Forever Friends – Domjan and Qi Baishi
2014, October 11
Exhibition opening text
Honourable Ambassador, Distinguished Guests, Friends and Members of the Beijing Hungarian Cultural Institute!
“FOREVER FRIENDS”: What an excellent and appropriate title for our exhibition today. In fact, the meeting of Domjan and the great Chinese artist Qi Baishi was a determining factor for Domjan’s art throughout his life. How else can someone be influenced, so much, by one person, if friendship is not the driving force? Jozsef Domjan’s visit to China in 1955 initiated for him a lifelong association with Chinese traditional art.
But let us meet with Jozsef Domjan briefly: His life may be grouped into three phases: He was born in Budapest in 1907, March 15, to a very poor family. He did not start out as an artists, but even in his early life, he showed great affinity to art. As an iron-worker for the railroad, he lost his job during the Hungarian financial depression of the 1930’s, and for 3 years, he wondered through-out Western Europe by foot. During that time, he was able visit many great museums of Europe.
Subsequent to his return to Hungary, he was discovered as an exceptional talent and was admitted to the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts. After his graduation he stayed on to teach at the Academy for a few years; this is when he meet his wife Evelyn, who became life-long partner in family and art. Domjan established himself as a well know SPIRITUAL PAINTER – or a modern contemporary painter. During his many travels and exhibitions in Western Europe, eventually he became a respected woodcut artists. His invitation to China in 1955 resulted in at least fifteen major exhibitions around China in important cities, as well as the life-changing meeting with Master Qi Baichi. He also received the “Master of Colour Woodcut” recognition, which he understood is only given once every 100 years.
After the China visit, more exhibitions followed in Europe and in 1956 he received the most coveted prize for a visual artist in Hungary , the Munkacsy Prize, followed by the highest recognition from the
State, the Kossuth Prize. However, at the end of 1956 he left Hungary and moved his family to New York, USA, by that time he had three children.
Phase two of Domjan’s life was a complete rebuilding of his art and initiate a new carrier in the USA, where he was not known. He was very successful in that – and eventually his works were shown in most of the important museums in North America and around the world. After five hundred one man and group shows, the family stopped recording additional ones. There are no other Hungarian artist today who has more works in the collections of major Museums in North America than Domjan. As fate may have it, in June of 1970, his house burned to the ground. The family lived in Tuxedo Park, New York at that time and he was 63 years old. Everything was lost, painting, prints, woodblocks.
This is when phase three of Domjan’s life begins. He built a new studio which was fire – proof, and recreated hundreds of new woodcuts – some of which are seen at our exhibition. We may consider this phase to be the most characteristic of Domjan’s work. Many more exhibitions continued until the end of his life. He passed away in 1992, in New Jersey, USA.
How do we characterize Domjan’s Art? May be a few brief comments will be useful, although these are subjective and are from my point of view.
- His works are contemporary, and visually attractive, demonstrating a very unique technique in hand-printing from a woodcut – let it be one colour or more.
- At a closer evaluation we find folkloric images and symbolic forms which are repeated and are based on Hungarian and, in many instances, on Chinese folk-art. Our visit to the Forbidden City, a few days ago, made us discover symbolisms which were familiar to us from Domjan Art.
- Visually exquisite, no other woodcut artist, that we know, is able to create such a striking images, which are always moving and living. I know my own collection has offered me a life-long amazement – every time I looked at one of my Domjan woodcuts.
- We find Domjan Art to be similar to the works of the great Hungarian composers: Zoltan Kodaly and especially Bela Bartok. Although, their music is contemporary, it is often based on folk music. Such is Domjan’s Art, whose images are contemporary – but at closer examination – we see Hungarian and, now we know, Chinese folkloric impressions.
Allow me a few words about the Exhibition. This exhibition includes works, which are either folkloric, universal themes or demonstrate heavy Chines influence and symbolisms: like dragons, snakes, birds, flowers, just to mention a few. Please do not just look at the images from afar – there is a “second life” of those, if you move closer and examine the “building blocks”. The shown images are from the last – third – period of the artist and we consider them to be a good cross section of the immediately recognizable DOMJAN imagery.
This exhibitions also clearly suggests that Qi Baishi and Domjan were fatefully friends forever, how else could such vivid dragons, snakes, serpents, birds, flowers come alive in the images created by Domjan? It was, I suggest, Domjan’s deepest and most admiring appreciation of the great Chinese master, whom he never forgot.
Today, by viewing this exhibition, we can witness – how a 6 months visit to China, in 1955, by a 48 year old Hungarian artist has changed his life and art forever.
We thank the Beijing Hungarian Cultural Institute, especially its director, Dr Szonja Buslig, for hosting this exhibition and enhancing our knowledge about just one of the many subtle, yet important connections of Hungarian and Chinese art.