This post was originally published under my Medium account at the time.
I started to paint a year ago. The process of painting changed the way I look at art and transformed me into a better version of myself. In the following post I examine this one-year journey by reflecting on it from various aspects and by explaining how it changed me.
Some time ago I came across Noah Bradley’s article about how he became an artist. It was very inspiring to read his retrospective story of a decade of work - so here I come with my humble one year trip.
An empty canvas
I had never painted besides the compulsory art class in high school. I never thought of painting as a form of art in reach. I always had the idea that one can only paint after years of study. In fact, painting was not something I could connect to for a long time. I did not see many works of art that I really enjoyed. Up until a year ago the thought never really came to my mind to try painting — to grab a piece of paper, soak the brush, and just paint.
If I was to backtrack to what influenced me to eventually start painting, I would probably find these four people: Ayumi, Emő, Petra and Rothko. Ayumi is a professional painter. Professional in a sense that she had formal education in art. During the period we were dating, I had the opportunity to observe a painter at work for the first time in my life. I could see how someone developed a painting. I saw how someone expressed herself, one whom I had a close relationship to. I can still recall most of Ayumi’s paintings that I saw live, most of them vast watercolours.. One of her paintings featured a McDonald’s logo. She said she passed by a McDonald’s every day as she walked to niversity, so she used it as a representative symbol of her life. This explanation helped me to get one step closer to art, to make something more tangible that was very mysterious to me at that time. Petra is an amateur painter. She had no formal education in art. She started to paint for joy. I remember most of her paintings in her room. I was inspired and amazed by them. There were some I really enjoyed. I loved Petra, so in a way it made sense that her paintings were beautiful to my eyes too. At the same time it challenged my formal belief that you have to be a professional to start painting — and to produce works that others would enjoy. Emő is a professional painter friend. She introduced me to painting and I visited many exhibitions with her and listened to her narration of art works in the past years. I had the chance to see many of her paintings, too. She was always encouraging and supporting me throughout my journey, sharing her impressions and comments of my works, yet never judging. Mark Rothko was the first well-known painter whose work I really admired. Seeing Rothko’s pieces on the web was impressive for me. The concept of his color fields was something I could closely relate to. Later having the chance to see Rothkos live in the Tate Modern and SFMOMA was a very inspiring experience.
The first stroke
One day I made up my mind and asked Emő if I could go to her workshop and try painting in one of the coming days. In December, 2015, I had my first painting session. Emő prepared a desk for mefull of different brushes and painting materials, and let me explore freely. I painted my first four paintings. Here they are:
From the very beginning I paint colors. I don’t pick colors for my subjects — my subjects are the colors themselves. I play with colors. Nothing has changed about this over the last year. I love to surround myself with different tools, materials, paints and pick whatever feels right at the moment. I primarily experiment with painting on paper, canvas, and wooden board, using watercolors, pastel, tempera, and acrylic, but also explored some other kinds of materials, like red wine and nail polish, too.
My paintings are abstract. I paint emotions. I express in colors what’s alive inside of me. There are no concepts in my mind when I start painting. In fact, I consciously empty my mind. I observed that if I have ideas or thoughts coming to my mind about what I intend to paint, I won’t like the outcome. Having a concept upfront can even make me stressed during painting since I have no formal education in painting, and therefore I don’t know how to realize certain ideas on the canvas. At the same time, if I manage to disconnect, if I can get into a meditative state of mind, and just follow what comes naturally, I usually like the outcome. I let it out what’s inside without passing it through my mind, without forming ideas, without applying any filters. I just let Pacha Mama drive my hands and let herself be expressed. Painting is a form of meditation to me where I can connect to the child inside, to God, to the universe, to my unconditioned self, you choose.
