"Simonyi - Papierskulpturen · Papírszobrok · Paper sculptures · Plastiche in carta",
Catalogue, Kunstverein Rosenheim - Budapest Galerie, 2000
An introduction into Emö Simonyi's art
Painter Emö Simonyi is 57, lives in Munich and teaches anatomy at the Art Academy of Munich. I got to know her when we attended the secondary school of art together, and though our intricate lifepaths rarely intersected, we have kept in contact and developed a familiar intimacy by our adulthood. Speaking about her to those who know her little, I intend to be as objective as possible since she is a rare value, a prodigy, that must be known widely. Living is art for her, so art is not a matter of choice but an endowment. She is autonomous and sovereign as a personality - or, to put it in another way, she is unimpressionable and obstinate, not yielding to fate... she's probably immortal. She is vitality incarnate, triumphing over decay. I have never met anyone like her in all my life.
The Simonyi-Lange exhibition in the Ernst Museum in autumn 1992 also included a 200x200 cm picture by her showing a naked Minotaur seated on two chairs. He needs two chairs to place his immense thighs comfortably so that his middle be left accessible. Thus enthroned, the Minotaur pushes his left leg a bit forward, turns his right slightly outward, thus giving the trunk a slight tilt to the right, his arms folded over his chest and his stomach pushed out haughtily. This vulgar, drastic and pathetic pose clearly recalls Rodin's plaster model of a Balzac memorial showing the writer with legs in the Egyptian manner, his arms folded over his barrel stomach, flaunting naked. Obviously, Rodin did not mean his statue for public display, so it must have been prompted by some other consideration. Something serious and weighty is externalized, a barrier is abolished. That's what happens to Emö Simonyi: externalization, the settlement of accounts. A hard and cruel operation. - Immense power in an immense body: the Minotaur needs two chairs that can just hold his huge mass, it can hardly be confined to the canvas. The primary plasticity of the picture derives from the tone quality of the intense colours blending on the canvas, and this turns the work realistic, suggestively narrative. This palpable realism brought about by the use of colours as tones almost completely frees the colour content of the picture from its subject.
Since colour is used as tone, there is only colour in the picture. This gives an expressionist effect, although the presence of colour is closer to action painting: Corinth, de Kooning, Rubens come to mind. Since Simonyi paints therefore she is, the duality of form-moulding and colouring is imperceptible. Execution is sure, taciturn and technically brilliant. Faultless and accurate, like the arrow of the Zenist. Thighs apart coarsely, the Minotaur's head is read, his three horns flap like ears. One experiences a slight embarrassment, the eye glides into the centre of the obscene exposition, one cannot help recalling Caravaggio's child Saint John the Baptist representations with similar shameless exhibitionism, before one realizes fully that there is nothing masculine between the huge thighs, under the princely bulge of the stomach. The subtitle of the picture reads: "Woman in a mask". And indeed, the red bull's head is a gas mask and the breasts are covered by the folded arms... I saw Emö paint in a gas mask for her allergy, beads of perspiration forming on her forehead, and her ringing laughter resounding from under the gas mask...
Emö Simonyi paints during the day and draws before going to bed. More precisely, she paints after drawings made before going to bed. Her drawings prior to sleep, usually in washed ink, are made in the state of dream-forming freedom of soul, intellect and instincts - only the ability of visualization appears to remain wide awake. Simonyi makes a dozen drawings or so in the evening, unfolding stories of the subconscious and the collective unconscious as heralds of a boiling realm somewhere. Their multitude and sequence is unfolding an entity, hence all drawings are one, and can be selected from along any principle of organization. Easiest is the grouping by thematic content and formal quality. In the first case, the outcome can only be formalistic owing to difficulties in interpretation, while the assessment of the quality of the drawings is compounded by the constantly high level of draughtsmanship. What remain as props for comprehension are the paintings surfacing into sunlight from the darkness of the night. The principle of selection is unquestionable and objective in them. "Song of youths in the fire crater" and "Fire God" are correlative, showing the rite of initiation. The youths have their hair on fire, or have hair of fire, they will be fire gods as the big fat hulking sexless ugly adult fire god with flaming head and lower arms, more like a cruel drilling sergeant, promises. The situation is typical: in Simonyi's private mythology, a constant ethical factor is the relation of youth, adulthood and old age to power. Power is hefty and deformed but strong, on the verge of old age, sexually ambiguous, often embodied in an anthropomorphic animal-hybrid. Power is a horrible and senseless phenomenon. "Die Beobachtung des Beobachters" (Observation of the observer) - a monkey is hanging upside down in a huge cage and a heavily overweight bald woman is locking the cage or shaking the grating or leaning her immense overweight against the rails; "Voodoo" - in paradisiac mood, the former bald woman rests on two angelic childen sitting on the ground, her feet being washed by another youth in a washbasin. The harmonious idyll does not make clear who is at the mercy of whom. The youths are blue, the overweight, perhaps helpless power is red. The meaning of red is vague in Simonyi's pictures. As a tone, it creates plasticity, as a colour, it is a pillar of an abstract colour scheme, while conceptually, it means blood. Simonyi's mythologies ordinarily are slopping about in blood, the dripping red paint showing wounds anywhere. It is hard to associate depression and pessimism, or benevolence, with this harsh and savage world: this world is liveable and succulently enjoyable.
