and awakening

What did meeting with Vasarely mean to you?

This might sound pretentious, but it was the most natural thing in the world. At the time, I took everything for granted: I already knew that I would have an exhibition in Paris in the autumn as a third-year college student with a Swedish scholarship. It never even occurred to me that this was not normal. Just like the way my Dad gave me the Lada 1200 – which he had just received a week earlier after four years of waiting – without hesitation. The French gallerist asked for the material for the exhibition, and the embassy said Vasarely would like to meet me... I packed up the pictures, bringing my girlfriend and left.

Back then most people drove to Mariahilfer Strasse to get a Gorenje freezer...

The guards at the border looked really puzzled. We were the only ones waiting in line heading out of the country with a stacked roof rack. Of course, my car was pulled over for a more thorough inspection. The customs officer didn’t really know what to think about the paintings, but I helped him out. I improvised a short lecture, highlighting the epoch-defining significance of my art, placing myself and my work in an international context. I believe the officer fell under my spell, just as I have. So, finally he marked “wood and canvas” on the customs declaration.

Interlude 1987

Gordes. A The faded orange of the Citroën 2CV fails to distract attention from the beauty of the town’s main square only because Gábor’s father’s burgundy Lada 1200 is already parked in the shade with paintings wrapped in nylon, tied to its top. The gearbox of the “Ugly duckling” crackles loudly as Klárika tears the lever – protruding from the dashboard – into neutral, stomping simultaneously on the accelerator and the clutch. Victor Vasarely doesn’t wait for the engine to stall, for a man his age he climbs out of the bizarre little car rather energetically. Gábor Városi drops the cigarette butt in the drain, looking at the Master. It’s quiet, only the engine of the Zsiga is revving: it has been pushed to its limits for thousands of kilometres.


Vasarely was a god at the time, and even more so in Gordes – he practically made the small town in the south of France one of the era’s art centres.

And Marc Chagall, another Eastern European genius.
Of course, it was Vasarely who renovated the local castle and lived and worked in the town for many years. The locals loved him! Upon our arrival, he took us straight to the hotel – which of course he wouldn’t let me pay for, and I wouldn’t have been able to either – and suggested we have a drink and told me not to hesitate to ask. I looked at the drinks, but my eyes, being used to
Bikavér and Soviets- koye Igristoye, could not find anything familiar. Well, there was one after all. Obviously, I chose a Dom Perignon, I think it was a vintage bottle. It must have cost a fortune – obviously, I had no idea. The waiter looked at me reprovingly, especially when I asked for another bottle and a third one to go. Then we went over to the Master’s house, and sat in the garden, drinking champagne in the August heat. It was as if we had known each other for years, me talking about my plans, him giving me advice, and quite often resting his eyes on Kati’s behind in her bathing suit as she walked around in the garden. But this did not prevent Vasarely from elaborating on his theoretical theses of painting, claiming that movement is the violence with which structures and forms stimulate the retina of the eye. I think my girlfriend was living proof of that.

Interlude 1983

Budapest. The room is full of teenagers sitting everywhere. The lifeless image of the Panasonic VCR on the Orion Color TV. “My name is Bond, James Bond.” Roger Moore pours a drink and nonchalantly puts the Dom Perignon in the ice bucket. The monotone male voice-over impassively speaks the Bond girl’s lines too. “It’s called Octopussy,” says the diplomat’s kid. Understand? Octopus-pussy. Roaring laughter. Someone knocks over the bottle of red wine.


This is an exceptional start for an artist. A debut in Paris, Vasarely personally paving your way. How overconfident did you become?

Oh, very much so. But as I said, it all happened so quickly and so naturally that I took it for granted. At 22, I thought this was how art worked in the West, while back home all I could have had was an exhibition in a small-town art gallery with others. Vasarely then told me to develop for 2-3 more years, to paint large artworks, and then he would organise an exhibition for me, where he would introduce me to the big English, American and French galleries.

You were invited to join the world’s artistic elite at the age of 22 and had the honour of exchanging paintings with Vasarely... What went wrong?

To be more precise, the Master selected and took my painting after my exhibition in Paris, but I couldn’t have his, as his family practically shut him off from the world after his stroke. Then came the big awakening: the opportunity for the big international debut of ‘89-90 vanished. I was devastated, but I kept working while the system collapsed around me. It was a very difficult period for my artistic and human develop- ment. At the same time, I was suddenly surrounded by so many new impulses and opportunities that it didn’t even occur to me to get depressed.

Interlude November 1987

Paris. Crowds at the exhibition. Vasarely, wearing a trench coat,
leaning on his cane, talks about Cézanne’s legacy and his influence on Eastern Europeans, himself, the Bauhaus, Cubism, Klee and Malevich. Gábor is wearing glasses. He doesn’t need them, but he thinks it makes him look older. He listens and looks smartly into the distance as his name is mentioned after the great predecessors. Applause. The exhibition is officially open. The Master offers to exchange pictures.


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