can be represented through the mirror.

  When we seek the origins of artistic representation, the mirror-image is generally the first to be mentioned (as the counterpart to the cast shadow). Did Narcissus know – who fell in love in the trace in that obscure, illusory replica, rippled by waves, who looked back at him from the mirror of the river – that the mirror-image that had just been born would also grow old with him? Perhaps he suspected so, but nevertheless secretly hoped that the facsimile would with some sort of artifice remain ageless and outlive him. It is this belief, the hope in immortality, that sustains occupation in art.

  Man encloses the plane of creation into an angle of 180 degrees. To put it another way: our basic condition is the mirror – our sentence, and our fate, is just that. Man originally entered into the world in such a way that he would see himself in things. He is incapable of seeing, feeling or comprehending anything as independent of himself. He can only correlate every experience with himself. “My poems hope to sing of universes, but never reach beyond my lonely cell” – wrote Mihály Babits, and this immodest attitude, whether acknowledged or not, prevails in every author. “Thinking functions in such a way that one thinks one’s self, art in such a way that it becomes conscious of itself, and the poet will be a poet by beholding himself. To compose poetry, to reflect, to look in the mirror ... all these ultimately are one and the same.” This narcissistic recognition formulated by Valery brought on perhaps the most significant change in the arts: the open acceptance and declaration of self-reflection, and it is conjecturable that societal alienation from the arts was also a consequence of this proclaimed isolation. Nowadays if someone depicts a mirror, or a reflection appears in the picture, either consciously or instinctively, it speaks about art itself. Of course, I suspect that it has always been this way.

  The painter’s master is the mirror – wrote Leonardo at one point, and we can choose as we like among the many possibilities to comprehend the sentence left mysteriously open. In the professional circles, they often recommend checking the finished work of art by looking at it in the mirror. If the picture is good, its mirror-image should also work. The mirror can come into play as a device to aid perspectival drawing. There is a sketch of Leonardo, in which a draughtsman fixes the picture of the object depicted on a mirror, and he draws around it. This solution is quite similar to the presumed procedure by which Brunelleschi invented the technique of perspectival depiction.[2] And of course, the quotation can also be comprehended philosophically: it is the task of the artist “to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature”.[3] We can also observe that concealed in the slightly old-fashioned word “speculate” is the Latin speculum, i.e., the mirror. The primary meaning of the verb was to watch, to scrutinise, which, of course, is closely related to the mirror, but by now in the European languages rather the secondary meaning referring to meditation, excogitation entered. The French spéculer (= argue, profiteer), the English speculate (= ponder), and the German spekulieren (= reason, profiteer) all stand close to the Hungarian spekulál referring to cogitation. Among my works engaged with mirrors and reflections there are those that evoke older well-known mirror representations. I have produced graphic paraphrases of the famous convex mirror of Jan Van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Portrait, and that of Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas.[4] My compositions employing mirrors belong to the most curious, or if you like, the most speculative portion of the anamorphoses.

  For a good number of years, I have engaged in the slightly naïve, slightly mystic offshoot of the depiction of perspective that was so popular in the 16-17th centuries, then became a forgotten genre. Art history uses the terminus technicus for such amorphic illustrations, without meaning, that take on significance from an uncommon viewpoint, or on the cloak of an object of reflective surface they expose their secrets. The viewer of an anamorphosis, and not only – in following the infamous saying of Duchamp – the artist, completes it; he “does” it himself, identifying also his own viewer’s nature. As he discovers the exact viewpoint, as he recognises the image that is re-distorted to become intelligible, at the same time, he also defines his own spatial coordinates. The viewer of an anamorphosis observes not the sight appearing on the retina, but rather the correlations between the artwork and her/himself. S/he should concentrate on where s/he finds her/his place in the space created by the work of art, or more precisely that designated by the visual rays diverging from the work, and on what sort of mutations the movements of the meaning of the image lead to. While this occurs in the physical space, s/he also involuntarily observes the reception in her/himself, if you like, the mental mechanism of “artistic pleasure” in the spiritual space generated by the anamorphosis. The viewer who makes contact with anamorphoses might feel more independent, but also more vulnerable. For s/he has awakened to the altered position: now it is not her/him standing at the centre of the world. On the one hand, s/he senses the wonder of the creation of the image, but also the fact that s/he is left alone with the illusion that appears in her/his consciousness, but does not even exist in reality.

  Perhaps familiar with my mirror-plays and my reflections with these games, I came to the mind of Bruno Ernst[5], who decided to send me the drawing that he had originally intended for Escher. He sent me a pencil sketch, depicting a mirror and a portal, moreover, in such an artful arrangement that the area behind the opening of the gate can only be seen through the mirror. He had originally destined the idea for Escher, offering it to him to make a lithograph based on the design, but the sickly artist could no longer do the work. In effect, the mirror-cylinder for anamorphoses fills exactly the same function as the mirror in the Ernst-sketch, since both render the hidden meaning of the image visible. In the first case, the mirror is a part of the drawing, while in the other, it is a real object, independent of the picture. This however, is not the definitive difference, but rather the nature of the image appearing in the mirror – the “picture within a picture”. As opposed to the two-dimensional “reality” of the drawing, the image of the anamorphosis is merely a virtual phenomenon, which cannot be grasped either in the horizontal figure, or on the surface of the placed over it mirror. It coasts somewhere on the rollercoaster between the retina and the cerebrum. We might say mysteriously that it is a “speculation” of two-and-a-half dimensions, referring again to the correlations between speculum and speculari.

Based on the Ernst-sketch, I produced a number of works. I would say that among them, my etching entitled The Well remains closest to the original conception of Bruno Ernst and M. C. Escher, at least if I think that they wanted to show a fabled landscape behind the portal. The “fairytale” attribute refers to carefree youth, as I tried to portray a panorama of the Amalfi bay, where Escher spent such beautiful periods. I formed the bleak environs on this side of the portal in such a way that they would conceal a 1934 self-portrait of Escher, which was could be rendered visible with the aid of a mirror-cylinder, i.e., anamorphically. The etching-anamorphosis was made in 1998, for the one-hundredth anniversary of Escher’s birth, and its first public presentation was at the centennial Escher Congress in Rome.[6] In my lecture, I expressed that although I had prepared the etching, nevertheless I think of The Well as the work of the three of us: Ernst, Escher and myself. While I will admit that there is a measure of ostentation in this formulation, nevertheless I will continue thus: in every artwork born in the present, somehow, within, hidden, perhaps unintentionally, are the countless layers of cultural history, deposited one upon the other. Sometimes they may be discerned, similarly to the wall of a profouondly deep well.

[1] Paul the Apostle: “For now, we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face.” (I Corinthians, 13:12)

[2] The punctured panel depicting the Battistero in Florence, which had to be viewed through a mirror in order to produce the illusion of perspective, was lost over time. We are familiar with it only through the descriptions of Manetti and Vasari. My installation entitled In memoriam Brunelleschi was an attempt to reconstruct the process.

[3] Shakespeare: Hamlet.

[4] Johannes de Eyck fuit hic, etching, 1998; Velázquez spectaculum, etching, 2002.

[5] Dutch mathematician and art writer. He was born Hans de Rijk.

[6] In 1998 La Sapienzia University in Rome organised the congress and exhibition in connection with the centennial of Escher’s birth. The conference lectures were published by Springer in 2002 under the title, M. C. Escher’s Legacy. The exhibition material was published by the periodical Leonardo.