Hungarians snap up Warhol-like paintings of leader Orban

BUDAPEST Tue Aug 12, 2014 12:07pm EDT

1 of 10. Hungarian artist Kriszta 'Tereskova' Nagy poses next to her portraits of Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest August 5, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Laszlo Balogh

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BUDAPEST (Reuters) - When Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban won re-election in a landslide in April, his dominance over the country's politics cheered supporters, dismayed opponents and inspired one artist to immortalize him in more than 100 portraits.

Orban, whose center-right Fidesz party has held a two-thirds parliamentary majority since 2010, has consolidated power to become the most commanding politician in post-Communist Hungary.

However, his uncompromising governing style, which critics say has weakened the press and judiciary, also contributed to a deeply divided society.

For artist Kriszta "Tereskova" Nagy, the election result was a jolt. Within a month, she produced 57 paintings of Orban, then 69 more, in a pop-art manner reminiscent of Andy Warhol.

Conservatives, liberals and even Orban's wife, Aniko Levai, have snapped up the paintings, bringing in about 8 million forints ($34,000).

In Communist-era Hungary, leaders' portraits were hung in every public building and enormous photographs were displayed at state celebrations, so depicting politicians is a touchy subject for art, Tereskova acknowledged.

"I swore never to do politics, but politics does me. It has come in and sat down on my bed," she told Reuters at Budapest's Godot Gallery where her work was exhibited.

"I am provoking right now. Not necessarily Orban, but the whole country and its intellectuals."

Tereskova has scandalized before, exhibiting her own naked body, performing sexually charged songs and circulating a Photoshopped image of herself defecating in front of parliament at the time of a violent street revolt in 2006.

She says the series, based on a 2010 election poster, is a wakeup call to a divided nation which sees Orban's rule as either perdition or salvation.

"Lots of people are unhappy, and emotions run high. That's what I paint: the fact that all this has found its way into the most intimate parts of our lives, dividing families, love and friendships, even though we live in a democracy," she said.

Orban's image is printed on canvas and finished with paint, using folk motifs, the Hungarian flag and a marijuana leaf, representing issues Hungary is grappling with.

Levai bought two after visiting the gallery.

"I have seen your exhibitions before, I know your work, and again I expected you as a painter to enable our vision and ask questions of our eyes," she wrote in the gallery guest book. "I was not disappointed. Thank you."

In an interview with conservative news channel Hir TV, Tereskova said the creative process had led to a newfound love for Orban.

"Yes, I have fallen for him," she said. "He brought change into my life, he descended on his wings and defended me when I was down and out financially."

Tereskova told Reuters the interview was meant as part of an artistic performance that accompanied her paintings.

(Editing by Ayla Jean Yackley and Alison Williams)

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