EVERY ARTIST HAS A STORY
let me tell you mine
“The base for elaborating my own artistic credo was as a matter of fact the experience of all the great masters of the paint-brush and - accumulating their achievements - striving to define my own road by looking at this knowledge through the prism of my personal perception of the world."
I read somewhere that "life is like a balloon. If we want to fly higher, we must learn to let go of things and toss out of the basket whatever it is that won't let us soar." Well, in my growth as an artist, I have come to the point where I feel I have to get rid of what is superfluous, what is hindering my ascent. For a long time I have had the desire to move away from figurative representation, from some kind of superficial reflection of surface-level reality. There is no beaten path before me, but I feel inside that I must strive more to capture all the emotion, the drama, and the catharsis. I want to make sure that when someone enters an exhibition space with paintings hanging on the wall and looks around, it is my work that captures their attention with its powerful atmosphere. It attracts and evokes emotions that make the visitor think. The loneliness of the artist is thus eliminated, and the "loose ends" allow the receptive public to become part of the creative process. Because I believe that art is not for its own sake, but only makes sense with the artist.
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The Dancing Painter
Art - Andrew Manaylo: Ruthenian family, Hungarian life.
Joy, beauty, and passion. His art can be characterized by these three concepts, which have brought the artist popularity with the public, and in America, this popularity translates into purchases. His canvases are used by New York interior designers when creating homes for their clients, gallery owners vie for his works. Domestically he was recently presented with the Pro Cultura Minoritatum Hungariae award. We can safely say that Andrew Manaylo has come into his own. But behind the sunny image, if we look closer we will see the drama, the flight, and the new beginning.
In the living room, filled with heirloom furniture, we are greeted by the works of a legendary painter dynasty. There is almost no wall space left empty, even the staircase is adorned with paintings by grandfather Fedor Manaylo, who was in his heyday in the 1930s, and father Ivan Manaylo, along with a few canvases by the lone female artist of the family, Viktoria Manaylo-Prihogyko, and the third generation, represented by the host, Andrew. He was born in this environment, which smelled like paint and was made lively by the presence of artists, in Uzhgorod in 1970.
“One might say I was born almost on the painter’s palette, so apart from a few childhood ‘I'm going to be an astronaut’ flights of fancy, it was always clear that I would become an artist, too,” he says, and then introduces his wife, an industrial artist of half-Hungarian, half-Ruthenian ancestry, who is now offering us a special Ruthenian pastry. In front of the pictures, Andrew Manaylo begins to talk about his beloved grandfather not without a certain idealization. I find out that when he was seven years old, he used to travel the Carpathians with his own little easel under his arm, and wherever the old man was inspired, they would sit down and paint. When the grazing lambs proved too difficult for the youngster to capture, Papa Fedor would step up to him, mix the strips of paint that had been neatly set out onto the palette, and with three well-directed strokes of his brush, he would put the flock in place.
The little child was impressed by his grandfather's talent as a painter, and now he has a slightly blackened picture to prove it. It depicts a Ruthenian woodcutter in a white linen shirt, ax in hand, vigorously wrestling with wood. The chips fly, I can almost hear the splitting of the log. The picture radiates raw power. It evokes the atmosphere of the canvases of Károly Kernstok and Lajos Tihanyi, but then I realize that this is no coincidence since it is the same age, the same period, Fedor Manaylo could have easily been the ninth of the Eight, although he would have not quite fit in because he is less universal and much more of a folk artist.
My host's brushwork is precisely as dynamic as his grandfather’s, who in 1931 founded the Podkarpatska Rus Art Society in Uzhhorod, later the Carpatho-Ruthenian Barbizon, whose membership included thirty-eight Carpatho-Ruthenian painters: a mixture of Hungarians, Slovaks, and Ruthenians. They all strived to achieve a common goal, which was to create a strong regional school of fine arts. At the time of the post-Trianon changes of power, there was freedom at first, so painters could study in European schools. Some went to the Julian Academy in Paris, others to the Munich School, others to Rome, Budapest, and Fedor Manaylo to Prague.
My host opens a book with a group portrait of Barbizon painters: József Boksay, Fedor Manaylo, Andriy Koczka, Vaszil Szvida, Béla Erdélyi, Ernő Kontratovics and Sándor Petky. The photograph was taken in 1946, at the last moment before the Soviet authorities began to impose their intellectually impoverished artistic concept, socialist realism on artists.
