Throughout art history, the figure in painting has been reinvented time and time again. If you are an artist whose work focuses mainly on the figure as its subject, it must offer something new and fresh to the viewer. This is where Hungarian artist Akos Ezer will not disappoint. His work shows male bodies in action, mid-motion, and creating dynamic movement across the composition. You will find most of his subjects falling or tripping, and often in what seems to be a state of anxiety. Ezer’s work creates a heightened sense of tension not only in the chaos of the falling body, but also in the expression of the face. Even if the figure is not in mid-trip, its fingers are curled, the hands are fidgeting. There is an atmosphere of nervous tension perhaps of what is to come—a feeling we can all relate to.
Join us in conversation as Akos Ezer shares with us his journey developing these psychological scenes, his interest in the human (male) figure, and his lifelong urge to make.
AMM: What motivated you to become an artist? Have you always had the urge to create?
AE: As a child, I came up with a new idea every day. From origami-spider to handmade bow, I wanted to create everything with my own hands. I was driven not the possession of things, but the making of those things. That helped me to think about things differently.
Drawing has always been part of my everyday life, but until my high school years, I hadn’t realize yet that I want to become a painter. This role was not so clear to me or, at that time, it was different for me. The early years at university were a constant party with classmates. After my 3rd year at the university, I realized the expectations of this profession. This time was the moment when I decided to be an artist, and I faced the difficulties.
AMM: You have such a visceral, expressive painting style. Was this something learned while studying art, or has this artistic style always been a part of your aesthetic?
AE: I found my own voice very slowly. In the beginning, it was difficult to break away from the use of photographs or painting from sight. It narrowed the tools and simplified the process. I painted a still life model or I Googled a photo and painted it on the canvas. That time I realized, that’s not what I want to do, and started to paint without reference — everything that I thought. This is a very heavy method for facing yourself. You criticize your own style, your colours and your topic, also. You will hate every brushstroke, but if you do it many times, you can slowly see a pattern behind the surface. Those stylistic elements, situations, and moods are the most important things for you, through which you can get closer and closer to yourself. My interest and concentration changed at that time, and I started to pay attention to another kind of painting. I started to understand another language of art, which depends not on the photorealism, like the styles of Max Beckmann, Georg Baselitz or R. B. Kitaj.
AMM: What interests you about the human figure? Have you always painted this subject?
AE: Six or seven years ago, I painted the landscape with much smaller figures, or environments with lots of floral elements. Those things are still present, but have changed in ratio. The human figures evolved from those paintings until the form they reach today. Nowadays, the focus is absolutely on them. Through the pictures, I’m processing the questions that I also employ as a human being. Everything is a little bit self-reflecting.
AMM: Are the figures in your paintings based on people you know personally? Do you see yourself in your work?
AE: No, no one exists in real life. They are like mannequins for me, but with a little more personality—but they could be me or anyone else. On the other hand, they are the building blocks of the paintings; of course, I overwrite the body parts and subordinate them as painterly tools, abstract shapes or composition elements. I’m seeing myself in every part of the paintings, including the figures. I am looking different, but I can feel similarities with the uncomfortable and awkward situations.
AMM: I noticed that most, if not all, of the people you portray are male. Is there a reason behind this?
AE: There is no special reason—or maybe one. After I stopped using models, reference photos or anything, the only reference was my body and my body parts. If I paint a hand or a pose, I can check it on myself. Maybe there is a second reason: men can be authentic in those stumbling-situations. Or is this a prejudice from me?
AMM: The action of falling, or more specifically, tripping is a reoccurring scene represented in your work. What draws you to this subject? Are you interested in the action aesthetically, psychologically, or both?
AE: Primary psychologically. The figure at rest is timeless. If you paint a dynamic body, you can see a minimum of three pictures: where it comes from, where it is at the time, and what will be the consequence. The situation is similar in the 17th-century Dutch drunken paintings, like Jan Steen’s “Wine is a Mocker”, Adriaen van Ostade’s “Carousing Peasants in a Tavern” or Adriaen Brauwer’s “The Bitter Draught”. Everyone was depicted in action, and in that way those paintings are so realistic—and weird, also. The tripping and outside work scenes are close to my heart, I like travelling and being close the nature. It has a unique romance/idyll, but the vulnerability of modern humans in nature is also interesting for me. On the other hand, aesthetically, the standing or sitting figures not fitting to the shape of the canvas. If you use a body, and you break the rules of anatomy, you can achieve a form that fits better to your space. Everyone will know when you see a human figure and it is actually part of the painting, because it will be true to the rules of the painting.
AMM: There tends to be a somber mood felt in the expressions on the faces of your subjects. Tell us a bit about this melancholic mood in your work.
AE: I very much like the dramatic, excessive contrasts in art. This mood appears in my paintings as a contrary to the topic and expressions of my protagonists, against the way of the representation, the richness of textures and colours. This causes the tension and disharmony, which gives the painting its own atmosphere. I’m happy with a work if I feel something like that.
AMM: Has there been a point in your journey as an artist where your style or subject matter changed drastically? Tell us about a moment where you found yourself changing course.
AE: It was the 3rd or 4th year at university. I searched my topic, and I felt I was between the borders of my instruments. I had a still life painting of every single objects in my environment. At that time, I started to use the copic marker, and I was amazed at its strong colours. I drew the elements of my photos what I saw on the streets: signs, reflecting surfaces, people on the streets, gradients of adverts. I tried to grab the sight of city lights. Everything was a fragment of reality. Meanwhile, I learned to make compositions from those parts. That was a prelude/history of my present works.
AMM: How is the art scene in Budapest? Are there any galleries or places in the city that you find especially inspiring?
AE: In Budapest there are many artist and for profit/non profit institutions. You can find good exhibition openings every week. And because only a few people collect artworks, everyone is struggling for the few sales. Because of this, I think the Hungarian artists are resourceful and creative. I am represented by a gallery in my country Art+Text Budapest. I like to work with people with whom I understand myself professionally and personally.
AMM: Are there any artists working in painting right now that you admire?
AE: I don’t allow myself to admire or over-appreciate the work of another artist. I need to keep a distance for my own independence. In addition, I am the closest to my partner Mira Makai’s work. We talk a lot with each other about the artworks and criticize them, or help in the work method. She works mainly in ceramics, and I think she represents another artistic position, which provides distance between us. Besides this, I use Instagram to watch the happenings of the art world and there are many artist whose work I follow and like. For example, I love the work of Super Future Kid, Tom Howse, Joakim Ojanen, Oli Epp, Austin Lee, and Vivian Greven.
Find out more about the artist: www.works.io/akos-ezer
Interview by Christina Nafziger for ArtMaze Magazine.