(Pepperdine University, Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Malibu) Also on view are paintings by long-time Pepperdine faculty member, the late Tibor Jankay. A native Hungarian, his studies in Paris in the first half of the 20th Century left a lasting impression. Influences of Picasso and Leger are visible in his brightly-colored figurative works and geometricized city- and landscapes. Also visible is a tender poignancy, especially apparent in his portraits of lovers embracing or of women with their children. Many of these images portray people on the Venice Beach Boardwalk, a favored subject in his later years. But these are not paintings about the Venice Beach scene in all of its bizarre permutations. He stylized the people, the scene and their mode of dress so they belong to no particular time or place. Jankay, with an optimistic compassion, was interested in exploring not the idiosyncrasies, but the commonality of humanity.
Judith Christensen, ArtScene Magazine
Tibor Jankay: Celebrating the Human Spirit
Tibor Jankay (1899-1994) survived the Holocaust in his native Hungary and settled in Los Angeles soon after the end of World War II. He began teaching at Pepperdine University and remained a vital member of the art faculty until his retirement in 1971. His paintings celebrate the joy of living that inspired him throughout his long life.
Jankay was born in Bekescaba, Hungary. He studied at the Academy in Budapest as well as at the Julian Academy in Paris, France. At the outset of World War II, he was conscripted into the Hungarian army and sent with other Jewish soldiers to a labor battalion in Transylvania. When the Nazis ordered the deportation of Hungarian Jews in 1944, he managed to escape and made his way on foot to his hometown. Using his skills as an artist to help him survive, he drew portraits in return for food and shelter.
In 1948 Jankay emigrated to America. He taught art at the University of Redlands and later at Pepperdine University, where he retired as the Chairman of the Art Department after 27 years. Alter his retirement, he spent much of his time at the Venice Beach Boardwalk, where he became a mentor to many young artists, inspiring them with his stories of survival and his philosophy of forgiveness. He would draw people on the boardwalk and explain,”They don’t know it, but I am sketching the happiness.” In 1992 he won the Spirit of Venice Award, an award given to outstanding citizens of Venice, California.
Jankay’s paintings are bright and colorful figurative works that were inspired by the School of Paris art of Pablo Picasso and Fernand Leger. He exhibited infrequently during his lifetime because he felt that his paintings were his children and to part with them would be unthinkable.
He called his art “stylized-realism” but added, “I am constantly changing–what I don’t like today, tomorrow I will be enthusiastic about.” He believed that his art captures “the inspiration of the beauty and the feeling of the eternal life of the universe.” Jankay held a certain fondness for youth and said, “I enjoyed teaching because I like the new generation, and I was inspired by the new generation.”
The paintings in the exhibition for the most part date from his last years. During this time, his favorite subjects were figures at the beach, mothers with children, and couples embracing. “I am a child, and everything is so beautiful if you are seeing with the child’s eyes.” He said of his beloved Venice beachfront, “There is no place in the world I would rather be.”
TFAOI.org, Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University.
From Bakascaba to Venice
Tibor jankay lives and works surrounded by art – his own and his vast collection of art from around the world – especially Africa. “Without African art is no Picasso and no Henri Matisse,” he says, in the heavy accent of his native Hungary.
He calls the style he paints in now “stylized-realism, ” then adds, “I am constantly changing – what I don’t like today, tomorrow I will be enthusiastic about.”
He has overcome much in his life, including the death of his wife 13 years ago. But he has never stopped making art, and he has storage room full of painted canvas and files full of drawings and rooms full of sculpture – not counting what hangs in homes and museums around the world, especially in his native land.
* * * *
“I love my country Hungary. and especially my hometown. Bakascaba, where I was born, where I get the inspiration of the beauty and the feeling of the eternal life of the universe.
“When I was a young man – approximately 16 years old – I was studying art first in Budapest in the Fine Arts Academy. And when I completed the final academic, I went to do my postgraduate work in Paris. I was 24 years old, and like many artists who came to Paris, (Wanted) to know more artists and more artists’ work. Every evening I went to the artist coffeehouse – and I was so happy I met Pablo Picasso in person. He was very kind to the newcomers. I was at the table where he was sitting, and he like very much the new Generation.
