Tarján Gábor: Domján József festőművész, fametsző


Festő és grafikus művész, fő területe a színes fametszet. Gyári munkásként indult, majd kibontakozott művészi tehetsége és néhány év útkeresés után elvégezte a Képzőművészeti Főiskolát. Bejárta Európát és eljutott Kínába is, ahol a fametszés ősi technikáját tanulmányozta és elnyerte e művészi mesterség legnagyobb kitüntetését. Az ötvenes évek elején kitűnt különleges színeivel, egyéni látásmódjával és néhány év alatt komoly hazai elismerésekben részesült. (Munkácsy díj 1955. Kossuth díj 1956.) Az 56-os forradalom Svájcban érte. Nem tért haza, hanem kivándorolt Amerikába és New York közelében telepedett le. A művész az Újvilágban is megőrizte magyar hagyományból táplálkozó szemléletét és sajátos stílusa széles körben ismertté tette. Művei a világ számos fontos gyűjteményében megtalálhatók, így a New York-i Metropolitan Múzeumban, a londoni Victoria és Albert Múzeumban és a Magyar Nemzeti Galériában is. A művész életművének jelentősebb alkotásaiból 1979-ben Sárospatakon állandó gyűjteményes kiállítás létesült.
A színes fametszet készítés legnagyobb mesterének tartják, hírnevét igazán ez a műfaj teremtette meg. A 20. század közepén ő újította meg ezt az ősi technikát. Domján képei annyira egyéniek és magyar gyökerűek, hogy stílusa nem téveszthető össze mással. Mindig foglalkoztatta a történelem, a természet, a népművészet, a balladák, az ősi hiedelem és mondavilág, – s ezeket olyan festőien és oly gazdag stílusban jeleníti meg, hogy időtől és tértől függetlenül folyamatosan jelenlévő esztétikai értéket hordoznak. A pávák, a pipacsok, a balladás lányok, a kozmikus jelenségek mind sajátos rendszerbe állnak össze. Művei rendkívül dekoratívak, ízesek, ugyanakkor gazdag tartalmat hordoznak. Domján képei talán azért hatnak a világ bármely részén eredetinek és egyéninek, mert művészetében vizuálisan megvalósul a “Bartóki modell” – a természet és a hagyomány szintézise, amely mindig és mindenhol örökérvényű értékeket hordoz.

Dr. Tarján Gábor
Magyar Képzőművészeti Egyetem




Jozsef Domjan is one of the leading figures of the 20th Century Hungarian art, yet he is not known widely in his own country, Hungary. How many Hungarian artists do we know who obtained significant fame in the world, yet their homeland does not recognize them? The art of Domjan is much better known and respected in America than in Hungary. His works are part of the print collections in numerous museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, art museums in Cincinnati, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, as well as the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Tate Modern Art Gallery in London. His work is also included in major collections in Hungary, specifically in the Hungarian National Gallery and in the Art Gallery of Sarospatak, where we may find excellent examples of Domjan’s works from all of his different artistic periods.


Jozsef Domjan is considered the best proponent of the color woodcut technique in the world. His world-wide reputation was established with this unique art form. In the middle of the 20th century Domjan revitalized this ancient art technique which originated in China.  He creates his color woodcuts by using multiple carved blocks. He prints with oil paints he mixes from pigment powders.  Overprinting several layers creates special three—dimensional prints with the quality of a painting.  The rich mythical motifs, the masterful carving of the woodblocks, the fabulous coloration result in a captivating vision in the Domjan images. Jozsef Domjan was awarded the title “Master of the Color Woodcut” during his extensive travels, lectures, and exhibitions throughout China in 1955.


Domjan has also used other media to express his individual artistic imagery. His earliest work is in pastels. Later he used more traditional oil paints on canvas. His “spiritual” paintings from the early years are magical in color and visual appearance. Some memorable Domjan color woodcut prints have been woven into tapestries by the finest tapestry workshops in the world in Aubusson, France and the Royal Tapestry Workshop in Madrid, Spain. The tapestries capture the designs and brilliant colors of the woodcuts in dramatic vividness and size. Domjan designs have also been produced in gold and silver as Christmas and Easter ornaments and jewelry for the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Domjan color woodcut designs illustrate numerous books for children and for adult collectors.


