70 Hungarian postcards to the 70-year-old Israel
Visiting Shakespeare in Jerusalem
Pál Fux (1922-2011) and László Tabák (1927-2011)
By Sándor Silló - 2018-03-24
Translated from the Hungarian original: Bea Sara Goll
I’ve already had this book in my hands once: Shakespeare’s Sonnets with Pál Fux' drawings, in an antiquarian bookshop in Kolozsvár, behind King Matthias' house of birth. The artist was also from Kolozsvár, before he made aliyah to Israel. Not William, the other. I've been thumbing through the book for a while, but then it was left there ...
Then - 15 years later – I received an email with the article below; the sender Mária Markovits, editor of the former Izraeli Szemle [Israeli Review].
The following unusual piece is written about Pál Fux, a painter from Jerusalem; it was published in László Tabák's “Üzenet a palackban” ["Message in the Bottle"] in 1996. The reporter-author’s soul, sense of humor and artistic humility shines through her words, while she is speaking with the greatest admiration about the host who had turned into Shakespeare every now and then.
Pál Fux, a painter from Jerusalem, has also made a good name for himself as a set-designer and puppet maker in Transylvania, so it is no wonder that he has a particularly keen sense for dramatic effects. As I was unsuspectingly entering his studio, I looked at the walls and the easel, searching for the surprise promised; the painting I could expect to find based on the short invitation.
However, the easel was empty.
Fux stood there, in his full height, beside the empty easel, his hands in his pockets, and he was grinning under his mustache without saying a word. Only his eyes flashed toward the floor, and what I spotted there took my breath away: miniature paintings lay on the mosaic. Not five, not ten, but one hundred and fifty four. A hundred and fifty four art pieces in a circle, a visual representation of all the Sonnets of Shakespeare.
Just like when we recall the whole melody upon the sole sound of a string, the graceful curves of the lines came alive in the hidden gaps of my memory, like white seagulls crossing the 400-year-old time-airspace over the misty English coastline,
“So are you to my thoughts as food to life,
Or as sweet-season'd showers are to the ground;
And for the peace of you I hold such strife
As 'twixt a miser and his wealth is found.”
[Shakespeare, Sonnet 75]
”Az vagy nekem, mi testnek a kenyér,
s tavaszi zápor fűszere a földnek;
lelkem miattad örök harcban él,
mint fösvény, kit pénze gondja öl meg.”
[Translated by Lőrinc Szabó: the Sonnets were published in his masterful Hungarian translation, with Fux’ illustrations]
It takes time to come out of the trance when having just witnessed this tantalizing marriage of literature and fine art, until the dizziness of trying to capture the hurry-scurry multitude of ideas settles. Wines should not be drunk mixed: you have to taste the vintages and varieties one by one each day so that you can recognize the full value of the wine cellar. You would have to sample 154 bottles (if you could stand taking one sip only at a time).
Pál Fux’ Shakespeare miniatures - perhaps more than any artwork - require a book like the sonnets themselves. To get to know the original paintings: a great unique experience. But to discover them, to find them, to admire the details, to savor them again and again over the years to find the very best one that suits the mood, the spiritual need of the moment: it can only be done with an album.
Any sophisticated publisher of the world could gain a lot, not just in money but in prestige.
Without a comprehensive volume, it is difficult to analyze this extraordinary artistic achievement that had presented Pál Fux with at least two major problems.
One: the sonnets contain only emotions, or ideas, but never any actions suitable for visual imaging. The sonnet is also strictly defined as a closed form, and its magnificent balance in the hands of great poets is a jewel. But with its formal brilliance, it can conceal the complete lack of content. Théophile Gautier said that “the sonnet is like a cat, it always lands on its feet.” It is a veritable poem even if there is nothing happening in it; which, of course, does not apply to Shakespeare's sonnets. The poems of the "Stratford Swan" are rich with emotions, and ideas, but there is no action in them. It is hard to believe that the dramas of Richard III, King Lear, Lady Macbeth, Hamlet, or Othello fraught with warfare, murder, and intimidation were conceived by Shakespeare, the same demigod who is the author of the ethereal sonnets.
A puzzle for literary historians is that the sonnets were born during the same era when these great tragedies (1601-1608) were created, in Shakespeare's so-called “dark time.” We just don’t know what event could have been so shocking to trigger the tragic turning point in his creative work.
