Painted with someone else in mind

I sent a picture of my latest art purchase to a friend. Their reply said it all. Art, they said, is very subjective. And it is.

Sometime later, I came across a video on YouTube talking about how the Fine Art market is a scam.

It didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already suspect; I came away even more convinced that the value in art lies in the beholder. I’ve said repeatedly that what I know about art I could write on the back of a postcard; what I know about what I like would take volumes.

I have my tells. If I cry, I buy. This has happened three times so far – twice in Hungary and once in Costa Rica. All three pieces appealed to the emotional me. If something about a piece catches my attention and I have to look closer, and closer still to see what it was that resonated, and if that something proves elusive, then I’ll most likely buy. It’s a thinking piece – it appealed to my brain. I have one of Michael Pettet’s Chernobyl pieces that never fails to send me off on a tangent. I also have my mood-changing pieces, the ones that lift me and make me smile.

In my early days in Budapest, I met the artist now known as Emese Rosaliasdottir. We hung out and went places and did things. She even let me have the honour of naming a gekko she painted on the wall of Ellátó Kert, a favourite hangout back then. I called him Tadhg. The meanie in me wanted the Hungarian locals to have as much difficulty pronouncing the Irish name as I have trying to pronounce Gyöngyi or György or Gyergyó.

Like a lot of artists I know, she’s done other stuff, too. She worked for Swissair, massaged her way in a Hamam spa (she has gifted hands), and served tables in bars and cafés. She’s been an activist and a volunteer in her day and is currently working in a homeless shelter in Vienna. She’s worked on different projects in Hungary, Switzerland, and Ghana, and lots of other countries as well. The woman is blessed with a massive heart that draws no lines. All the while she painted, doodled, dabbled. She loves sports, too, coming as she does from a famous Hungarian sailing family and with Olympians in her bloodline. She dances, parties, cooks, loves to socialise, and recently started to renovate furniture. There is no end to either her energy or her talent.


Her sister had been in difficulty for a number of years on the other side of the world when, 9 years ago, her mum got cancer, and she needed something to take her mind off the pain and disconnect from worry. She started painting seriously. The granddaughter of the Hungarian painter and graphic artist György Litkey, art, too, is in her blood. (I quite fancy Lot 223.)

Concentrating on the colours and forms take my mind away from the problems. l always wanted to study art; l just let my self be convinced otherwise by others.

I was a little in awe of her. Her norm and my norm were worlds apart. I’ve rarely seen such freedom embodied in one person. Just watching her interact with others made me question the diet of shoulds and shouldn’ts that I was reared on as a product of an Irish Catholic convent-school education. I wondered at her reasoning, her thought process, her value system. I wondered at how many of my beliefs were inherited beliefs and was shocked at how few I could truly call my own.

I asked her once what advice she’d give to her 18-year-old self.

Love your body. Do not let anyone tell you what to do with your life. Everything is fine. Enjoy life. Do not worry or make drama for no reason.

Two things we have in common come to mind. The first is our belief in gratitude. We both practise giving thanks on a daily basis.

Literally every night (for years) when l go to bed l give thanks. First for the bed. Then the food in the kitchen (it is not obvious to have it), then my family, my friends (sometimes even everybody by name). l feel privileged and lucky.

The second is a huge appreciation for our chosen families – our friends. Emese’s BFF is her niece Fanni, whom she partly raised. Always lit from the inside, the light inside her gets even stronger when she talks of how proud she is of this young woman. She has an incredible support system that she calls ‘her bubble’. It includes family, friends, and her ex-husband of 12 years. ‘Thankfulness’, she says ‘is my church’.

We’ve been in and out of touch over the years, particularly since Emese moved to Vienna about eight years ago. Not long ago, she posted a piece she’d painted for a Hungarian musician on her Facebook page. I kept coming back to it. Again. And again. And again. I commented somewhat wistfully that I was coveting it. Some weeks later, she wrote to tell me that it was back on the market.

Emese had Lajkó Félix, a famous Hungarian violinist, in mind as she painted.

l met him at the Budapest Ritmo festival. We talked. He liked my paintings and wanted to buy one but the one he liked l’d already sold. He asked me to paint one for him. It took me a long time.

The piece is titled A Banda (the band). And looking at it with that in mind, there’s the frontman in a big blue coat and two others on either side who for her symbolise life and death, both playful. Under the coat, all kinds of emotions mix together.

I didn’t know the story when I bought the painting. And I’m glad. I’m glad, too, that their planets misaligned, that (re)connections weren’t made when the piece was finally finished, and that I get to look at it every day as a result.

The band is now just one of many things I see when I look at it. It’s like a mirror. It reflects my mood. Once, bitching about something I’d blown out of all proportion and feeling very sorry for myself, I saw a soldier walking away from his life to go fight for my privilege to complain about mine. Another time, riddled with angst about a new workshop I was running, I saw an ocean of colourful fish calm beneath the swirling waves overhead. It’s taken me back to the gogos in the South African township of eSizameleni and to the big island of Hawaii. It reminds me of books I’ve read, movies I’ve watched, songs I’ve heard. I see in it my yesterdays and my tomorrows. It never fails to make me smile. Art, as my mate said, is very subjective. And special.

And it’s even more special for me as it’s the first piece Emese has sold under the name Emese Rosaliasdottir – Emese, daughter of Rosalia. Like its creator, it’s an original.

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