February 1, 1998
The space and time coordinates, the dimensions of the work of sculptor Péter Szanyi have been provided by the `70s and `80s, a period based on pretences and fettered by the drag of taboos - when the system labelled socialism slowly gave up its flagging ghost and the eastern bloc burst like a flimsy balloon - and by the `90s, our increasingly uncertain and chaotic present devoid of perspective. Graduating from the Academy twenty-five years ago as the pupil of the excellent sculptor-teacher József Somogyi, Szanyi, who debuted in individual and collective shows and kept regularly presenting his works later on, has laid the foundations of a lifework of growing significance in two different periods radically separated by their goals and ideals.
When we declare two contradictory tendencies in Szanyi`s work, it is by no means to say that they derive from the above duality:
1) The sculptor is drawn to a current in Hungarian sculpture that is permeated with the spirit of classicism, predominated by true-to-life representation, figurative creation.
2) The sculptor is drawn to a current of Hungarian sculpture that departed from the tradition permeated with the spirit of classicism and ventures into the domain of freer spatial arrangements and the construction is an abstract language.
Reviewing the diverse and colourful crop of a quarter of a century, one may say that Péter Szanyi has been active in various branches and genres of sculpture. He has monuments, medium-size works composed for exhibition spaces and small-scale sculptures. Besides, Szanyi is continuously involved in medallic art which is gradually liberated from its conventions and offers more and more creative possibilities. Even in designing coins, an area determined by very strict rules, his „applied” sculptural performance is noteworthy. In addition to sculptures in the round and reliefs, works for external spaces and interiors, commissions conforming to the clients` programmes, and since the early `90s, monuments realizing his autonomous artistic ideas and made in the atmosphere of sculptors` colonies can be found in his oeuvre. In the production of the Miskolc and Budapest based sculptor belonging somewhere with the middle generation of Hungarian artists, traditional portraits, small sculptures of a lyrical tone, commemorative statues for sacred spaces, memorial relief plaques for communal building walls, large and monumental reliefs organizing interiors, as well as public monuments, fountain statues and ornamental works are set side by side with a natural ease. This diversity necessarily implies a variety of materials and techniques: Szanyi casts bronze, with the time-tested old lost-wax method, carves stone and wood, embosses copper sheets, processes iron and steel - even using factory technologies - and uses concrete as a component of some works. It further compounds the problem of generalizing or modelling his output that the reviewer has to follow fleet-footed leaps from one stylistic category to another: the yield of the twenty-five years offers exemplary works of a realistic approach, non-figurative constructions, associative reshuffling of elements of reality, stylization and decorative forms. The alternation of traditional art forms and deviations from tradition does not outline a linear development or align with a historical arch; interpretation is to concentrate on the message, thematic field, character, and intensity of the impact of each work separately.
Softly modelled small statues of tiny horsemen, clowns, minotaurs, torsos, warriors, seated female figures were on display in Péter Szanyi`s exhibitions in the `70s: although predominated by intimate lyricism, these works also showed signs of a sort of expressiveness, a tormented and overheated character. „The conquered and the conqueror, the clumsy and the fallible, the confronter ad the confronted, the surrenderer and the one who never surrenders - in short, man is the constant model of Péter Szanyi, to quote Katalin S. Nagy, writing about Szanyi`s early works at the beginning of the `80s. She also pointed out Szanyi`s sensitivity to space, his sculptures in the round in the literal sense of the word, which can truly be walked around, composed in space. Already among the small sculptures of the initial phase of his career, one can discover The Great Construction, which raises an intriguing problem of space as a tense relation between mass and a spatial network. This problem is to assume increasing priority later on in his career.
The composition of a net-like structure of space and a figure it encloses finds its variations in, for example, the small statues of Angel trap and Sketch for the temple of the thief on the right. By that time, the Astronaut`s monument composed of abstract forms in stone in Zalaegerszeg, the wooden relief Music, a sweepingly decorative rhythmic scheme of exciting vibration in Debrecen and the bronze Seated woman, true to traditions both in execution and approach, at the Thermal Hotel in Budapest, had already been erected. He had also fulfilled such widely different commissions as the commemorative tablets in relief for Béla Bartók and Gergely Berzeviczy, the coppersheet entitled Olefin for that-time Leninváros, and the welcoming monument made of concrete for the city of Sátoraljaújhely. A recurrent figure of Szanyi`s small-scale sculpture, the angel, also appears in medals and plaques which are characterized by forms of blurred outlines, a brittleness and fragmentation of a tragic overtone. The small statues put on display in Miskolc in 1987 in his exhibition: the sensitive spatial arrangement of figures and groups of figures enveloped by wire netting, the object of a shocking impact entitled Breakfast - the carcass of a bird lying on the plate flanked by a knife and fork, referring to which Laszló Jurecskó remarked: „Szanyi exploits the potentials of the method in many different ways, using irony, nostalgia, pathos, compassion, alienation and commemoration alike.”
The onset of the `90s is marked by two public works, the Bacchus fountain in Tokaj and the Pegasus fountain in Szerencs, two light-hearted, cheerful, playful compositions of an archaic flavour. The great Mindszenty monument of two figures erected in the church of Sajópetri adjusted with exemplary invention to the architectural environment is a disciplined sculptural achievement without astounding innovation, but the earlier Bell Tower of Eperjes, the Lines in Space for Katzow, Germany and, after the Sajópetri monument, the Above the Clouds in Encs, Carpe Diem in Budapest and Memento in Dunaújváros all are characteristically individual and original realizations of the combination of line and space, drawing in three dimensions. With their open or closed gridwork, daring shoot into the height, these welded steel compositions organize space around themselves with a special energy: the linear constructions creating virtual intersecting planes and spaces provide a constantly changing perception and experience of space with the changing of the vantage-point. There is no trace here of the subtle devices of plasticity typical of small-scale statues, or of the playfulness of decorative sculpture: the skeletons creating at times faltering spatial curvatures are governed by savage forces, passions, explosive energies. As the consummation of this skeletal space organization, the monumental sculptural-architectural ensemble of Memento evoking a stately church architecture with bells was erected on a wide riverside plot in 1996 in a string of statues produced during the two decades of the Danube bank artists` colony in Dunaújváros.
Péter Szanyi`s small sculpture condenses intimate moods, and embodies the disturbed but once harmonious worlds with a tilted balance and phenomena vanishing in transiency, together with their actors portrayed with psychological insight and rich emotions. The monuments, either inspired by autonomous artistic programmes or by commission, are inflamed with a heroic desire to commemorate. In the flood of various currents of plastic art at the end of the 20th century, Péter Szanyi`s works, whether composed in reverence of tradition or in a spirit of moderate innovation, all warn that there has never been such pressing need for meditation, for honest first-hand experience, for the preservation of the integrity and inviolability of the individual, for the unfolding of the personality, and for grasping and showing up the values gradually vanishing in the past - as is today. The insights and tensions fed by the voids are not only the immanent characteristics of Szanyi`s sculptures: the tensions are also vibrating between the sculptures and the surrounding world.
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