Growing up in Budapest, Karl Meszlényi started doodling and drawing at a young age. As he proceeded through his school years, his drawings became a sort of happy escape, something he loved to do and did well.
Then at the age of 19, Karl was faced with the need to decide on his field of study for university. “I knew I was good at only one thing,” Karl tells me with a shrug. What else would he have possibly chosen if not art? He laughs while shaking his head. “Nothing,” he replies.
Unable to then pay the needed fees for his university studies in Eger, Karl dived full force into his own artistic development and endeavors, painting up a storm and exhibiting wherever and whenever he could in the capital of Budapest. Taking jobs here and there to get by, Karl would form a solid foundation for both his artistic style as well as his drive.
“I knew I was good at only one thing”
It wasn’t until four years later that Karl would step foot inside Eszterházy Károly College. And he remains ever grateful for what he learned while there. This was a time when Karl refined his technique, strengthened his skill set, and broadened his range as a painter. Preferring to be alone to work, he would usually paint at night in the open, empty space of his school’s studio.
Throughout his life, colors, paints, and different materials have fascinated Karl, even odd materials such as bitumen and wood. Using such elements, he would, and still does, build up multimedia collages- paintings both heavy on texture and representation.
By the time Karl left Eszterházy Károly, he had a massive portfolio of completed works to show for himself as a painter. But for Karl, being a painter has nothing to do with being an artist. “I’m not an artist- I’m a painter.” Art is self-expression, he explains to me. And thus anyone can be an artist as everyone can self-express. But to be a painter, a person must study, know the material, know the techniques, and acquire proper skills in visual communication. It is a fascinating argument, and I admire and appreciate Karl’s desire to make this very important distinction.
So what type of painter is Karl? “I am an expressive painter. I paint to make people feel, not necessarily to send a message.” He then turns back to his time at university where he feels he was able to acquire the needed skills in order to communicate his feelings in a wide range of ways. His studies enabled and empowered him to paint for more people- to, in fact, make more people feel.
Karl’s favorite piece was Color, a large painting he created aiming for the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. The 3x2.5-meter canvas took six months to produce and is a study of space, texture, line, and, color and imbued with emotions for the viewer to interpret as they may. Unfortunately, this treasure was lost in a house fire Karl suffered a couple of years back.
“I’m not an artist- I’m a painter”
Nothing pleases Karl more than large canvases and color. And this preference is vividly apparent across all of his work. This dedication to bold and vibrant representation is evident even in his series of birds from the last couple of years. Birds in general, and especially the smaller varieties that Karl largely focuses on, can often be seen as delicate and petite and are typically represented in such as way as to reflect their daintier qualities. Yet Karl depicts them in an abstract style on broad canvases with bold strokes in a juxtaposition of fragility and strength. He says his intention is to "humanize" the avian creatures. The affect is awe-inspiring.
And buyers have agreed. Being an artist anywhere is tough. Being an artist in Hungary, trying to gain the attention of (and sales in) the US market, is even tougher. But Karl’s birds have taken off. He has since added a series of owls, betraying both the adorable and majestic aspects of these birds of prey. This year alone, Karl, together with Lena & Roselli Gallery in Budapest, has sold 18 of his birds to foreigners including from the US, Germany, Brazil, and Canada.
Briefly touching on the gallery system here, Karl reflects on the harsh reality of how they work. “You have to paint what they like.” So, does he feel that he has had to cater to their whim, or has he been lucky with the work he has created on his own? He laughs shyly, “No, it is true. I have been lucky.” He does admit, that given the recent success of his birds, he has been asked to produce more paintings with this theme. But he is happy to oblige and still loves the process of creation, with each work different than before, a unique representation of nature. Nothing realistic- just a truly expressive display of “beauty."
With all of the alternative forms of art today, from computer graphics to selfies, we talk about the fact that painting- pure canvas, paint, and brush- has somehow been around for centuries. With all of the advances, technologies, and change surrounding us, how has painting always survived? “The materials of canvas and paint are the most sensitive to life,” Karl tells me with a smile.
"canvas and paint are the most sensitive to life"
Painting persists. And so does Karl. He informs me that his sole focus now is to make sure his art grows in the years ahead. “I fought for years about the decision to be a painter. Now I look around, and here I am.” Karl has worked hard and struggled. His plethora of work is like a living timeline of it all, and his tough journey has undoubtedly contributed to making his art great. And he is today the painter he knew he would be back as a 19-year-old “with no other choice."
We always hear of the “struggling artist.” Karl has struggled, but is he happy? “Yes, I am happy,” he says with a large grin. “I am where I should be.” And Karl’s art is ending up with collectors around the world. Hungary is proud.
To see more of Karl's works and other inquiries, take a look contact Liz at email@example.com
Copyright Liz Frommer