“Both my grandfather and my father circumvented political pressures by painting landscapes. Neither of them wanted to paint Lenin, a foreman looking at a red horizon or a portrait of a party secretary, certainly not in the soulless, static manner that would have been expected. Landscapes were a tolerable (and tolerated) compromise, but anyone who went down this path would not even be commissioned to decorate a bus stop,” says Andrew Manaylo, recalling that his grandfather once made an exception and tried his hand at a factory interior, in an avant-garde manner of course. The result was an expressionist work that captured the essence of the place, which he called The Symphony of the Factory. Of course, it did not meet the demands of the comrades.
Andrew Manaylo's art was influenced not only by his grandfather, but also by his father. His love of bright colors comes from him, I learn as we arrive at a picture painted by his father. He taught me not to approach the canvas from the wrist in a restrained, picky manner, but to utilize my feelings, my passion, my emotions, and to realize that the big gestures on the canvas also require space.
So "they need space". At first, it's not quite clear what he means, it's only when we finally enter the studio and I see the paint-splattered walls, windows, radio, that I realize the passion that permeates the creative process. The oil paint piled on a "palette" the size of a table, the nude on the easel: a pretty woman leaning on her knees, her hands hanging loosely. The focus of the painting is a detailed hand, while other parts of the body are depicted with sweeping, sometimes thick strokes of paint. Behind the anatomically perfect figure, the background is a blur of color. In the manner typical of the Impressionists, the painter leaves it to the viewer to decide what to imagine around her. The artist smiles with satisfaction. As he says, all that is needed is to make the viewer experience something all his own.
Andrew Manaylo moved to Hungary with his wife at the time of the regime change and, as a patriotic Ruthenian from Transcarpathia, he also took on a public office for a time: he was elected president of the Hungarian Ruthenian Self-government. He initiated the construction of a Greek Catholic wooden church in Máriapócs, attempted to revive the Carpatho-Ruthenian Barbizon in the form of an artists' colony in Balatonföldvár, and today he is a philanthropist, giving lectures to Ruthenian immigrants in America. Asked about leaving his homeland, a gloomy cloud rolls over his face. As a young man, life presented him with a dilemma:
If I wanted to remain a painter, I had to leave Transcarpathia for the sake of my livelihood. My wife had family abroad so the opportunity presented itself. I can see clearly now how good a decision we made back then. Even though the people voted in favor of Carpathian autonomy within Ukraine at the time of the regime change, we are moving further and further away from that. As Ruthenians, our very existence is being questioned by the Kyiv authorities, and now they have declared war on the Hungarians, who are also indigenous. In contrast, I have never suffered any disadvantage in Hungary because of my Ruthenian origin, on the contrary. However, I fear that the Ruthenian identity is slowly being assimilated into the majority nationality.
But how have you managed to conquer the US market? – I ask, steering the conversation in a lighter direction, and he tells me that he was invited to the 2012 Art Expo in New York through one of his Manhattan-based patrons, Imre Pákh (a fellow Transcarpathian), where there was a great interest in his art, even as a relatively obscure artist. The debut was so successful that he has been spending more and more time in the US, going to exhibitions, traveling, collecting visual experiences, and recording them in his sketchbook to paint them upon returning home.
- In America, the intelligentsia knows two Transcarpathian painters: the Ruthenian Andy Warhol and the Hungarian Mihály Munkácsy. It is an eerie feeling when I see my own canvas hung between a Warhol and a Munkácsy. There's a discerning middle class there who have no problem paying for art, are open to it, and dare to buy based on their own value judgment. Much more so than, for example, the Swiss, who also have money, but if an artist has not been Swiss for at least ten generations, they will not purchase anything from them despite liking their work.
From the studio, we step out into the garden. Here a fish pond, a few ornamental trees, and shrubs create an idyllic setting.
"This is where my husband gets ready to work, then he goes inside, turns on the CD player, mostly listening to jazz, often dancing as he paints,” says his wife, who has so far remained modestly in the background. The aforementioned sketchbook turns up, with sketches of new artistic experiments. An expressive, imaginative drawing appears, an old man with a furrowed face if you like, a tree trunk if you like. A visual world that is completely new to me.
“A nod to my Transcarpathian roots,” the painter explains, “because although my new home is Hungary, it is impossible to be separated from my native land. One step back, two steps forward, conservatism is thus compatible with innovation and the search for new paths. The two are not contradictory concepts. A child, too, instinctively moves away from their mother and then runs back into her arms. And the moment of return is incredibly joyous for both.”
Report by László Bertók