When the works of László László Révész are compared to the works of artists like Magritte and Dali (which they often are), familiar devices of illusion can be recognized: objects are questioned, context is sculpted, and states of existence are bent. These mechanisms take shape in Révész’s early works, for instance an apple nailed to a chalkboard, a man chained to his toaster, a brigade of pocket knives pointing in the same direction, a woman engulfed by figure eights, and two horse heads floating in the sky. In the disparate elements of absurdity and irony sprinkled into his early works, a common process takes place: representation is created, then undermined. Realism is first offered, then twisted, enlarged, repeated, and entangled until it is ultimately revoked. In this sense, László László Révész the illusionist is in full effect, making objects (as we know them) appear and then disappear.
László László Révész: The Apple of the Ballerina, 1988, performance
László László Révész: Her Makeup, 2009, oil on canvas, 110×70 cm
Over the course of the past two decades, however, Révész has departed from the Surrealist leanings of his earlier works. A new lineage can be traced that links his recent drawings and paintings to a sobered brand of expressionism which ranges as far as Edvard Munch on the one extreme to Edward Hopper on the other. This departure has yielded a progressive fading of illusion and a sentimental surrender to reality. If sentimentality can become stronger and more delicate at the same time, it does so here.
László László Révész: He is Looking at Her, 2009, mixed media, canvas, 70×100 cm
Révész’s newer compositions are malleable and liquid, yet sharply attuned to reality. Blurred silhouettes and etched lines converge into theatric interactions between positive and negative space. When there is stillness, sensuality slinks through the composition, lingering in darkened corners of train cars, bedrooms, and obscured spaces. When there is motion, the composition is vibrant with activity and chaotic energy; flashing cameras glisten, and the glow of an iPhone permeates the canvas. This constant interplay of stillness and motion can perhaps be attributed to Révész’s background in film and video. Changing tempo between the likes of a 19th century period piece, a 1960’s porno, and a film-noir chase scene, Révész does not accept the constraints of two-dimensionality.
László László Révész: Gulli Vera, 2016, charcoal, pencil, paper, 120×180 cm
This lifelong love affair with film also influences the subject matter of Révész’s recent works. Subjects are presented like characters, functioning as generic types and intimate portraits simultaneously. The paintings Her Makeup (2009), He is Looking at Her (2009), TOHI (5) (1999), and Gulli Vera (2016) present a careful balance in which subjects are pulled forward and pushed back to capture a vague sense of familiarity. Subjects are vivid yet anonymous: commuters on a train, two figures walking, a woman applying makeup, four sisters, a man and woman sitting on the edge of a bed, and silhouettes in the park. Objects are similarly treated anonymously, diffusing the fierce conceptual utility that they provided in earlier works.
László László Révész: Phone, 2009, charcoal, pencil, paper, 50×70 cm
This departure from clearly defined subject matter gives way so that compositional atmosphere may assume heightened agency, marking perhaps the largest transition between his early and recent works. Compositions feel like momentary snapshots of a greater, overarching plot. Atmospheres feel so fully formed that the viewer can only assume that they continue beyond the edges of the canvas. In many cases, these atmospheres do exist elsewhere, once again recalling Révész’s lifelong relationship with film and video. Recent works embark on a study of genres, investigating the typified themes and categories of human experience. Révész frequently references the genres of romance, tragedy, quietness, sensuality, eroticism, power, drama, crime, vice, and intrigue. As Révész comments, reflecting on recent works, “Curiosity and the quest for newness is over. Surrender to what already exists.”
In a piece entitled Blue Danube (2010), Révész depicts a riverside scene with a man and a woman. The man is in a wooden rowboat with an oar in hand. His face is darkened and obscured under a shadow. The woman is on the shore in an evening gown, and her eyes are cast toward the viewer. Scratched gestures of waves on the river and cars on the bridge overhead create a sense of motion and activity that contrasts with the poised and expectant stillness of the figures. The composition is sentimental, wistful, and full of theatrical romance except for one element: a shoe-print stamped on the canvas, occupying the top right corner of the composition.
László László Révész: Two Armours, 1982, mixed media, canvas, 50×70 cm
Presumably, the shoe-print belongs to the artist. Elements like this affirm that Révész’s familiar process remains intact: creation will eventually be undermined, sentiment will eventually be followed by irony. The viewer is reminded that Révész is as much the illusionist as he ever was. “I hope that somehow I smuggle in a balance between ethics and disturbance,” Révész says, pointing at the underlying essence of his art: a tender prodding at the polarities of human experience through a careful balance between reality and illusion.
László László Révész: Still Life with Knives, 1984, oil on canvas, 100×120 cm
László László Révész: Evening, 1988, mixed media, canvas, 100×70 cm
László László Révész: Lady 8, 1988, oil on canvas, 100×70 cm
László László Révész: Wheel, 2009, charcoal, pencil, paper, 150×120 cm
László László Révész: They will be Never Connected, 2015, charcoal, pencil, paper, 152×190 cm
László László Révész: Little Blow Up, Karkade Company, 2016, performance