Saturday 24 April 2021

'Heracles' in the Drawing Room

'Heracles', oil and acrylic on canvas by Orr Máté

Some time ago, most likely before the end of 2019, although the actual date is of little importance, we found ourselves in the Budapest studio of the painter, Orr Máté [in Hungarian the surname always precedes the first name]. Over the years Máté has become a very close friend and so whilst visits to his studio are not infrequent, it is always exciting when there is new work to be seen on the easel or, as does occasionally happen, an opportunity to turn the pages of his most recent sketchbook.

A preliminary sketch for the painting 'Heracles'

And so it was that we happened upon the preliminary drawings for a painting, 'Heracles', featuring the centaur, Nessus, in conflict with the Nemean lion. Not only were we captivated by the drawings themselves but were, in discussion, intrigued by the mythology of the Ancient Greeks given a new relevance to the present day.

A sketch for 'Heracles' taken from Orr Máté's sketchbook 

Of course the fate of Heracles is well known. But in this instance, in portraying the centaur entangled with the lion, Máté chooses a pose for his subject matter that seemingly embodies violence in a most brutal form and yet, on the other hand, one that also suggests its opposite. Here, in the artist's own words, we see, "a wide range of conflicting intense emotions: aggression, passion, the feeling of vulnerability, the feeling of power." The intended ambiguity becomes consistent with the experience of life.

A first drawing of the Nemean lion for the painting 'Heracles'

Interestingly, in looking at the early sketches, Máté gives the centaur a beard, later to be replaced with a more Hellenistic head, reminiscent of the sons of Laocoon depicted in the sculpture 'Gruppo del Laocoonte' and said to represent the original icon of human suffering. However, in the final work the composition is both balanced and harmonious, framed by two columns appropriated from the 'Ara Pacis Augustae' altar in Rome which, in themselves, become an allegory of peace.

Orr Máté at work in his studio on the painting

A fitting subject for the drawing room? Many would suggest not but for us, in acquiring the painting through the Várfok Gallery in Budapest who represent Máté, we have not only what we believe to be an iconic work but one that connects a distant past with the challenging times in which we live. The masterful  trompe l'œil effect is undoubtedly chilling, the cold marble creates its own stillness, the subdued palette an austerity but, in contrast, there is an energy, a dynamic, an unstoppable force. The painting lives. Here is life. 

'Heracles' in the drawing room, Budapest