Ilona Keserü is a leading figure of the neo-avantgarde generation of artists that coalesced in the early 1960s. She would ultimately create a coherent oeuvre in Hungary to make a powerful statement for the second half of the 20th century.
She had been professionally trained from childhood. Her mentor, beginning in 1946, was Ferenc Martyn, once part of the École de Paris, who returned to Hungary in the mid-40s. From him she mastered the fundamentals of drawing in the mother tongue of abstract art.
In 1958, during the most oppressive years of doctrinaire socialist realism, she graduated from the fresco department at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest. A turning point in her career came with a stay in Italy in 1962-63. In the first half of the 60s, she began to paint in a classical modernist vein influenced by abstract painting. These were dynamic free-flow drawings of sweeping energy, restricted to a palette of three or four colors, in the Numbered Images series. These were the first manifestations of Keserü’s crystallized color sensibility.
In 1967, Keserü discovered the rustic, heart-shaped headstones of the cemetery at Balatonudvari that would become a central motif of her painting for a long while to come. Although previously familiar with the place and its gravestones, she was so moved by the experience on one particular excursion with friends near Lake Balaton that she – as she puts it herself – “immediately felt a powerful need to paint a cavalcade of these shapes in all their variety. They appeared before me – beautiful, weathered, crumbling bits of limestone large and small – that nothing in this world was so important or close to me than these big puffy, arching, two or three-lobed, half-buried stone pastries.
2001 – 2001
She is awarded a grant to work in Rome.
1991 – 1991
She is a university professor, and a founder of the Pécs Academy of Art. In the 1990s, the Glimpse into Time art group reflects on the new and stormy historical events taking place in the artist’s immediate surroundings, and how they affect her personally: “I am driven by the obligation to face up to things.”
1983 – 1983
She teaches drawing and painting at the Janus Pannonius University in Pécs. She paints very large pictures in her new studio in Pécs.
1983 – 1983
Her first collective exhibition at a state venue is held in the Hall of Arts (Műcsarnok).
1981 – 1981
She begins to examine how to capture, in painting, the “Afterimage”, the vision formed behind suddenly closed eyes, burning in brilliant colours of light. She experiments with how to depict “colours of light” using pigments.
1972 – 1972
She starts exploring the relations between the colours of the spectrum and the colours of human skin.
1971 – 1973
She builds the monumental embossed work titled Plastered Forms in the Sculpture Park in Villány.
1970 – 1970
She spends two months in Cologne, Amsterdam, Paris and London: “I’ve decided that in Hungary I must do what I want.”
1968 – 1968
She is invited by Czechoslovakian colleagues to an international exhibition in Bratislava (Danuvius 1968, biennale internationale des jeunes artistes). Broadcasting on Radio Free Europe, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports: “(…) the most powerful is the young Ilona Keserü, who appeared with her abstract works…” A West German TV crew films in her studio.
1967 – 1967
She goes on a round trip of Lake Balaton: “I’m starting a series of pictures based on the already familiar heart-shaped tombstone forms of the cemetery in Balatonudvar.”
1967 – 1976
While continuing to paint, she also earns a living designing stage sets and costumes.
1966 – 1972
She thinks in several genres at the same time, which she adds to and supplements with varying intensity throughout her career. Her method of working consists of different forms of painting behaviour, and an alternation and cohabitation of her use of materials. In her studio she produces gesture paintings, canvases showing pure colour relationships, collages of objects, and pictures on embossed flax and hemp canvas.
1962 – 1963
She spends a year in Italy, travelling to Rome on her own money, where she enrols in a free course at the Accademia di Belle Arti and obtains a three-month grant from the Italian state. The deep impressions made on her there – an awareness of how older periods of art build upon each other in layers, and direct experience of the overwhelming greatness of architecture and the wonders of contemporary art – will remain enduring influences on the rest of her career.
1959 – 1960
She travels to Poland and Prague and experiences life among relatively free art circles. Her return home marks the start of her first period of making pictures that are abstracted from reality.
1952 – 1958
She starts her studies at the painting faculty of the Hungarian College of Art, where her first teacher is László Bencze. From 1955 she studies fresco painting under István Szőnyi. For her thesis in 1958 she paints an al secco work in the Epreskert building of the college, titled Fugitives, and measuring 2.5m x 9m.
1950 – 1952
She continues her studies at the Grammar School of Visual and Applied Arts in Török Pál Street in Budapest.
1946 – 1950
She is a pupil at the Free School of Art in Pécs.
1945 – 1945
At the age of twelve, she begins studying under Ferenc Martyn, a member of the Parisian Abstraction-Création group and a major figure in Hungarian abstract painting. In the visual environment of abstract art, which she learns to speak almost as a mother tongue, her childhood master teaches her how to make drawn studies of nature based on precise observation, and how to explore the opportunities in the language of painting – lessons that will have an impact on her entire life and career.
Solo show, Filling Space with No Intentions at Kisterem, Budapest
Epic Abstraction: Pollock to Herrera, The Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York
Solo show at Stephen Friedman Gallery, London
Solo show, Celebrating Colour – A selection of Ilona Keserü Ilona’s oeuvre at Zsolnay Negyed – Pécsi Galéria m21, Pécs
Space of Colours – Cangiante, Vaszary Gallery, Balatonfüred
Solo exhibition at Kisterem, Budapest
Solo exhibition at Kisterem, Budapest
Solo show at Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum, Bratislava- Čunovo, SK
Titled Forest of Images, a collective exhibition of works made between 1982 and 2008 is held at the MODEM Arts Centre in Debrecen.
Approach, Tangle, Stream – An Investigation of Causes and Effects in Ilona Keserü Ilona’s Oeuvre at Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest
WORKS IN PUBLIC COLLECTIONS
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York