On Jan. 30 at UC Santa Barbara’s Pollock Theater, the Carsey-Wolf Center hosted the first West Coast screening of Márton Orosz’s documentary film “György Kepes: Interthinking Art + Science.” György Kepes, a Hungarian artist, professor and visionary, was brought back to life.

Kepes is considered to be a forefather of modern design and one of the last disciples of the Bauhaus, one of the most influential art school at the time located in Weimar. Leaving Hungary in 1930, he spent several years in Berlin working at László Moholy-Nagy’s design studio, with whom he later arrived in Chicago in 1937. Bauhaus modernism translates to “building house;” the movement’s main goal focuses on practical ways to “bring art back into contact with everyday life.” His theories can be described in one word: symbiosis (more specifically, the symbiosis between the arts, the sciences and technology). The author of a variety of books on graphic design, light and art, Kepes believed that vision plays an important role in understanding the world, especially when looking at advanced visual design. Orosz’s documentary contains interviews with a variety of Kepes’ disciples and co-workers who consider the importance of his career, art and teachings, remembering the artist who died on Dec. 29, 2001. “It’s not even the beginning, it’s the beginning of the beginning,” Kepes’ colleague at MIT, a physics professor Philip Morrison, who died in 2005, said in the documentary.

The documentary follows the impact of Kepes’ works, assignments and even looks at his personal life. Scenes like his time in Berlin with mentor Moholy-Nagy and his travels to the United States are presented through a series of photographs and interview clips. The film also features the variety of figures he met in his lifetime, from theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer to painter Frida Kahlo. Kepes even met Adolf Hitler before leaving Berlin at an event at the University of the Arts, an encounter he could only describe as “[sending a] chill down his spine.”

Courtesy of Carsey-Wolf Center

There’s an important emphasis on Kepes’ time at the Chicago School of Design, now known as the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology, where he met fellow bohemian architects who were a part of the Bauhaus movement. During World War II, the school was hired by the army to paint and arrange military equipment to make them invisible. In 1947, Kepes was hired by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he founded and directed the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS). CAVS was described by documentary interviewees as a place to  “interthink” and” intersee” collaboration between artists and scientists, inviting talented people and letting them play. CAVS’ future is based on art and science collaboration. Aeronautical engineer and painter Frank Malina, one of Kepes’ long-time collaborators who died in 1981, stated that “the artist is gonna lose his job and the engineer will be the artist of the future.”

The discussion after the screening covered a variety of topics. Orosz and UCSB Media Arts and Technology Graduate Program professor George Legrady discussed the making of the documentary, along with Kepes’ artistic and teaching choices. Orosz applied to fellowships at both the Smithsonian and MIT to be able to complete his doctorate on Kepes, becoming the first Kepes fellow at the latter. Having worked on this project for the better part of a decade, Orosz had to go through approximately 200 hours of interviews, with the first cut of the documentary being around three hours long. 

He later talked about why Kepes’ art is not as well-recognized as his contemporaries. Orosz considers Kepes’ art in two sections: his private art and public art. His public art consists of aesthetically pleasing and functional work that uses photography and light, many of which have been lost, like a light mural that he made for the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines office building in New York. His private art, however, is mostly made up of his paintings, which have been hard to track down because of Kepes’ generosity as he would hand them out as gifts to visitors and friends, according to Orosz. Although the biggest collection at the moment can be found in Eger, a city in the northeast of Hungary, the documentary’s director has been able to find others at the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection, to which he has just gotten access, along with the famous painting “The City” at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Academy Award-winning graphic designer and Kepes’ former student Saul Bass touched upon Kepes’ book, “Language of Vision,” in the documentary. “I didn’t understand what the book was about, but I knew it was the answer.” 

It would be an understatement to say that the audience disagrees — the importance of Kepes’ studies is unquestionable. Second-year political science major Maheilia Thomas stated that “knowing what I know now, it’s surprising that I haven’t heard about him before.”