“I met among the most famous artists, Henri Matisse too. in the coffeehouse. And later, on the Montmarte, I met Maurice Utrillo. He mostly was painting on the street and using the kitchen chair and tripod easel and painting Straight scenery. He was a very kind man and very friendly to the other artists. He was the love child of Renoir and Suzanne Valadon – a very famous artist too. Today you seldom see great artists who are painting on the street. Van Gogh painted lots of paintings outdoors. And when I went to the gypsy village in Hungary – even in wintertime – instead of painting in studio, I went to paint the life.
“When I was there, the Gypsy lady was telling, me, ‘We are honest people – and innocent. But people are saying we are stealing everything and they are worried about us. We are all innocent. When we are going off from home, we put our hands in the Glue, and that which sticks to our hands with the glue is not our fault – blame the glue!‘”
Tibor laughs at that story, as he laughs when asked how old he is. He does admit his time in Paris was before WWII. And that when he returned to Hungary he spent four years in the Hungarian army. And that because of his outspokenness against the Germans, he was arrested and sent to a concentration camp. But “…on the way to being executed in the concentration camp – it was ten days in the train and I had a little chisel in my pocket and I did many days the hole – ” and escaped. It wasn’t the only time he escaped death. He talks of the willow trees in one of his paintings –
“In year ’44, 1 was in trouble. There came the airplanes and they bombed and lots of people died. I had seen the old willow trees and had the idea I would hide myself in (one) against the air attack. My friends were laughing at me. They were telling me, ‘Oh. you think you will be able to save your life if you are going in (the willow tree)?’ But I try. I hide myself in the willow tree and was looking out the little hole, and (then) came the air attack and what happened all around me was lots of death, because the bullets went everywhere from the machine guns. But I came out alive. and I was very happy, thanks to the willow tree that saved my life.
“I came to the United States in 1948 – no one there – and we came with a little handbag and we had nothing – and finally I get my job – I was employed in Pepperdine University. First I was working only four hours a week. And little by little they recognize my talent (for teaching) and they gave me more and more (to do). Finally I become a full-time teacher. I was very, very happy working, instead of doing commercial art. I resist – not to prostitute myself. I enjoyed teaching because I like the new generation, and I was inspired by the new Generation.
“In year ’69, I was very, very homesick – and I decided I will go back and see my hometown and see there people whom I like. And I was very happy to have the reunion. It was a feeling I couldn’t describe – which was when I arrive (there) I had a feeling, I (had) come back to my mother. I like my country like a child coming home. When I came back (here) I was relaxed and did not have so much sorrow – of feeling I left my loving country.
“USA is the best country in the whole world – they have many problems (here). but if you (go) away, when you (come) back you realize it is the best. I am a USA citizen – I am a Venice citizen. I have the feeling today that Venice is mine – it was not easy, but today I am happy and I am working.”
Venice Magazine December, 1988
Drawn to Love
Using ‘child’s eyes,’ artist paints a fond vision of Venice Beach
Almost every afternoon, artist Tibor Jankay finishes up in his Mar Vista studio, calls a taxicab and heads down to Venice Beach.
You might find him there at an outdoor cafe table: an elder statesman in a beige fedora entertaining young friends with stories of Picasso and Matisse.
You are just as likely, though, to catch Jankay pumping himself higher and higher on the beach swing sets or trailing after boardwalk lovers with a pocket-sized sketchbook in hand.
“They don’t know it,’ Jankay says in the accent of his native Hungary, “but I am sketching the happiness.”
Somewhere in his 90’s – Jankay won’t be cornered into giving his age – this prolific emigre has been having on his own love affair with the funky Venice beach community for many years.
It all winds up in bold colors and strokes on his canvases. More than 160 paintings from the thick of his ‘Venice period’ feature the beach and its denizens, bathing beauties and musicians, sailboats and sea gulls all painted with fondness and wit.