Emö Simonyi enjoys creating and her behaviour is highly effective. The key to her efficiency is a purposeful concentration of her lucky abilities; by reducing the potential problems to a reasonable minimum, the quality of presentation is decided by the definite state and in the interplay of few components so that the weight of the final act is lessened by the creative verve aiming at the forthcoming works and thus increases the possibility of finishing. Since we have large-size works presenting complex narratives in expressive colours at issue, the above-described characteristics must belong to an extraordinary artist.
A realistic work represents something in an imitative space. The easiest to imitate space is to put a perspectivic grid or floor tiling in the axis of the viewer's eye on the picture plane. It suffices to represent a few random tiles to elicit the illusion of space. If we omit this device of spatial illusion and only represent the figures in their places in this perspective, we also elicit the illusion of space. Unlike in the Gothic-Flemish naturalistic tradition of representing human figures and their environment, here - like in the Byzantine-Italian renaissance tradition, the background is less accented, scenery-like, as compared to the figures involved in the action. The illusory space is created economically, with the least possible indication. The figures suggesting space are shown variously foreshortened. It is very difficult to paint like that, and needs real talent and schooling to do it "by heart", without using models. Emö Simonyi almost exclusively depicts nude figures, without model - and without difficulty.
Emö Simonyi began her art studies in the secondary school of art and design, a real asylum in the Stalinist era, and finished them in the dictatorial, paralyzing Academy of Fine Arts in 1967. Instead of the personality-quashing course of painting, Emö was clever enough to use the advertisment design course led by Konecsni where you were free to do anything apropos poster and illustration. In 1968, she won the "Best Design of the Year" award in London, which did mean that intellectually, Emö had left behind the Soviet Empire. In 1971, she went to Germany and as the advert designer of Siemens in Munich, she established her existential security to allow for a life on the move in the world. A decade of self-training ensued from Hong Kong to Washington and Africa, centering around London and Italy. Emö Simonyi is an expert on Roman Academism and the Neapolitan School, and that means a lot: the execution of her psychoanalytic visions has boiled into a homogeneous density, into a personal visual world of everyday use from a variety of effects. Post-modernism stood her in good stead: the art of an up-do-date, through-and-through emancipated woman artist seemed topical in the '80s, and the variety of international prizes and major scholarships resulted in her existential security including a studio house in Tuscany. That's highly fortunate as Emö Simonyi's work has nothing to with the standards of artistic up-to-dateness. (Though an analysis of her art also raises the question of modernness, the above statement is not pejorative in any sense. - Allow me to ask: after his youthful gobelin designs, in what way and in comparison to what was Goya modern?)
In November 1998, six years after her first Budapest showing, her second exhibition in her native country opened in the Szombathely Gallery. Ten giants predominated the spacious exhibiting room. Giants, idols, totems, garish beings, painted statues, primary, negorid-cubistic mass orgies. The impression rushing upon the visitor is so powerful that he just keeps roaming the room without a trace of a thought for long minutes. Then, as attention begins to focus on individual creations, it slowly dawns upon the visitor that the negroid-cubistic impression is only an intentional effect, its function being merely to create the realm of the ten individual works and regulate their interpretation. When taking a look at individual works, groups of works or artistic trends, one may speak about distinct, self-contained artistic realms designated from one another by their endowments and possibilities.
To be able to define the place of Emö Simonyi's works, let us make a brief revision. Picasso created a non-representative pictorial realm by severing Cezanne's formal principle from its subject, thereby dividing the history of art into classical past and modern future. The point to this pictorial realm was that it had an equal amount of possible relations to those in a classical picture, only it did not rely on the visual relations of nature in creating these relations. This can also be interpreted so that classical quality-creating art lifted or saved this quality from its nature-predominated subject. Then art was left alone, liberated, with its capacity of quality creation, this ability becoming the subject of its free will. The first free pictorial world was that of cubism but its freedom, as it turned out later, was only given to its founders. Art freed from naturalism, having realized the reductive nature of this act, became radicalized in the direction of the absolute with dadaism and constructivism and earned the name of avantgarde. After half a century of hesitation, the radicalism of avantgarde reached its goal - universalization - from both the visual and the conceptual directions in minimal and concept art and having exposed itself to the extreme, it has annihilated itself. Art caught in the gravitation of the state of affairs in the last quarter of the century called itself post-modern, creating the biological flora of the corps of fine arts on the basis of the hopes of virtual visuality.
