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The Art of JAMA
September 22/29, 2015

GardenGyorgy Kepes

JAMA. 2015;314(12):1210-1211. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.11993

A virtuoso of artistic innovation who envisioned art and science acting in concert to create new visual forms was Hungarian-born György Kepes (1906-2001). Painter, photographer, and designer, Kepes advanced the world of art through work meant to maximize the impact of visual components, whether a technology-based configuration of lights or iridescent paintings suggestive of nature’s texture and tapestry of colors.

Kepes’ early childhood in Hungary took place in a pastoral setting where his father served as the manager of a sizeable estate. Growing up in this milieu instilled in him an appreciation for the natural world as well as the vitality of the people as reflected in their folk art. In the 1920s he attended the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, where he associated with the Munka circle, a group of forward-thinking artists that included Lajos Kassák, who was also a writer on social issues. Kepes was exposed to avant-garde movements that included constructivism, which espoused the idea that art had value for social aims. Kepes turned from painting to photography and film to explore potential for artistic and social purposes and in 1930 went to Berlin to join László Moholy-Nagy who had worked with film (The Art of JAMA, June 9, 2015). Kepes later traveled to London to follow Moholy-Nagy, where together they created graphic designs. In 1935, he and others visited the inventive painter Paul Klee (JAMA cover, August 13, 2008) in Switzerland, who may have had considerable influence on Kepes. Klee conceived of painting as an ongoing activity analogous to processes of nature and characterized himself as a “gardener” in that he cultivated his paintings in similar fashion to the tending of plants (Hoy AH. Gyorgy Kepes: Light Graphics. New York, NY: International Center of Photography; 1984:1-48). In London around 1936, the prospects for Kepes’ personal life became much enhanced with meeting the artistically inclined Juliet Appleby, whom he would marry.

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