“I am a child, and everything is so beautiful if you are seeing with the child’s eyes,” he said of his beloved beachfront. “There is no place in the world I would rather be.”
Jankay taught at Pepperdine University for 27 years, and in his retirement, many street artists, musicians and Boardwalk regulars have come regard him as their mentor and friend.
“I’ve learned so much from Tibor,” said Harlan Steinberger, a musician and producer who lives on the Boardwalk. “He’s been a great inspiration and teacher. I find myself quoting him all the time.”
Steinberger chose one of Jankay’s paintings for the cover of “The Spirit of Venice,” an album of street performers produced last spring.
“It just seemed that his painting captured the spirit of Venice,” Steinberger said, adding that he is convinced the eye-catching cover has helped sales.
Art has been Jankay’s only occupation for nine decades – even as a child, he painted. At home in Mar Vista, he is surrounded by what he has made or collected over the years.
His own paintings share wall space with African and Mexican masks, mosaics and mounted pottery. Love is his favorite aesthetic theme.
“I like lovers,” he said, playfully. There are many sensual portraits of lovers embracing. One Jankay has called “The Glory of Love.”
The great love of his own life, his wife, Irene, died 16 years ago, and Jankay still misses her. He named the tiny courtyard between his backyard studio and a ceramic warehouse “Irene Plaza,” etching out a sign on a metal plate. She was the business end of their long partnership and his dearest friend.
Jankay has been back to Hungary, where he remains a respected painter and has been the subject of museum shows. The government presses him to return again, but Jankay is unhappy with the political situation and has refused.
Jankay came to the West Coast in 1949 when the dust of World War II was still settling on the European continent. After a Communist government was installed in his homeland, he chose to follow his family to the United States.
Born in the town of Bekescsaba, about 75 miles from Budapest, Jankay was a precocious child who began drawing at age 5, influenced by his mother, who painted and drew.
By 12, he was producing strikingly realistic drawings; by 16 he was enrolled in the Fine Arts Academy in Budapest. He had his first one-man show when he was 20.
At 24, still working in a realistic style, Jankay headed for Paris to do postgraduate work at the Julian Academy.
Jankay was hired at Pepperdine shortly after arriving in the United States.
“He’s just a delightful old soul,” said Olaf Tegner, a Pepperdine art teacher who was once Jankay’s colleague and has remained a friend.
This summer, the Venice community honored Jankay with a “Spirit of Venice” award at the annual Summer Arts and Crafts Festival. In the dedication, the festival organizers called him “a true and active senior citizen of Venice,” and “an inspiration to all who are fortunate to know him.”
Venice – Marina News, October 1992
1992 Spirit of Venice Award
The AKDA was most delighted to select Tibor Jankay’s “Spirit of Venice, California” painting for the artwork of the 9th Annual Festival T-Shirt and program cover.
Tibor Jankay was born In Hungary, Europe. He studied at Fine Art Academy in Budapest, Hungary and did post graduate work at Julian Academy in Paris, France. Foreign studies also include Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Germany.
Tibor Jankay has been a citizen of Venice since 1950, and has been a mentor of innumerable emerging and established artists in the Venice art community.
His work was exhibited at the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts, Ernst Museum in Budapest and Albertina Museum, Vienna, Austria. In the United States, it has been shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. He has also exhibited in Cleveland, Denver, San Francisco, Pasadena and other art museums.
He is a member of the California Watercolor Society, and a former Assistant Professor of Art at the University of Redlands. He was also Professor of Art at the George Pepperdine University, Los Angeles, for 27 years. The Chancellor Emeritus of Pepperdine Recently said the following regarding his appreciation of Tibor:
“As we look back over our years at Pepperdine, we realize that you are one of the most talented professors we have ever had. You have influenced so many students with your teaching and an example as an artist. We know also that your influence has been world-wide through your paintings and we congratulate you for this.”
Mr. Tibor Jankay is a true and active senior citizen of Venice, and is an inspiration to all who are fortunate to know him. His “Spirit of Venice” painting was completed before establishment of our “Spirit of Venice” award. Accordingly it is most fitting and poetic that he should be one of this years recipients of this award.