The Domjan images are clearly rooted in Hungarian folk art, but also are influenced by designs and art forms from countries Domjan visited during his extensive travels. His unique interpretation of his subject matter and masterful use of color result in art work that cannot be attributed to any other artist. His expressions are revealing, and where he utilizes figures, his images are characteristically suggestive. His works revel in rich and wonderful manifestations of nature, folk images, and messages of ancient cultures.  A brick layers’ insignia, found at ancient Roman ruins outside of Budapest, becomes the famous Domjan woodcut Pacatus. Birds, flowers, historical figures, girls from folk-ballads, angels, and cosmic symbols dance through his creations. His works are specially decorative, richly ornamented, and moving. His interest in history, nature, folk art, folk ballads, ancient beliefs, and legends from many cultures infuse his images with significance and style and make the Domjan work of timeless esthetic value.


Jozsef Domjan’s life as an artist passed through several stages. Much of his time in the early years was spent exploring various art forms and developing the style for which he is primarily known today. He became a prominent artist in Hungary as people became captivated by his colorful and elegant designs and masterful development of the woodcut technique. He received numerous awards and the color woodcut prints were exhibited in Hungary and were sent to international shows to represent the best from Hungary. As a mature artist, he started a new life around the age of 50, and established himself in America. From his first exhibition in New York at the renowned Kennedy Gallery his achievements were numerous and impressive.  Although he became world famous in America, he established a visual symbolism deeply rooted in his Hungarian heritage, yet meaningful to audiences world wide. He is one of the best practitioners of the “Bartók model,” creating works of art steeped in ancient lore, but expressed in a unique modern style.


Domjan’s life is marked by changing locations and continents. He originates from a district of Budapest, called Köbánya, where he lived in modest surroundings. He struggled to earn a living, trying 27 different jobs before he found his calling in art. Part of his odyssey involved traveling through Austria and Italy on foot to see the most important creations of art in their original settings. When he returned to Hungary, he lived as a hermit for a time, which allowed him to meditate and gain inspiration. He started painting in pastels soon after that. His work was shown at the Spiritual Art exhibit of 1934 to critical acclaim.  He received a scholarship to study at the Royal Art Academy.  In 1948 Domjan went to Scandinavia to exhibit the pastels. It was there that he began to experiment with woodcut prints. Upon his return to Hungary, Domjan enlisted his wife Evelyn, an artist as well, to help with the color woodcut art.  Thus a life long collaboration ensued. Evelyn specialized in cutting the wood blocks.


The color woodcuts were very successful.  Domjan was well recognized and celebrated in Hungary and was awarded the coveted “Kossuth Prize” – the highest recognition bestowed on an artist­. An invitation to lecture and exhibit in China followed. He toured China for six months and exhibited in Ulan Bator, Mongolia as well. In October 1956 Domjan traveled to Switzerland with his pictures to set up an exhibit in Geneva, where he was when the Hungarian Revolution broke out. His wife and children escaped Hungary to join him. Domjan chose to live in freedom. When he was invited to exhibit in New York, he seized the opportunity. The family immigrated to the USA, first living in New York City, then New Jersey, and then Tuxedo Park, New York. He established the Domjan Studio in Tuxedo Park, within the world renowned gated community that includes hills, forests, and several lakes.


Over 400 one man shows followed all over North America, from coast to coast, as well as in Europe, South America, and Australia. Domjan prints are in the permanent collections of over 100 museums and numerous private collectors. Later his works also found their way to a museum established in his honor in Sárospatak, Hungary. Domjan loved the print medium, the multiple originals. It was possible to sell several prints and still have a few left.  He usually printed very small editions of eight to ten prints of each image, planning to come  back to it later.  But often the full edition of 25 prints was never printed as his interest wandered to new subjects.  He also continued to paint oil paintings throughout his life, but those did not become so well known. The oil paintings were more difficult to ship to exhibit, and Domjan did not want to sell them, being that they were not in multiple copies.


Domjan has a special relationship with time. He is a true 20th century artist who was born at the beginning of the century and lived into the last decade of the century. He merged several styles into his art form, yet he was able to create something very modern and unique. He was like a phoenix that rose from the ashes and was able to reinvent himself. Domjan created his own world of fauna and flora. There are dozens of fabulous peacocks. The peacock is a mythical bird which chases away darkness and destruction, flies through time and space, and reflects a rainbow of colors on its feathers. There are tigers and dragons, eagles, stars and moons, mythic flowers and botanical herbs all living in a world of color and light. 500 woodblocks were carved. The volume of art work that Domjan left is most impressive.  Students could spend years cataloguing and analyzing his work.


Domjan’s use of multiple woodblocks in color prints not only condenses the present reality into two dimensions, but it also offers a multi-level aesthetic experience to the viewer. These works are attractive and decorative. However, on a deeper level, the images evoke a myriad of artistic expressions, symbolic overtones, and, a lasting magical aesthetic pleasure.


Dr Gábor Tarján

Professor at the Hungarian University of Fine Arts


Alma D. Melbourne   English version

  • 2015. 01. 29.