New Bioromanticism :: About the pictures of Edit Hermkens

The painting of Edit Hermkens is the art of freedom, discovering the hidden face of nature, a new bioromanticism, which has not turned into total abstraction yet on our respect. Tibor Weiner Sennyey


The opening speech of the exhibition “The afternoon of Flora and Fauna” of Edit Hermkens. Took place on 6 April 2018, in Hattyú-ház, Kiskunfélegyháza. The exhibition is open until 18th May. Further details can be found here, on the webpage of DRÓT magazine.

Edit Hermkens asked me to talk about her pictures. I have to admit that I did not know much about her or her paintings before, and this is rather my fault. I viewed a few of her pictures, and I decided to undertake the request. I agreed to talk about her pictures, however talking about paintings is always difficult, almost impossible.

The nice thing about painting is that it is not a word, a sound, not even a material as many would think. However, it is made up of colors and shapes, light and darkness, spaces and the lack of space. In principle, painting is abstract, and the idea that painting should express something or reflect reality was a wrong approach. Cave paintings never reflect reality the same. Photorealistic paintings are only exciting if there are added values within them.

| The real painter knows that reality lays beyond visible, tangible and sensible illusions.

We have to look differently to actually see them. Despite of the fact that they are not or not justportraying their subject, the pictures of Van Gogh, Monet and Klee are more realistic and they tell much more about reality than a photo does. They are always portraying something more.

If you have a look at the pictures of Edit Hermkens, especially the ones at the exhibition, you may first think that you just see nuphars, cows and lambs. You may also think that Edit Hermkens simply paint nature and nothing more. In my opinion, you are not mistaken. In the best sense of that word, it is true that Edit Hermkens only paints what she sees. She paints nature, perhaps just as much as a Gauguin had painted it. This is not immodesty, but a fruitless attempt to restore the honor of painting nature. Let’s try to follow her lead, and create these pictures. Let’s paint nuphars, cows and lambs the way Edit Hermkens does: let the nuphars dance, make the cows lowing and make the lambs bleat on the picture!

On the pictures of Edit Hermkens plants and animals are alive. These paintings are moving and making sounds. I wouldn’t be surprised, if Edit Hermkens knew a magical paint additive which was mixed by Flemish poisoners in the secret laboratories of Dutch alchemists centuries ago who gave these magic to sailors travelling the world. With this special paint the pictures painted in a faraway land come to live and tell about the unknown upon returning to Amsterdam. When I was wandering in the Netherlands, I visited the house of Rembrandt like a pilgrim, like a hobo, like a fool of painting,and like a young writer, who had just read the magnificent last novel of Sándor Bródy about the life of Rembrandt. It was the time, when I heard about this special additive, which bring the pictures to life, once existed, but its recipe was lost.

And now I am standing here in front of the pictures of Edit Hermkens, and become suspicious, the restless detective awakens in me because 

"I suspect that this painter has obtained the mysterious additive or has taken over the recipe of bringing the pictures back to life and revealing the hidden meaning of the paintings."

Edit Hermkens knows how to bring about the voice, smell, aura and story of the painting. These paintings are representing more than just nuphars, cows and lambs. In fact, they don’t want to illustrate anything at all. Edit Hermkens is on the verge of painting totally abstract pictures, however she still shows us the nuphars, cows and lambs. This strange attachment to the landscape, moments, and our reality makes her the painter of nature. As if she did not believe that we would understand that she is painting the hidden face of nature, even when it is not evident. No, I do not think that abstract painting is stupid and meaningless as most people think. The reasons why many people think this about abstract painting are that they do not really know what it is, and we live here in Hungary in the landscapes of Edit Hermkens.

Please, allow me a brief but closely linked digression, in which I explain why do not we, Hungarian people - apart from a few exceptions - understand abstract painting. Why do not we understand the painting of the hidden face of nature? Why do not we have words to say what we see? Why do we just look and not see what Edit Hermkens shows with her paintings?

In September 1947, Forum magazine published the essay of György Lukács, with the title “The Hungarian Theories of Abstract Art”, which was issued in the book called “For New Hungarian Culture” in 1948. In his essay, he attacked the books “Revolution in Art: Abstraction and Surrealism in Hungary” written by Béla Hamvas and Katalin Kemény, and “Hidden Face of Nature” written by Ernő

Kállai. In fact, he silenced Béla Hamvas and Ernő Kállai and their thoughts for the rest of their life. I have written a lot about the whole essay and his comments concerning Hamvas in my essay “Criticism of Hamvas”. Now, I would like to say a few words about the other - lesser known - participant, Ernő Kállai and his ideas. Ernő Kállai was one of the most important and most progressiveart critics of the middle of the 20th century. After returning home from Germany, he interpreted abstract and surrealist art in a unique and peculiar way. He wrote a number of outstanding essays (it is worth reading them): he formulated the idea of bioromanticism, and in his magnificent - and criticized - essay “Hidden Face of Nature”, he linked modern painting with the deep and hidden discoveries of natural science, showing how fine arts could expand our horizon of interpretation.

Needless to say that after the accusing essay of György Lukács, Béla Hamvas and Ernő Kállai were both silenced by the communist dictatorship. However, while the work of Béla Hamvas enjoys a revival nowadays, we have forgotten about Ernő Kállai. It is true, that a selection of his work was published in 1981, but the above mentioned essay was excluded from this book.Wrote Ernő Kállai in his forgotten and overlooked essay in 1946:

“It has been repeatedly evoked how new Romanticism reveals the hidden face of nature by admiring eyes. It is typical, that the mystery of creation, which has given a theme for the paintings of great masters from the past, have haunted the imagination of modern artists as well. (...) But there is an essential difference between them. In the works of the old masters, the creative will radiates from the supernatural expression of a personal God. Bioromanticism feels that the light of this ethereal will lies in nature. This personal God was replaced by an unknown ideological potential, a huge, irrational X which we don’t understand. Like Berzsenyi says, its existence illuminates like the burning sun, but our eyes can not stand it, only our secretly sensitive soul desires it. This intense and elusive charm of the deep world of nature and soul speaks to us through the paintings and sculptures of bioromanticism."

Ernő Kállai: The hidden face of nature. Misztótfalusi. Budapest. 1947. 17. o.

Now, thanks to Ernő Kállai's forgotten essay, after seventy years we regain expressions such as bioromanticism and the hidden face of nature. Again, we can talk about the fact that the divinepower is shining in humans, animals, plants, and nature. And we can also talk about the fact that painting essentially shows us the glow of that power.

We are relieved.After all, we may think that this is the meaning of painting, to show what is the real reality. Not just illustrating but revealing, expressing and unfolding reality. Painters and pictures help us to learn how we can see the brilliant light of creative power, or even notice it. Our painters shows us over and over that the nuphar is not just a nuphar, the cow is not just a cow and there is a reason why the lamb is called Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

It is no wonder then that a fundamentally atheist and materialist world made us to forget the thoughts of Ernő Kállai. However, dogmatic religiousness is also unable to understand these ideas. These thoughts shall grant us freedom from claiming and these paintings liberate us. The painting of Edit Hermkens is the art of freedom, discovering the hidden face of nature, a new bioromanticism, which has not turned into total abstraction yet on our respect. But now, understanding her works, I can only encourage her to paint and to show us bravely the brilliant light of creative power no matter how deeply-buried it is.