Literary visions – Tibor Csernus exhibition

Temporary exhibition from Tibor Csernus’s book illustrations in Paris (1965-1980)

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is” (Shelley)

This exhibit highlights a lesser known part of the Hungarian-French painter’s oeuvre, presenting the first comprehensive overview in Hungary of his book illustrations. We concentrate on the Paris years, when he produced cover designs and illustrations for a wide range of themes, from belles-lettres through crime fiction and fantasy to sci-fi.

It was in the second half of the 1950s, at the beginning of his career, that Csernus started to draw book illustrations for such Hungarian publishing houses as Szépirodalmi, Magvető, Európa and Kossuth. Notwithstanding the Munkácsy Prize with which his work was acknowledged in 1963, he was not allowed to exhibit his paintings for political reasons, and applied graphics was the only way he could reach an audience. When he and his artist wife, Katalin Sylvester settled in Paris in 1964, he continued to produce illustrations to make a living. It was a poet friend, János Csokits, also living in the French capital at the time, who introduced him to publishers. A fast worker who produced excellent quality, Csernus soon became a sought-after illustrator, whose designs pleased both publishers and authors. Csokits, for instance, recalled a very satisfied Camus, who went on to insist on being illustrated by Csernus, though the two artists probably never met.

The painter did not give up book illustration even as an established artist: when it was no longer a much needed means of livelihood, it continued to function as a medium of experiment. Csernus considered the illustrations as so many exercises in composition, whose lessons he could employ in his painting. These two activities shared a work process that involved figure studies, the collection and selection of motifs, as well as their reuse, connection and reinterpretation. While the works presented here do not rely on Csernus’s own stories, together they outline the main features of an exceptional oeuvre.At the end of a documentary film, the last substantial interview with him, he offered an explanation as to his interest in literature as a painter. Quoting a line from Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind, he added: “What a vision! This is painting!”The exhibits are part of the contents of the artist’s Montmartre studio, an estate that became the property of the Kovács Gábor Art Foundation in 2009.

Open until 5 October, 2014

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