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And They Do Not Stop Until Dusk

"Rats" (Ildikó Regényi / the György Román Estate)

Daisy Alioto | Longreads | March 2019 | 14 minutes (3,722 words)

“I beheld thee rich in sorrow,
Graceful in the bloom of youth,
Where, like gold within the mountain
In the heart lies faith and truth,
On the Danube,
On the Danube, bright and blue.”
—Karl Isidor Beck, “On the Danube”

“At last I penetrate into the distance, into the soundproof blue of nostalgias.” —Jean Arp


I have an adolescent memory of walking along a lake near my Massachusetts home and finding a child’s blackened shoe caught in the murky inch of water at the shore. I knew that not long ago a pilot had died crashing a single-seat Cessna into this same lake, and I had lately been looking at piles of shoes as part of the school’s Holocaust curriculum. The combination of these two facts — totally unrelated — filled me with deep dread, and I turned around and hurried back to my family.

Artist György Román’s childhood was characterized by such dread. The painter was born in Budapest in 1903 and suffered a bout of meningitis in 1905 which left him deaf and temporarily paralyzed in both legs. As a result, “his mind was swamped in the chaos of meanings around visual images,” writes Marianna Kolozsváry in her monograph of the artist. (Kolozsváry’s father was one of Román’s first collectors.) Although Román regained use of his legs, he was deaf for the rest of his life.

Out of vivid dreams and passive observation of the surrounding world, Román formed his own vernacular of symbols and omens. Cats, monkeys, carnivals, and men in mustaches were imbued with evil intentions and disease. The glowing red signage of shops and brothels were both indistinguishable and sinister. Toy soldiers were the protagonists of this world.

The Hungarian actor Miklós Gábor wrote of Román’s work, “He paints dreams, but he is not a surrealist. He paints naively, but he is not a naive painter. He is a clever man, but not intellectual. He sees nightmares, but he is no expressionist.” Read more…