The work and world of Tamás Bakos

Felix de Mendelssohn


When Tamás Bakos had finished doing his painting of Yuri Gagarin smiling – Gagarin had to do a lot of smiling while he was on tour – he looked at it appreciatively and said “Gagarin – happy man!” I don’t know if he said anything after painting Albert Einstein, when I looked at the picture, I thought “Einstein – sad man!” But then my gaze was captured further by Einstein’s own gaze in the picture, I saw a white vampiric figure, obscurely blood-stained, a ghost from another realm, but at the same time a keen-eyed, worldly man, observant and sharp-witted. His expression, and the difference between the two eyes, reminded me of portraits of Freud in old age, his way of contemplating one with a mixture of goodwill and sceptical doubt.

I am looking at all the paintings stacked around Walter Famler’s flat awaiting exhibition and my gaze wanders to another picture, of a dog. It could be a hound of hell, absolutely frightening, yet it has also something questioning, something open in its expression, like a willingness to learn.

This painter sees the ghostliness in the human, and then the humanity in the animal, as if going through all the Bardos of reincarnation in the Tibetan tradition. He attacks his objects wildly and without restraint, yet he is full of kindness: he is looking for the essence.

How does he find it, where does he grab hold of it? From stuff he finds in the street and from his own inner experience of the world and its inhabitants, which he can so compellingly frame and capture.

More than fifty years ago I lived in Tangier in a little house overlooking the ocean together with a deaf and dumb man, Hassan, with whom I could only communicate in an improvised sign language. Hassan was a compulsive painter. We could afford only watercolours, but with these he created sheet after sheet, mostly imaginary portraits, faces drawn from his inner world, sometimes transforming into one another. When I was confronted with the immediacy of Tamas Bakos’s work, I remembered my time with Hassan and the strange, unreachable world of his imagination, coupled with such fiery intensity and compulsive drive to communicate what he saw in this way.


Seeing in this way defies categorization. It is not naïve art, nor art brut, yet defiantly anti-academic, attaching itself to no school or fashion, but preoccupied with seeing what is there, behind what at first seems to be there. It is a reckless, but sensitive approach – some kind of crazy wisdom emanates from this work, which first absorbs the onlookers but then frees them, to go out on the street and look at the people and the dogs there with new eyes. Or even to look at oneself, at one’s own face in the mirror, with new eyes.

Fotos: © Reinhard Öhner