Top: The Hungarian artists in front of their work in London; bottom: location behind a playground; sculpture in Budapest
“THE PAUL STREET BOYS” IN LONDON
Olga Vállay Szokolay
The Latin saying “Natura abhorret vacuum” (Nature abhors a vacuum) still seems to be applicable in our daily lives. Just a decade or so ago, bare walls of buildings facing empty lots waiting to be built on, posed an open invitation to graffiti by street “artists”. In countries affected by wars and violence, such as Hungary, buildings were ruined and the ruins demolished, exposing unsightly firewalls rising to the sky. It is hard to investigate now how and when the unsolicited and often eyesore graffiti gave place to fascinating surrealistic art. All of a sudden, professional as well as amateur artists began to use bare urban walls as gigantic canvasses for their contemporary murals from Berlin to Rio, from Melbourne to Prague, from Budapest to London.
The “Szines Város Csoport” (Colorful City Group) is a Hungarian group of graffiti artists which has many international works of street wall art to its credit, in Moscow and Berlin, among others. One would not suspect Magyars behind the aliases “iamsuzie” and “Cokestd”, yet they are members of the successful group. Not long ago, the Hungarian Cultural Center of London asked them to enrich, with their art, a busy public place of that City that is frequented by locals daily. The purpose was twofold: one, to promote the renewal of the playground at Old Gloucester Street; the other, to re-acquaint the Brits with one of Hungary’s most famous writers and playwrights of the 20th century, Molnár Ferenc (see magyarnews.org article, June, 2015), whose 140th birthday was celebrated this year.)
His most translated novel, originally published in 1906, “The Paul Street Boys” (A Pál utcai fiúk) had already inspired street art in Budapest: Szanyi Péter’s sculpture at Práter utca. The topic also seemed a most befitting choice for the London playground.
The well-known and beloved story takes place in 1889. The protagonists are schoolboys who spend all their free time at the “grund”, an empty lot between buildings, used as a lumberyard. The Paul Street Boys keep their group organized in military fashion under their duly elected smart leader, Boka. Their “flag” is green-and-red. Another gang, the Redshirts, whose headquarters are in a nearby park, have a strong leader, Áts Feri who plans an attack by his group against the Paul Street Boys in order to take over their Grund. Strategic planning and execution, treason and repentance are all part of those boys’ repertoire, culminating in heroic sacrifice and a tragic ending.
The artists, iamsuzie and Cokestd, picked a 50 square meter (about 540 square feet) wall for the mural. It portrays Csónakos, the big, strong and faithful member, Boka, the smart strategist and leader, and little Nemecsek, the only private among the higher ranking “officers”.
Besides domestic works, the Szines Város Csoport is planning similar projects in other foreign cities as well. We look forward to seeing more of their work.
Olga Vállay Szokolay is an architect and Professor Emerita of Norwalk Community College, CT after three decades of teaching. She is a member of the Editorial Board of Magyar News Online.