Some of the sonnets are about a certain Dark Lady. A black-haired, dark-skinned lady who provides the poet with all the anguish and humiliation of love. Many of the sonnets are addressed to Shakespeare's distinguished, young and handsome friend adored by the poet. One of the sonnets suggests that the Dark Lady seduced the beloved, pure-spirited friend.
Some of the researchers simply question whether the Shakespeare sonnets are based in reality. The poets of the 17th century were not necessarily writing to “express their experiences,” as Antal Szerb says, but to sing of poetic subjects that were prescribed by strict traditions and conventions. The sonnet also had a specific theme: hopeless love. We do not know whether Shakespeare is talking about personal experiences, or depicting an imaginary love tragedy in the form of a sonnet, a version of Romeo and Juliet.
Except that every scene of the popular play presents an event that is easy to translate into the language of fine art, but the sonnet is but a beautifully varied series of sighs.
One of the rare qualities of Pál Fux’ talent is his ability to visualize emotional-ideational effects (I am convinced that if you had ordered a series of twenty images of relativity theory, he would have delivered it by the deadline). He had provided the proof to this skill with the miniatures of the 150 Psalms, which an American collector considered one of the most notable discoveries of his life bought at first sight without bargaining, who vanished with them beyond the Overseas. They should have been placed in a museum or public building in Jerusalem.
The other big problem raised by attempting to paint the sonnets: the artist had to immerse himself into a life remote from our own, not only in time, but also in the ways of life, and then show its particular mood in line with our present taste.
Talking about wild differences in thought and behavior is not simply a phrase. One of the first English poets of sonnets, Henry, Earl of Surrey, (1517-1547) led armies, robbed entire parts of the country, weaved conspiracies, was put four times in jail and ultimately beheaded. In his spare time, however, he wrote poems about love, loyalty, friendship and flowers. He was a true poet ...
Pál Fux may have succeeded because the fundamental human emotions - love, jealousy and sorrow - are eternal, only the mode of their artistic expression has changed. Thus, the 154 sonnets could even serve as a pretext to represent our current day struggles in lines and numbers.
Pál Fux' new work is a result of an exciting time travel. For a person blessed with his imagination, it is really no big deal to go back 400 years to sit on a bench in front of the Globe Theater, to attend the reception of Shakespeare's friend, Lord Southampton, or to recall the features of the Dark Lady. Then, together with their complicated genius, to paint the people of Nagyvárad and Jerusalem into this stage with these costumes. And himself.
Additionally, please see:
Illustrations are only available in the 1999 and 2009 editions. Noran Kiadó [Publishing House].
About László Tabák:
He attended high school in Kolozsvár, but in 1944 when racial laws were issued, he was expelled from the school and deported with his family in the summer. When he returned home he worked as an electrician and then graduated from the Technical College of Kolozsvár. Instead of working in the technical field, he became a journalist: employed at Igazság [Truth] of Kolozsvár (1954-58); then stage manager at the Hungarian State Theater. From 1970 to 1976, he was editor of the foreign policy column of the Hét [Week] in Bucharest until he was sent to Israel. After 1976 he was an editor of Új Élet [New Life] in Tel Aviv, from 1990 editorial board member, from 1994 to 1996 editor-in-chief; Since 1982, he was chairman of the Hungarian Department of Foreign Language Writers' Association of Israel.
Since 1954 he had published novels and literary reports in Utunk [Our Journey]. In his lyrical narratives, humorous writings and satire, he had enlivened the life in Romania and then Israel.
Tajvan (Bukarest, 1958);
Vészcsengő (satires, with a foreword by Zoltán Panek. Bukarest, 1969. Forrás);
Jelentés (Tel-Aviv, 1980);
Lemondtam a világfelelősségről (Tel-Aviv, 1981);
Társasutazás az időben (co-author Mordechai Rössel; stories, sketches, essays, Bnei-Brak, 1985);
Üzenet a palackban (satires, Tel-Aviv, 1996);
A Meztelen Igazság (Tel-Aviv, 1996).
Memorial of the Jewish History of Sălaj-Szilágy County
(Bnei-Brak, 1989) (co-editor);
A szétszórtság arénája (Stockholm–Budapest, 2002) (contributor).
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