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Tibor Jankay

 (1899 - 1995)
Tibor Jankay was active/lived in California / Hungary.  Tibor Jankay is known for figurative abstraction.

Tibor Jankay

Biography from the Archives of askART

About Tibor Jankay

TIBOR JANKAY (1899-1994), as he used to mention so many times, felt special and deep leaning towards his hometown of Békéscsaba, Hungary. Following several international successes, he always returned to his beloved people and landscapes of the Great Plain and friends. After nearly a five-decade-long emigration he still thought that only Békéscsaba alone could be worthy to succeed his art and inheritance. Following the first visit home in 1969, he returned to Békéscsaba several times, and as it can be seen from his writings and notes, his old plan was to bequeath everything to his hometown. This inheritance arrived at Békéscsaba in 1997 by his testament, and a significant part of it can be seen by the public of town within the frame of a new and permanent exhibition.

In the autumn of 1918 Tibor Jankay started his art studies at the Fine Art Academy in Budapest. Among his teachers he had the most delightful reminiscence of Pál Szinyei Merse and János Vaszary. He frequently exhibited his works from the early 1920s first in Békéscsaba, Gyula and Orosháza, and later at Ernst Museum where the works of Fine Artists' New Club were also on display and he showed his works abroad too. Critics appreciated the accurate composition skills already, in his early works and also that he created order and tension in his pictures by using only a few figures and motives.

The determinant feature of Jankay's graphics and paintings is the people next to him, humble people and poor gypsies living in small farms around Bekes and the busy inhabitants of Békéscsaba appear in these pictures. Before he had finally emigrated from Hungary, he visited the United States twice. His older brother, who was a doctor and later his mother also lived there, therefore this country meant a more secure life for him than for hundred thousands who had emigrated in those days. Beginning from October in 1929 and later from the autumn of 1934, both times he spent about a year each in the United States. He lived in Ohio at the first time, five years later he went to Los Angeles. By that later time he had a car by which he wandered  the  hot  and  wild  regions of California. Both visits brought him significant pecuniary and professional successes; he won prizes,  his pictures were shown in great museums, and some were sold.

After all Jankay still longed for home. During World War II, he was sent to a labour battalion, but even these years could not extinguish the love of his country. He  worked up his moving war adventures in a charcoal drawing series the Martyrs issued in 1947 by Tevan Publishing Company.  Perhaps the love of his mother could be the only one to be stronger than patriotism, and in 1948 he finally decided to follow his mother  and  his siblings, and he moved to California. 

In  1949  he began teaching drawing, painting and modeling, and he also gave art courses at American universities. His activity was acknowledged and appreciated by his colleagues and students. In teaching Jankay discovered a new meaning of life, insomuch that when he was near ninety years old he did not paint, he talked and philosophized only. His young students and friends in their twenties respected and loved him as their father and master, and there were some who even felt in love with this jolly and clear-hearted old man. It is interesting that American motives left little marks in Tibor Jankay's painting. In his early years of work, even during his emigration he repainted his Hungarian experiences and memories again and again, some motives were used several times in many variations.

The effects of America can be seen most in the unexampled evolution of Jankay's poesy, the fascinating enrichment of experimenting (he made ceramics, stone and glass mosaics, sculptures and relives from the most unusual materials like screws, wire and nails) and in his philosophy that the most important thing in life is to establish clear human relations and attachments. This simplicity and clearness is radiating from in Jankay's late paintings. One of the most significant pieces of them is The Spirit of Venice representing a boy with guitar made in 1989. This picture was the poster and emblem of Venice Festival in 1992 and was printed on T-shirts and record covers. This compact record contains the own performances of musicians from Venice Beach. They were all Jankay's friend and many of them still play music in the busy parades of the beach; in the evening they stop and as if it would be a wonderful phenomenon they stare at the  boy-like, slightly melancholic sunset of beaches, coasts, drives and boulevards from day to day.  This is the world of Jankay's last years: the resigned but un-destroyably vital world of free wanderers, musicians and artist.

And in Jankay's painting this was the world of clear colours, transparent and clear forms, relaxing and closed compositions. As he said in one of his last interviews, when he looked at the ocean he felt the width, spaciousness and infinity of the Great Plain and it is certain that every night during the nightfall he thought of his homeland. "I have  been  living in America  for  a  very  long  time.  In  my  thoughts  and dreamworld I spend more time in Békéscsaba than at any other place of the world. Békéscsaba was the place, where my feelings were born, I found there, beauty, good and delight. " he said in 1983. Living at the coast he still reserved and redefined the picture of the plain and he also preserved the vitality of his youth which he could adjust to the ideals of American life only in his old ages, living lonely and unbound with family ties. That is how he remained a Hungarian painter, a painter from the Great Plains there and  abroad, and that is how he became a hundred per cent American painter as well.


"Tibor Jankay", Bilingual Primary School, //

Biography from the Archives of askART
A Holocaust survivor born in Bekescaba, Hungary, Tibor Jankay settled in Los Angeles in 1948 and became a long-time art teacher at Pepperdine University where he chaired the Art Department for 27 years. His paintings are bright, cheerful figurative pieces inspired by French modernists Picasso and Leger. He seldom sold or exhibited his work during his lifetime, regarding them as his children.

He studied at the Academy in Budapest and the Julian Academy in Paris, France. He was in the Hungarian army and sent to Transylvania with other Jewish soldiers in a labor battalion. He escaped Nazi deportation in 1944 and supported himself by drawing portraits in exchange for food and shelter.

From May 27 to July 23, the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine hosted a retrospective of his painting.

Butterfield Auction

Biography from the Archives of askART
Note from David Moss:
I was a friend of Tibor Jankay, a Hungarian born artist who adopted California as his home after WWII and the horror of the holocaust. The Hungarian Fine Arts Museum took most of his paintings and sculptures, and is supposedly building a small museum about him in his home town.

He passed away in 1995 at very close to age 95.

Biography from the Archives of askART
Resident of Los Angeles in the 1950s. 

Exh:  Calif. Watercolor Society, 1952-53.

Edan Hughes, author of the book "Artists in California, 1786-1940"

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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About  Tibor Jankay

Born:  1899 - Bekescaba, Hungary
Died:   1995
Known for:  figurative abstraction