After a lifetime of learning, Csaba Markus integrates his contemporary spirit with a classical style

Csaba Markus is a living, breathing paradox. With his muscular build and unkempt curls, he looks more like a Hungarian warrior than a contemporary artist.

There's his deep, accented voice that sounds like he would be more comfortable discussing classical literature than talking about his first "success" as a teenage painter when he "got girls." And then there's his art. He paints classical, ancient images and compares them to the excess and lavishness of a rock `n' roll video. "I am not Hungarian; I am not American," he said. "I am a hybrid--two perspectives--but I tell you, I am gaining lots. I have two identities and two experiences."

The 47-year-old artist works and lives with his wife Veronika (also the title of a limited-edition serigraph) and their three children at his Southern California studio. He has a kind laugh and a comic sense of humor. He's a wise sage, a joker, a politico, an eccentric artist, a culture buff and a visionary rolled into one.

Markus was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1953. He said the city's rich history--and strict communist regime--contributed to his artistic style. From the reconstructed baroque architecture to the carefully excavated castles and palaces, his childhood in Hungary, where he frequented art museums, laid the foundation for his present-day source of inspiration. "I was so fortunate growing up [in Hungary] near the palaces and appreciating the sculptures and the art. But also, growing up in the communist system, they did not let new information and ideas in. We only had the classical art. This is why I became a classical artist. Botticelli, Michelangelo, Donatello--they were my role models. I am a classic artist because that is what I got. Someplace else I may have been a baseball player or a rock musician, maybe a model," he mused.

In all seriousness, however, he said he always dreamed of becoming a famous artist. "Everyone needs a hero, and for me, it was always a painter."

He also had a talent for making people laugh. Taking notes during teachers' lectures wasn't his top priority, Markus admitted. He said he was always scribbling during class--drawing cartoons and caricatures of classmates and teachers, always to get a reaction from his fellow students--until he got caught. "I made one about my teacher, and I was scared because it was not a very nice [drawing]," Markus remembered. "He said `You know, I am going to write a note to your mom.'"

Scared young Markus reluctantly took the note home to his mother, dreading the impending punishment. "The note said, `Your son has lots of talent. You should educate him in the arts.' I was 10 years old," Markus recalled.

Markus' mother took the words to heart. He began his artistic career as a sculptor under the guidance of Hungarian academic Ferenc Mohacsi Regos. Recognized as a talented artist by his teachers and the public alike, Markus and his work made their first public appearance on international public television when he was 14 years old. "That was the first instance in which I was an artist," he remembered. "I could never forget that feeling. I could create something and people would appreciate it."

His television debut also sparked another epiphany for the young man. "I could paint nice pictures and write poems for girls to show them that I was unique. After the live broadcast, I got my first girlfriend--my first success."

Early on, Markus' captivation with the Renaissance, Neo-Classical and Romantic periods dominated his work. Though classically trained, the Avant Garde and Abstraction began to make their way into Markus' work. He reflected on the rebirth of humanity after the Middle Ages, the transition from a spiritually and morally controlled world to one that encouraged individual thought. These ideas became strong themes in his art. He became increasingly frustrated with teachers and the confines of communism. "I was very fed up," he said. "[The communist system] doesn't value the individual. They don't like freethinking minds. I was very desperate. For me it was not a good environment. I had two choices--start making bombs to destroy the system or get out." He chose the latter, although his "escape" in 1978, as he said, was "absolutely normal. It's not anything you could put in a book or a movie. I applied for my passport--I tried for seven years. When I finally got it, I had one week to leave the country. So I left."

Markus came to Mission Viejo, Calif., where he still lives. "I said, `I am putting my roots down here.' I am pretty stable. And California is good for painters because it has good sun. Italians, French and Spaniards are good painters because they have good sun. The Swiss--you don't hear too much about their painters, do you?"

In Mission Viejo, Csaba continued his journey to become a self-supporting artist. He experimented with many techniques and various mediums: hand-made papers, metal sculpture, ceramics, etchings, silk screen and even animation. This year, he looks ahead to new paintings, etchings, handmade glass and even sculpture.

To date, Markus has participated in more than 200 U.S. exhibitions and is now an established artist with a solid base of collectors. Noted for his commissioned portrait works, his paintings are a part of many prominent, private collections. He publishes his own work through the Csaba Markus Atelier.

His most recent works embody the style, imagery and ideas of what Markus calls "Contemporary Classicism." Just as the artist of the 14th and 15th centuries evolved Classicism into the Renaissance, Markus is redefining traditional and basic classical details with loose and spontaneous means of expression. His appreciation of the past, and of his own culture, has made him a firm believer in the value of tradition. Yet his individuality and his free sprit continually push him to marry this lost classical culture with contemporary life.

"My goal is to create the most beautiful painting every time I paint," he explained. "My art starts with Greek and Roman art and moves on to the Renaissance. It has some details from crazy Art Deco and surrealism. And it's always very playful. I am always making secrets into my pictures, writing my friends names and telling stories. When people buy my art, after a year they will notice more details, but they will never know all the secrets."

"Golden Princess" is his most recent image. Like all of the beautiful women he paints, the Golden Princess carries the blend of traditional and modern elements that have become Markus hallmark as a neoclassical artist. "The Golden Princess for me is very magical," Markus said. "It was an incredible challenge to paint that face. In it, I painted the people in her feelings, not just the surface of her face."

She has secrets to keep--and so does Markus. What stories does the Golden Princess tell? Mums the word, said Markus. "A secret is a secret."

A Contemporary Classic

Art Business News, March, 2001 by Jessica Lyons

Csaba Markus : A Contemporary Classic