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 Lajos Tscheligi  (1913 - 2003)

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Lived/Active: Switzerland/Hungary      Known for: abstract and realist painting, teaching

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Lajos Tscheligi was born on the 10th of August 1913 in Budapest, the son of a glass painter and church restorer. It was a time of change and turmoil.  So much was happening – in politics, in art and in society.  The experiences and the turbulence in early childhood influenced and shaped him throughout his life. As a boy he found colors, shapes and sounds magical and he was driven by a desire to find an answer to all the turmoil around him. His father took him to the church where he worked and the young Tscheligi learned colors and the exposure to chalk, charcoal and paint. At the age of nine he painted his teacher and his artistic aptitude was noticed for the first time. At the age of eleven he was commissioned to draw a map of the city of Budapest, which was a great honor and earned him his first money.

At fifteen, he painted the image of an angel on a wall with its shadow. That was the beginning of his search for the interpretation of transparency, which always intently engaged him.

There was not enough money in the family for him to study art. However when the art professor Illés Aladár Edvi saw the portrait of the grandmother that the talented twenty year old had drawn in charcoal, he and his colleague Oskar Glatz enrolled him as a private student and taught him for four years the theoretical and basic principles of painting. The insight of the young art student that there is no art without nature was reflected in his early landscape paintings in oil and pastel. "In these images you can feel that the artist is a real Hungarian; he hears the sound of the water, feels the breath of the plain and all the freshness that nature brings," one critic wrote after Tscheligi’s first exhibition in September 1943.

Then the Second World War raged. The soldier Tscheligi was captured by the Russians, however he was able to escape.

In 1945 back in Hungary he joined the Hungarian "Union of Fine Arts".  His desire as an artist was to express his perception of light, vitality and the knowledge of the presence of soul and spirit in color and form. His subjects - people, landscapes and events showed strong vibrant expressiveness. In 1948 he presented three of his pictures at the centenary exhibition in Budapest, where his father, who he felt spiritually connected to, also showed individual works.

The marriage in 1950 to Agnes Csürös and the desire for a family required a stable income. Tscheligi studied surveying and worked as a construction manager in Eger in the Bück mountains in order to earn money. However his heart and passion was painting, which he did every free minute he had.

In 1956 Hungary was threatened with political turmoil, which culminated in the popular uprising. The young family of four fled to Switzerland and lived in an apartment in Chur. In a studio in the old town of Chur Tscheligi taught art. In the studio/gallery in St. Moritz he found the light and the freedom to explore philosophical thoughts with the significance of the colors.

The unfolding of his inner urge for the expression of much needed transparency created the first abstract works. Influenced by the struggle for survival and the quest for integration in a foreign country, this was a difficult period but very liberating for his work. At last he could paint what he felt. He dedicated himself, inspired by the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, to study his own personal painting style of metaphysical abstraction and to develop his own color philosophy.

This was followed by invitations for exhibitions in Switzerland, France and England. In 1964/65 the family lived in the United States. But out of concern that his son would be called to serve as a soldier in the Vietnam War, the planned emigration was rejected and Tscheligi returned with his family to Switzerland.

Admission as a member in Bern to the "Society of Swiss Painters, Sculptors and Architects" in 1965 and the obtaining of Swiss citizenship in 1971, helped Tscheligi slowly to find his way as an artist in Switzerland and obtain greater attention. He also participated in exhibitions in Europe, USA, South America and Asia.

On the 13th of June 2003, Lajos Tscheligi died aged ninety years old, having found his own artistic expression after an adventurous, passionate, rich and full life.

Of his painting styles, during the naturalistic phase, Lajos Tscheligi painted portraits, coal miners, scenes from the lives of farmers, crop images, fishing and scenery of the Tisza region. These were scenes and images of life, often with a lot of movement. City scapes too, which he brought alive with people. Then looking for further development, in 1957 after the escape to Switzerland, he freed himself from the pressure and restraint of the need to paint in order to survive.

Despite the experiences of war, crisis and culture shock, from then on he painted what he really wanted.  Of this freedom, he said: "As you know, naturalism is the money maker of painting. Everyone likes their own face and pays to have it painted. The artist then postpones what he would like to paint only to realize it when he has a full belly. For me there were two possibilities: either the people understood my pictures and I could give pleasure, or I had to go hungry. I realized that I had to endure, and this finding gave me a sense of liberation."

From that time, not only was Tscheligi’s painting style and method very individual and unusual but he changed mediums, having originally painted in pastel and oil,  and now he used acrylic.  At the same time he applied another color shading on a color that made the first coat of paint in some places shimmer through the layers with the intention of giving his pictures depth and something foreboding. He created his own color theory based on his research, thoughts, feelings, and experiments with compositions and their meaning: "The five fingers of the hand represent the five colors. White is the beginning, black is the end, but for me neither black or white is a color. Blue symbolizes the infinite, the cosmos, the mystical. Red is the color of love, the articulation of life, but also the color of selfishness. Yellow is the color of the sun. …
Read more … His philosophy of colors

Light and its radiance are dominating elements in the pictures of the artist. He had dealt with the various light phenomena already in the 1950’s. When asked about this fascination he replied: "I love everything about the sun; for me it is the life-giving power par excellence. Therefore I regard the colors on a third level tone. I illuminate a red, blue or green and give it shadow and light. This third step is the radiance. …

A further component in Tscheligi’s work is the picture design of softly flowing abstract forms, like floating, hazy figures. Often they are female figures, and occasionally couples, men and women, facing each other or moving towards each other. Entire groups are either moving, remaining close to each other or dancing.

From his father he learned the manufacture of paints, the proper preparation for drawings, the handling of the brush and how to trace different shapes and motifs with the help of carbon dust. Tscheligi was a do-it-yourselfer and explorer of materials. He was looking for transparency and the representation of the light. His paintings and the characters should reflect light. Pastels came to him in this way. He learned a lot from Jenö Maróti Major, whom he regarded as one of the best pastel artists in Hungary.

In 1959, wanting to share his art knowledge, and known there were no art institutions nearby, Tscheligi founded in Chur a school for aspiring painters.

Source:
website of the artist


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