the eastern beat

Marcus Goldson

painter and illustrator

Marcus Goldson is a painter and illustrator who set up camp in Budapest in the early 90’s and has been living and working in Hungary ever since. Locals and visitors to Budapest may be familiar with his visual diaries of life in the city displayed in some well known (and not so well known) bars and cafés around town and you may have come across his illustrations in magazines like Forbes Hungary, Time Out Budapest or ADAC Reisemagazin. 

Marcus works with his wife, Ildiko, from their studio in Budapest. She brings a keen eye and a sense of business focus to the partnership, and will be in touch with you when answering your enquiries, processing your orders and dealing with any requests for trade, commission, cooperation or press related issues.

Where do you come from and what brought you to Budapest?

I come from Kenya originally, but I moved to England when I was thirteen. I studied sculpture and art history in the UK. After that, as I had to pay off my debt to the university, I took jobs in London, trying to stay in the art world, but doing odd jobs mostly and that's how I met my Hungarian wife. We came to Budapest in 1993 and we’ve been living here since then. I really enjoyed living here from the beginning. It was something new, something exotic. 

What was it that you found interesting when you moved here?

I had no intention of coming to this part of the world, it was a big adventure to be honest. I didn't know how long I’d be here, if I'd stay here. I made it all new, obviously people do the same things everywhere and everything that I needed was here.  It was just the grandness of it, the grand buildings - it’s like a theater backdrop and people acting out their everyday lives in front of them. That's why I try and put a lot of the buildings into my pictures. It was exotic and for me it was like fresh information for painting, which I had never really tried before. I avoided painting landmarks like the Chain Bridge, I'm more attracted to everyday life and I think it’s more honest. It was important for me at the time to show it. There’s a lot more living history now that I’m interested in. Budapest is almost like a town, but with the structure of a city.

I like the culture, all aspects of it. Most people I think are fairly honest, if they aren't feeling great they would say they are not feeling great and I kind of like that. I enjoy the sort of dry humor of people here and part of that is in my work anyway and that's also me, I can be cynical and sarcastic and Hungarians have quite a bit of that actually. 

Was it the city that inspired you to start illustrating?

I think I wanted to carry on with sculpture, but maybe I just wasn't that imaginative at the time and it was easier to travel around the city with a sketchbook. I turned to watercolor and I started with a daily record illustrating the people I saw and I found interesting or funny. It was much easier to express myself this way rather than working with sculptural pieces. A lot of my sculpture was semi-abstract, going into abstraction, but I pulled back from that and started drawing. 

What was the feedback of people here?

Generally good, I think a lot of my pictures simply remind them of what they’ve already seen, it’s a reaffirmation of what goes on around them, types of people, characters, that’s essentially it.

Do you sketch on the move?

I draw wherever I can, I stop and draw and then complete from memory. I generally draw in the sketchbook and I embellish it. Mostly people, places, sometimes I just write down a word and I remember the place. Generally I use drawing from observation, if i had details like a coffee table or a bottle of coke and it’s a big picture, I would put a bottle of Coke in front of me and draw it. If it’s something seriously complicated, then occasionally I might use a computer to help, but generally I don't like that because I like to keep it as fresh as possible. I rely on my instincts for what is right and what is wrong rather than a computer screen telling me this is what it looks like.

When did you understand you wanted to be an artist?

My dad was acting in the theater a lot, I have a strong feeling that he might have wanted to paint, he always had watercolors with him but I've never seen his paintings. At one point I was influenced by David Shepherd, who painted a lot of African scenes back in the 50s-70s. I saw a lot of his work and I was copying a lot of it when I was about ten or eleven. Then I got into people like Modigliani, he was sort of a hero to me. 

Why sculpture?

I feel at home with 3D objects. I like constructive sculpture, it is almost a natural feel, like drawing as well. I like the process, handling the materials, figuring out how to put them together, I think sculpture is the true art because you are almost reinventing something in 3D, it is a tangible object. Painting is a little bit more difficult. I had to learn that after university, I never painted anything while I was studying. 

I used mainly metal, welded steel, welded aluminum, wire, beer cans - anything you could get your hands on. My inspiration came from African guys who make things like furniture pieces of art, jewelry from pieces of junk that are thrown out in places like Nairobi, they are really inventive. In our part of the world we get rid of broken things, but it’s such a shame, laziness, thoughtlessness to just throw things away, but if you can’t fix something you can reuse parts of it to make something new.

Do you see a change in your style and or approach to your subjects?

Back then I was trying to get things right, perspective right, getting everything exactly right. Now when something is not quite as it is i'm not too worried ast the main story is there. I draw a lot more and I try mixing media. At one point I would like to print photographic backgrounds on watercolor paper as I like the effect. I take a lot of time to finish a painting as I approach it with a lot of preparation and there’s always lots of details in them.

Going back to Budapest - was it difficult to get established as an artist here?

I met English speakers who wanted to do something here. I worked in a theater as props and set designer, which led to getting to know a fairly big group of people. Some people bought my work, making connections that helped me a lot. There seems to be a lot more expat artists living here now than back then. It might not be the art capital of the world but it has its vibe, its own feel that artists thrive on.

Around 2009 together with my wife we started with a shop and we started going to the WAMP art market. It went well, some shops opened up at the same time where I could sell my work. Before that I had had some informal exhibitions, made some connections and that helped to build the network.

What would  you advise to anyone coming to Budapest for the first time?

I would say walk a lot - you can discover a lot more than when taking public transportation and get the real feeling of the city. When I first came here I walked all the time, this way I discovered the less known parts of the city - Kőbánya, Zugló and others. The less know parts of the city are still my favorite and I find them much more interesting than the touristic spots. 

Read out more about Marcus on his website

August 2022

Photos: Anna Jopp

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