One of the most famous photos from the later stages of Tose Dabac, which found its place in the anthological choice of Peter Knapp, it was taken in year 1959. and it is titled "Emeric Fejes, naïve painter". Photo describes a room cramped with cheap furniture, with illuminated window light, artist sits next to a stove with a pot, skinny tiny old man. In front of him is a coffee table, rolled out packaging paper, on a paper a drawing, it looks like, the drawing of a castle with the lawn. Maybe the Viennese Schönbrunn. In this image of poverty, typical for Dabac, only one is an unusual thing, the walls are crowded with paintings. Cheap, worthless, unframed, they are not painted by Emerik, but it seems that paintings are very important to Fejes as an artist, they influence artist with great inspiration, he drains his art from those images.
Emerik Fejes was born in Osijek in 1904. He was nine out of fourteen children of the unbearably poor Serb-Slavic family Stefanovic. Immediately after the end of the war, they are changing their surname in Fejes. (Serbian name of Hungarian origin) No one knows why they did it in the years when their surname relatives became big war winners. Emerick's father run clothing button and comb repair shop. Heavy, low wage crafting business, because the button is tiny and inexpensive, and it's not easy to make it. The boy soon stopped going to school to work in his father's shop. But soon the repairing buttons and combs could no longer support family, so Emerik changed his crafts, moved from city to city, from the factory to the factory. He worked in Zagreb, Belgrade, Maribor, Osijek, Celje ... He spent the war in refugee camps in Hungary, from where he arrived in Pula, where he opened a button repair shop and then an antique shop. The city was evicted, empty, and was waiting for new residents to arrive. Emerik succeeded in the place from which he once was expelled, but he did not go back to work again. In the meantime, he was suffering from asthma and sciatica, working jobs not suited for him and his fragile health, and very soon he applied and recieved pension fee related to his disability. Later he moved from Novi Pazar to Novi Sad city.
He spent days in a small shop, typist Office of his wife Sylvia. He began to draw on reused paper she used, she also used same paper to start a fire in stove. She did not mind at all, she was putting papers in the stove, even if Emeric drew something on them. At home he was mocked by his wife, but that just urged him to put his drawings in the shop window, with featured prices. No matter how much people talked that he is not a painter, that proper painter must finish school and obtain various certificates, they said. Emeric insisted and pushed on with is passion, no matter what. Why the painting must not be just a just a painting? How the one who looks at a painting knows if an artist finished art school got an approval and certificate?
He was discovered by Dimitrije Bašičević, the Zagreb art historian, the avant-garde artist with the pseudonym Mangelos, the son of another great artistic self-taught artist: Ilija Bosilja. At first, the father was mocked, but Emerik Fejzoy he did not. In Zagreb in 1956 he organized the first solo exhibition. Dr. Dimitri's brother, Dr. Vojin Bašičević, became the first collector of Emerik works. The famous Yugoslav art historian and the first who systematized the story of the South Slavic naive, Oto Bihalji Merin promoted Emerik Fejes in the world. His sympathizers and sponsors became famous Vojvodina academic painters like Ivan Tabakovic and Bosko Petrovic ...
It all seemed like a beautiful and fairy-tale story of success. But Emerik lived equally modestly, because he did not know how deal with wealth, no matter what he did, he just could not made a good and pleasant life for himself. Or, he was not intersected in success. Rarely any artists is not interested in the success and value of his their paintings. They say that he was a good trader, he appreciated his pictures, did not give anything easy and almost free.
The second time he married, his wife Josephine, they lived near the Novi Sad city cemetery, and then he soon became ill. He discovered lung cancer, but that was not a reason to change his life. He painted, photographed, and smoked tobacco. He died on July 9, 1969. He had previously instructed his wife that at the time of his death no one should be in allowed in the house unless paintings are safe. Story goes, that Josephine keep a quiet about his death, that she kept kept his body in the house all day, while she moved the pictures to a safe place. Perhaps this is not true, but it fits Fejes artistic and life poetics.
Emerik Fejes had only one big desire to collect enough money to travel the world and to visit the cities he was painting. His desire was not fulfilled. In addition to Zagreb, Budapest, perhaps Sarajevo, he did not see any city that he painted and imagined painting. Weighing his works with temper, pencil, chemical pencil, water colors, gouache, worked based on postcards and newspaper photographs. He was a painter of architecture, there are rare human figures in his paintings, but it was fantastic architecture, upgraded, complemented, the template is still visible and radically reinterpreted. He had a powerful but very disciplined imagination. Unlike the majority - even very good - dilettante and naive art people, and some geniuses of primitive art, Emerik Fejes had unique strong personal style, consequent, complete and self-aware artist. Perhaps also fact helped, that his first wife burned his works, thus unconsciously forcing him to become better in his work in future, or he was simply an artist who, without any schooling, had a built awareness of the artwork and a vision of what art should be. If there was not so much errors in perspective, which he sucessfully incorporated in his architecture poetics, Emerik Fejes could hardly be recognized as a dilettante and naive artist. Self-sown and without too much influence from others, fascinated by cities and their beauty, he was, as today they people like to say, the asphalt poet. In his paintings there are no cars, no other technological achievements, telegraph pillars... If observer, as in the painting of Bruxelles, see a car and a tram, it is only because they were on the photo template, which artist observed and imagined it in his art while working, so Fejes made sure that his image did not stay empty. But trams, like humans, are just decoration in infinite architecture and that magnificent idea of the house, which, for Emerik, is a whole universe, so gorgeous and rich, with thousands of windows, beyond which nobody lives because the house whole life itself, and it is the greatest miracle of the world. Emerik Fejes even imagined God in a shape of a house.
He wanted to see all those cities from postcards, and the house he imagined and painted, but it was not ment to be, for this button, comb, repair man, and antique items seller to expirience live those cities. His life, today, was the life from some popular folk tale, undiscovered Andersen fairy tale, and it would be false and inaccurate, poetically inconsistent, that Emerik Fejes saw his desired cities. On the Croatian Wikipedia, according to custom made and idiotic text, like it was made and compiled by Vujić's encyclopaedists while influenced by heavy dosage of alcohol, it is stated that Fejes was- "Croatian naive painter", in English Wikipedia version, certainly it is stated that he was "Serbian-Hungarian naive art painter ". It is true, however, that he was a painter in a country in which, through the good cultural circumstances occured, the button and comb makers could earn the attention of art historians and everyday explorers. Recently, in the edition of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Vojvodina, a small beautiful monograph was published. The author of the text and the concept of monograph is Ivana Bašićevic Antić. On the front page is Emerik, smiling, staring at the lens, and on his shoulders lies a very troubled black and white cat.
mijenko jerković 23. 03. 2013.