This approach can be clearly observed already in my first four paintings. As I started to paint the first picture (top left), I believed I should have had a topic. I mean you should paint something, right? I had some vague ideas in mind, and I tried to express them in shapes and colors and yet without being too specific. Once the whole paper was filled, I looked at it, and I put it aside. Frankly I wasn’t too happy about what I saw. In contrast, painting the next one was a great pleasure. I understood that I couldn’t paint what was in my mind because I had no tools to be able to express them. Hence I changed strategy and I started to simply play with aquarelle and paper and just enjoy how colors melt in water, how too much water soaks the paper, how different colors meet and interact with each other. I was a kid having fun while painting the second picture (top right). This gave me confidence, and as I finished it, I immediately grabbed the brush to paint the third picture (bottom right). I had an idea in mind — and I failed again to realize it. I learned once again that this approach did not work for me. And then, full of joy, I painted the last picture (bottom left) and up to date it’s one of the paintings of mine I really enjoy looking at and sharing with others.
I experimented with different mind altering substances to help me reach an empty mind. Weed was rather disturbing, it didn’t help get into the meditative state. My mind kept forming thoughts. Drinking wine helped me chill out and disconnect from the outer world in a relatively short time and as a result I could direct my focus on my emotions and the painting itself. Loud music, often psychedelic rock or minimal techno, also helped me get into that altered state easier but it also influenced my mood. I needed to be aware of what type of music I would put on. Music was probably the most effective tool to reach an empty mind so far. More recently, as I practice meditation on a daily basis and become much more self aware of how certain foods or drinks affect my mind, I find even wine too disturbing.
Painting as therapy
Painting is a powerful introvert activity. Painting helped me find a new tool to express myself and share that picture with others. I could just point to one of my paintings and say «hey, look, this is me». It was interesting to observe what I painted after certain experiences. I could recognize different patterns when meeting with specific people or just being in the same mood again. Some paintings weren’t only expressing emotions from a different perspective but could also complement each other and explain a story together.
I don’t always like what I paint. One reason can be that a painting is simply not finished. In fact, I tend to think that there are no bad paintings, just emotions that were not well expressed. I often continue, even redo paintings. There is always a clear feeling when a painting is finished. I always know when it is.
“In the middle of the work of art, an artist often feels that he is failing. And he starts interfering with his inspiration. That is a mistake. The mistake. It is best to push on through. Such works frequently turn out to be the best. To fail is a very ordinary experience for an artist. To fail and fail and still go on, marks his character.”
“We start out with high hopes because people have taught us that just around the corner is happiness and contentment, and all you have to do is be good and try hard and all that. Well, you find out that you can be just as good as you possibly can be, and I mean, you try as hard as you possibly can try, and you still have, you know, the same old thing. You have failures and successes, no? Some things fail and others succeed.”
Painting taught me to be more confident. It taught me that the best thing I can achieve is being myself and project that honestly and nakedly. I started painting on small paper (A4). It was cheap to buy and potentially cheap to throw away if I disliked the end of the experiment. At least I remember this was my thinking back then. By the end of the year, I was ready to show, but also, to share what was inside in bigger formats too. The biggest canvas I interacted with was 120×150 cm. And there’s a nice story about it.
Zsófi manages apartments. She extended her portfolio with a new one and then came to me and said that she wanted me to paint pictures that she can put in that apartment. She asked if I was open to that. We agreed that I’d make three paintings, all big formats, at least compared to what I’d been doing so far, and the deadline’s in two weeks or so. I went free hand about everything, I picked the canvases, and it was totally up to me what I would be painting on them. It sounded like a great opportunity for both of us. And yet, it was a really difficult two weeks. The deal with Zsófi triggered many of my fears. I just committed myself to paint. It was not the case any more that I would just sit down to paint if I felt like it, this time I had to paint. Every day I was stressing myself to get in front of an empty canvas and start, I think it even felt like working. Also I started to become worried if Zsófi would actually like what I was about to paint. This stress underlined eventually the whole painting process. It was amazing to observe how my mind transformed a great opportunity into a nightmare. And of course, if I disliked painting in the first place, there was no chance that I or Zsófi would have liked what I painted. I ended up putting myself into a lose-lose situation. After a while I felt so annoyed with the situation that I had to decide either I would begin to hate painting or I would remove myself from this loop and eventually come over my blockages. I needed to realize that I cannot offer more than what I am, and that is what I could do as my best. And my best is what I create with joy and love and what I’m happy to share with others. The worst thing that can happen is that what I show of myself won’t be liked by others. I was afraid of a form of self rejection and I guess I also found some traces of my past perfection. It was a nice exercise to keep being myself and let myself honest and vulnerable.
