Pál Tóth, a wildlife painter, graphic artist, and enameler from Pusztaszer, Hungary, has been working with glass on metal since 1980, after seeing a collection of enamels in an exhibition in 1978. Learning enameling techniques was difficult, as it was not practical to travel to find instruction, and he had little to no access to books or supplies. Trial and error, along with extensive experimentation and hard work helped Pál learn his skills with enamel. He taught himself engraving and etching, working with copper and etching acids, and drew pictures of historical enamel and metal works for inspiration. He finally began enameling in 1980, starting with cloisonné and champlevé pieces.
He was first attracted to the ancient techniques of cloisonné and champlevé, as they are “very nice and durable. These techniques are the decorative art. When I make these, I am thinking in line and contour – in plane. When I create using painting methods, the classical painting art. I am thinking stereoscopically He now works almost exclusively creating painted enamel miniatures, which he started producing in 1990. “This is my favorite, this is my life. I’m a painter, the enamel paintings are my way. To me, this technique of enamel painting gives me the classical drawing, the perfect design, the nice laser-colors, various textures and chalky effects, and a feeling of freedom.”
His work evolves from an idea to drawing, creating more and more drawings until he produces a “perfect, fine design.” This is transferred to a sheet of tracing paper in original size. As to a color palette, “I never make a color study for an enamel painting. The colors and effects are in my head.” The original drawing is transferred with graphite paper to a copper plate, which has been prepared with three coats of opaque white as a base. and three coats of counter enamel. He then begins to paint, using lavender oil. sandalwood oil and heavy turpentine as a painting medium, thinning with clear turpentine. A coat is painted then dried, one color at a time. Each painting has a minimum of three coats or more. His miniature painting are always drawn first; only his cloisonné work ever contains spontaneous effects.
When creating cloisonné or champlevé enamels, Pail uses mostly transparent enamel, and some opaques. Pàl draws inspiration from ancient enamels; his favorite are the Byzantine enamels, such as the Hungarian Royal Crown, which was in the US for quite some time. “On the crown are some wonderful original Byzantine enamelworks. On the plate are transparent and opaque colors. I like best the nice, slightly fiery, transparent enamels on the engraved plate.”
Pàl works from his home in the village of Pusztaszer, Hungary. His studio is located on a small but sunny veranda, where a big work table holds a vast array of glass vials full of enamel painting colors from several European enamel manufacturers. He fires in two furnaces, “one small and another larger.” Scattered about are several metalworking tools. In the corner is his painting easel, brushes, and a press for block prints. His Great Dane companion of twelve years, Aldo, who was a constant fixture in his studio, has recently passed, and is no longer with Pàl to keep him company as he works. A radio which plays music or the BBC now keeps him company as he works. A fax machine keeps Pàl connected to the outside world.
Mr. Tóth’s work is inspired by many things, good friends being one of those, and a small number of customers who request particular designs or subjects for their commissions. Also inspirational is nature (he works as a wildlife painter in addition to enameling), and also, as he says, “fair ladies”. Most important and inspirational to Pàl, “my God, I think, most touches my heart and spirit.” Of course, he has a penchant for other’s enamel work, too. “These oblige me,” he states. “I have been inspired by the works of the old masters. I love the artworks of other artists; I learn all I can from other enamelists, and I honor the knowledge.”
When asked about if and how he makes a living at his art in his homeland, he speaks of the difficulties of doing so in Hungary. “My country, since 1989, has continually metamorphosized; to be an artist is very difficult. There are few people in my country; more live in New York City than all of Hungary. Because of this, there are not many art dealers, nor much of a buyer’s market. I get along by selling my works to friends and a small group of customers.”
Along with the struggles of creating a livelihood as an artist, comes triumph. One such ironic success came when Pàl was working on one of his enamel miniatures. “I made some white enamel plates in identical sizes, but with different whites. Several months later, I had forgotten which was which – soft, medium, or hard. I painted a little enamel plaque, working on it for a week, and placed the miniature in the furnace at 790°C. While it was in the furnace, I suddenly realized the white ground coat is a soft white base, which fires at 760°C for two minutes. Oh my God! The enamel has been in the furnace for 2-3/4 minutes at 790°C! I think I shall have to throw this piece away. Marvel of marvels! The enamel piece was exquisite. It was a wonderful chalky magenta color. Since then, I have used the chalky-magenta effect often.”
Pàl does not have a web site, or access to the inter internet, due to the high cost of these services in Hungary. When asked about the future of his work, Pàl answered with the humble goals of “making a new workshop, working with Thompson painting colors,” (which are not widely available in his area), “and painting what my heart wishes.” He finished his thought by also saying, “I also would like to create the great value enamel works.”