if I can, my strange pains


By Ingrid Lyons, Jul 5 2022

Basti paints from images gathered over years – personal photographs and drawings from daily life that are tied to recollections – often they are experiences that have an left an imprint on the psyche. They carry with them links to sensations and situations, with Basti utilising them as portals, as a means to regain access to this realm of memory.

In many ways it is an exploration into what he can allow himself to produce and present as he endeavours to shake the residual effects of formal art education, as well as his understanding of academic painting, and the previous, tighter style for which he has been commended and rewarded. In Memorizà Basti plots a path from education towards intuition and, in doing so, he incorporates an intimate response with manifestations of visual histories and Isms in the work.

His way of painting sometimes references the post-Impressionists with use of vivid colours and thick application of paint. Impasto and distinctive brush strokes, and real-life subject matter merge with distorted forms for expressive effect. There is an emphasis on markmaking and colour to describe mood, atmosphere and body language. His investigation of the medium incorporates a pragmatic response to self-imposed limitations as he seeks to escape preconceived ideas of what a painting should do, both personally and for the viewer. This might be compared to a kind of hero’s journey of the kind Joseph Campbell speaks about in The Power of Myth, where the urge to demonstrate knowledge associated with ego is superseded by the more generative and explorative pursuit of understanding. In Basti’s case this plays out in his work. As viewers we witness a vulnerable interlude where the urge to master the medium of paint is eclipsed by a profound intrigue with its capacity for intricacies, its potential as a medium to represent ingrained and intangible sensations and emotions.

In Samuel Beckett’s story ‘First Love’, which he initially wrote in French in 1946 and later translated into English in 1972, the central character ponders his youth:

To be nothing but pain, how that would simplify matters! Omnidolent! Impious dream. I’ll tell them to you someday none the less, if I think of it, if I can, my strange pains, in detail, distinguishing between the different kinds, for the sake of clarity, those of the mind, those of the heart or emotional conative, those of the soul (none prettier than these) and finally those of the frame proper, first the inner or latent, then those affecting the surface, beginning with the hair and scalp and moving methodically down, without haste, all the way down to the feet beloved of the corn, the cramp, the kibe, the bunion, the hammer toe, the nail ingrown, the fallen arch, the common blain, the club foot, duck foot, goose foot, pigeon foot, flat foot, trench foot and other curiosities. And I’ll tell by the same token, for those kind enough to listen, in accordance with a system whose inventor I forget, of those instants when, neither drugged, nor drunk, nor in ecstasy, one feels nothing.

What can these paintings tell me about myself? Basti roams through a succession of flashbacks which are drawn out through the painterly process. A toothache and the feeling of physical pain expressed in After Tooth Extraction connects with other works like Soft Food and Time To Go, where recollections of discomfort, exhaustion and overexertion are contemplated by slowing down to take stock. The personal experience of simultaneous tooth extractions and feeling disorientated by painkillers, but still pursuing a wild night on an empty stomach with a bleeding mouth. Long Night depicts a friend rolling drunk into bed with clothes still on and Mountain features a tryst, with contortions to fit a small room perhaps. In his compositions, drawn out of the mind and merged with personal photos, Basti presents memories of hedonism, agony and disappointment. When we look at his paintings, we can observe an intention to slow down and reckon with glimmers – vignettes that flash on the mind eye, and to encapsulate their effect. Basti is excavating previous sensations, stalling on moments of solitude or intimacy to reconsider an essence.

Paintings like Yellow Forest present an uneasy rest, to lay down after expulsion of intense energy and to loosen. Love Drunk portrays affection and intimacy, while Pigtails posits a sense of lust, coupled maybe with rejection. Guilt is a work that elicits the wranglings and desperation of failed relationships. His paintings emphasise amalgamation and synthesis over strategy and planning, which suggests a curiosity around the idea of impulsivity and its representation in painting. We might think of Francis Bacon’s popes, open-mouthed, or Munch’s scream, ‘a gust of melancholy – suddenly the sky turned a bloody red’. Basti’s work pushes forth with such expressionist references and often verges on tongue-in-cheek parody.

There is a sense that the work comments on the triteness of the artist’s plight in relation to existential crises. Some of the works poke fun at the trope, a self-deprecating nod to the romantic notion of the lone painter. In Passport Photo we see a portrait of the artist of course, though the head is enlarged in jest and an exaggeration of a striped garment might recall the children’s puzzle book Where’s Wally?, or Sesame Street’s muppet characters, Bert and Ernie. In Tiger Tiger, we witness again the figure of the serious artist in the studio surrounded by paintings. But in this self-portrait, Basti is wearing a hooded tiger-print onesie. Here too, there is the urge to repudiate art historical ideas of what it means to be an artist, with comical and capricious interjections. The painting titled Sister, features the glint of a sardonic look, as though to take you down a peg or two – you with your notions. These paintings imply a sense of self-reflexivity – that Basti understands the trope of the tortured artist and recognises it in the development of his work with flourishes of humour.

Through investigating the atmosphere that can be drawn out of his experiences, and in the inherently temporal, spatial and physical act of creating a fixed image, Zsolt Basti’s paintings reflect a personal aspiration to relinquish control of what it means to be a ‘good’ painter, and there are indicators here and there within each composition where he moves between representation and expression. A reciprocal thing between the artist and the medium, where it becomes explorative rather than demonstrative in order to validate and reflect on his own journey as a painter.