Painting helped me to discover a new form of self expression. Through this process, I gained a new tool to grow, and to connect with who I am. Starting to paint completely changed my view on art and its role in general. It also changed my approach to photography and gave me a new perspective to how I cook, too. I clearly remember a Tortoise concert in town that was the first time I related my painting experience to a live music performance . My perception of how they played psychedelic rock music was that it seemed totally random, as if there was no concept at all, everyone just playing something out of curiosity. At the same time it could have been random as much as how a group of people playing together can be random. I could totally immerse into their music and just fully enjoy it — just as though I was painting.
Throughout my journey of painting I came across the book Art as Therapy by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong. They provide an exciting approach to think of art and the role of art in the context of our personal lives and in terms of what society needs in the given time. It argues that art’s importance is often assumed, rather than explained. This preserves art’s often mysterious state and does not help shrinking the gap. They demonstrate ways of how art can be used to enable us to become better versions of ourselves by providing tools to overcome our personal and national challenges. Among many things, art can serve to help remember what matters, it can help restore hope, and even present sorrow in a dignified way to help us suffer more successfully. With the help of art, we can appreciate what is often overlooked or see ideas in a way that enables us to finally understand them.
“Every work of art is imbued with a particular psychological and moral atmosphere: a painting may be either serene or restless, courageous or careful, modest or confident, masculine or feminine, bourgeois or aristocratic, and our preferences for one kind over another reflects our varied psychological gaps. We hunger for artworks that will compensate for our inner fragilities and help return us to a viable mean. We call a work beautiful when it supplies the virtues we are missing, and we dismiss as ugly one that forces on us moods or motifs that we feel either threatened or already overwhelmed by. Art holds out the promise of inner wholeness.”
I really enjoyed observing and reflecting on my paintings from the very first one. I started to hang them on the wall one by one. At the beginning my flatmate, David, was the steady and vocal audience of my home exhibition. Later we moved in with more people and the living room of our space slowly became a permanent exhibition to promote the latest selection of my paintings. The pictures lived with us, shaped the space around us, and it was exciting to play the role of the curator of my own exhibition as new paintings were born.
As I started to have more and more paintings, and not all of them could have been on show any more, a worry started to be present: what should I do with my old paintings? Shall I just keep them in a storage place? Shall I give them away? Shall I try to sell them? Or just simply trash them after a while? I had mixed feelings. On one side, I did not want to build a strong emotional attachment to my paintings in the first place. Trashing them shouldn’t feel bad. They are just some projections of myself after all. Furthermore, it also felt strange to own these paintings. It felt weird to psychically have them, piled up and turned to the walls. They were not made to be kept but rather shared. After some thinking, I decided to ask my friends to adopt my paintings if they liked some. Eventually I was able to distribute most of my paintings. As a side effect, I now have a live, permanent exhibition of my works at my friends’ place. If someone wants to see any of my paintings, they get a gratis introduction to a bunch of nice people, too.
When I started to give away my pictures, I wanted to frame some of them. Especially the ones that would have been easily damaged or just hard to hang on the wall. I found an amazing bácsi in a small framing shop literally on the other side of the block where I used to live. He was of great help in choosing frames that would fit the paintings. I also really enjoyed that a whole new world opened up for me through starting to pay attention to frames in museums and by observing this guy’s profession. Sometimes during an exhibition I was more curious about the frames than the artworks themselves.
The process of painting turned out to be a great tool for meditation and self expression. I find it is also a great way to capture moments visually, differently. While it’s already fun to paint solo, painting a picture with others or together with a group of friends is also something I have enjoyed.. The approach and dynamics of painting in group situations were quite an accurate reflection of the relationship between me and the other person or between the group members. What colors one used, what forms they painted, how much they dared to interact with others or just rather occupied one corner of the canvas.
And finally, thank you
I’m grateful for all the support I received from people during this one year. Thank you for the ones who encouraged me and were curious about my works and what I was going to share with them. Specifically I would like to thank to David, Gabizsófi, Juli, Suzie and Zsófi.