Zsili is referred to as the painter of ruin pubs. We imagine a modern-day Toulouse-Lautrec, who lives there in the bustle of revelers and draws. Not really.
“I don’t live like that, I’m not the one who hangs until dawn on company jokes and roars on the table like a bull
Zsili Babos begins to describe himself. – In WNDRLND, on Margaret Island, I had an apartment with a warehouse for three years, I could have been the face of the place. But when the season started, I put it off, I went down to Lake Balaton, to our house near Szigliget. I am, so to speak, a child of nature, I like to do land work in deserted places, which the dog doesn’t even see, maybe just one or two lost hikers.”
Still, he is one of the decisive shapers of the ruin pubs in Pest and Buda. He worked on the decoration of the main facade of the Tűzraktér, the Szatyor bar, the Csendes Léterem, the Púder Bar and Gallery on Ráday Street and the WNDRLND on Margaret Island, among many other things. Today, he only undertakes such work if his imagination is stimulated. “When we started, the ruin pub still meant that we replaced money with creativity, taste and subjective artistic sense. Nowadays, many people are artificially ruining places, smashing up brand new tables, putting up works put together from the internet on the walls, which anyone can do. When my friends and I started eight or ten years ago, it was still a challenge, the places were quite gray. The dynamism and freedom of abroad floated in front of us, but we always started from the conditions of the place and our own taste. And now we have reached the point where we are being invited to New York, Vienna, Berlin. We also made four locations in Transylvania. When we were working at Gekko in Nagyvárád, and I was having doubts about whether what we were doing was good, the boss said that it was okay if the people who came in didn’t like it, he never liked Art Nouveau either. And time has proven us, since then there are about fifteen similar places there. The ruin pub doesn’t mean anything anyway. It just means that it’s a fashionable place. It doesn’t have to be broken.”
Zsili and his friends still worked with real second-hand objects, scraps, and discarded items. He also collected these. He has a yellow matchbox collection of 2,000 pieces and a record car collection of several hundred pieces. Small cars also found a place in his paintings, he made a whole series of blackboard pictures of them, because they fill him with sincere, kindergarten-like admiration. The car scene on the wall of the Szatyor bar can also be linked to these, which the jury classified as a work of art. Using the hood and door of a Zsiguli and the radiator grille of an American car, they showed Stevie Wonder chasing Endré Ady and Csinszka, who were fleeing with Zsiga.
The atmosphere of the ruin pubs is also reflected in Zsili Bertalan Babos’ independent works. Mostly on the sequence where he depicts the buzz of ruin pubs with graphically rendered faces and comic speech bubbles. These works are reminiscent of the grotesque social caricatures of Georg Grosz and Otto Dix from the twenties and thirties. And there seems to be some sinister feeling in them too. “I love Dix and James Ensor and the whole era. And yes, these are sinister pictures too. It is impossible to know whether we are two minutes before the apocalypse, or whether we are already seeing memories and remnants of thoughts after the scorched world. But the story is always multifaceted, so there is hope in them. What the characters say in the speech bubbles is not important. What’s important is how many people there are and how uncertain it is that they can hear each other,” says the painter.