What the creators of cubism (for simplicity's sake: Picasso) concluded from the practice of cubism was not the radicalization of reduction but the polar opposite: the substitution of the losses caused by cubism. They restored the realism-centered narrativeness of classical art into the free visual world created by cubism and could therefore create again works telling stories, though they had to resign from the homogeneous imitative pictorialness. The spectrum ranged from still-lives to portaits and battle scenes, and to paraphrases of Velasquez pictures. Thus, instead of the avantgarde, Picasso brought about his post-cubist lifework in a hardly more active pictorial world than the classical, but in one that was free for his arbitrary will. The followers of Picasso stuck to fragments of his works to find rules for themselves, becoming bad imitators, as they turned Picasso's freedom into imprisonment.
Speaking about the place and visual world of Emö Simonyi's giants, I alluded to the freedom of Picasso's world. (Apropos Goya and up-to-dateness: how and in what ways is Picasso up-to-date after cubism? Is up-to-dateness technically a delicate or ticklish term?)
- Emö Simonyi's giants in Szombathely are 2.5-4 m tall, their bodies built of 4-8 cubes or boxes or ractangles. A cubist work is not imitative illusion, but it represents itself. Emö's superimposed cubes have painted surfaces, and owing to the painting, in place of the cubes one sees other forms, coloured statues, giants. The painting of the cube surfaces is aimed to abolish a realistic thing, the cubes, and to create a non-existent, coloured, spatial figure. It was said about her panel pictures: the illusion of space is created via the figures of the protagonists and the neglect of the background. The same takes place on the surface of the boxes; the cube surfaces are filled with the components of the figures, which either run into space as seen by the viewer or continue on other cube surfaces, background given very little neutral space on the cubes. With all their pictorial or sculptural illusion, the cube surfaces are at right angles, by nature. The role of the edges is contrary to that in cubism: there, the setting is derived from a loosely structured, vertically elongated set of vertical-horizontal lines in which the vertical line spaces of dark and light shades behave as edges. Emö annihilates real edges illusorically. The cubic surfaces handled as panel pictures illusorically combine to give the impression of sculpture in the round. As I have noted, Emö Simonyi's painted three-D giants are not Negorid-cubistic works; they simply live autonomously in the free Picassoean artistic space. They are created like the panel pictures, as evidences of painting by heart and of a thorough knowledge of the past of art, of the incredible ease of solving absurd difficulties, the seeming simplicity of completion and the coherence of independent works. The cubes constituting the statues are cardboard boxes. They are painted with egg tempera, with natural materials needing no ground. They are all self-evidences, as are the works since their presence is banally indubitable, since the illusion is authentic, since the miracle of art has taken place again.
Seven of the ten giants in Szombathely are female, three are male. In Emö's view the male's role is far simpler; one of the three males is exemplification incarnat, the paragon of the Picassoean example, the conscious and disciplined example of itself. The other two are simply the same men, armed with wings and power and without them. Men need roles, a man without a role feels pitiable. Women are then highly varied. They are usually smaller and mostly nicer than men, but the biggest giant in Emö's Szombathely showing is also a woman, a dreadful, fearful, clumsy giant from prehistoric times. There is a highly practical one, bearing a cube set on its edge for a head, then there are two beautiful black women, one living under the spell of superstitions, and there is a Polinesian petrified as an idol. Of the two white women, one is young with self-exposing beauty, turning into herself, the other is older, sensual, with wisdom in her eyes looking at us...The diversity of the illusory sight on the cube surfaces comes from the mixing of stylistic variety and the points of view. Painting the two white women, Emö resorted to the most sensitive effects - reflexes - of realistic painting: half the face of the young woman is lit by strong yellowish reflex, with peak lights on the nose and chin while the other half of the face is in bluish purple shadow, with a red shade at the end of her abdomen, while her loins are brightened by reflexive light from her thighs. In the beautiful face of the older woman the shadow is golden ochre, and the reflexes are cobalt blues.
A second generation of giants could be seen in September 1999 in Kunstverein Rosenheim. Though the figures on the cardboard boxed in Szombathely all left their surfaces but they all remained in the axis of the cubes, statically, on two feet. The Rosenheim statues are on the move; their heads are turned aside, their trunks bend forward or backward, kneeling, Phythia turns after us gracefully, her legs in the shape of an X. Emö did not give a rest to her Picassoean tools, either: the pregnant woman's head is spinning, looking all around, the trunk of the nursing woman is balancing the baby's weight, her head on the other side, watching something behind her immense sunglasses.. Simonyi shifts the axes of the superimposed boxes and turns them, before projecting on them her arsenal of illusions on the move, performing acrobatic stunts without a net in Picasso's free space. For the time being, anyway...
Budapest, Christmas 1999