Morphology in the Arts
The Morph Group
In the second half of the 20th century, as well as today, sculpture as a form of art has had an undeservedly peripheral position. Recent spatial constructions presented as works of art, such as installations or environments, are not considered as entirely new genres yet are generally seen as works of a more contemporary spirit than works created using traditional methods. There are very few exhibitions sepcifically devoted to sculptures currently in the galleries. Works presented at both permanent and temporary exhibitions, if they are presented at all, appear, unfortunately, as spatial decoration accompanying the pictures, often placed in front of a wall. The fundamental feature of sculptures, that viewers can walk around them and can interpret them from several points of view, seems to recede, even lost. Yet the members of the Morph Group are here to prove that it is still possible to create a relevant contermporary work of art using traditional tools and methods of sculpting, and a classic genre can be renewed. Morph is not so much a permanent artistic association as a self organised, loosely connected group of autonomous artists. Artists exhibiting as members of Morph are István Drabik (1969), József Gaál (1960), János Kalmár (1952), Attila Mata (1953) and Tamás Szabó (1952). Their works are very different in terms of shape and technique. This very plurality, the juxtaposition of various forms of expression, is the fundamental aim of their joining in a group. Another common feature, suggested also by the name Morph, is that form for this group carries values of appearance as well as of meaning and is a symbol of authentic artistic creation. The element –morph, used as the second component of compunds with the addition of the suffix –ic produces adjectives describing specific formal features, meaning ’with the form or shape of’. In this sense each exhibitor may be allocated an adjective produced with –morph which best describes his work. Thus the words metamorphic, antropomorphic, biomorphic and grafomorphic can be used to characterise works of several artists, whereas there are individual works that would be aptly characterised by several of these adjectives. Metamorphic or metamorphous means something born through metamorphosis or transformation. This state of flux and change can be seen as characteristic of the works of both Tamás Szabó and József Gaál from among the members of the group, although from different points of view. Tamás Szabó associates the change in his art with his reaching the age of fifty. His earlier figurative compositions gave way to a series of works created by an essentialist reduction of totems and idols. He has been increasingly reluctant to employ realistic methods in creating shapes or to use classical materials (marble or bronze) which used to be characteristic of his earlier art. Whereas there is the occasional work cast in bronze among his current pieces (Capital, 2004), most of them apply small iron sheets (With holes for the eye, 2005) or nails (Nailed head I-II, 2004-2005) on a lead base to formulte the surface of the sculptures. Regardless of the technique or materials employed, the facture of the sculptures creates a rustic and archaic impression (With holes for the nose, 2005; The third witness, 2006). Tamás Szabó’s works recall rituals of ancient cultures and prehistoric times, the original magic of art (Remembering I-II. 2005).
His pieces are also connected to ancient works in terms of his artistic intentions. For him, the created piece is quite as real as the forces of nature, very much like for his colleagues of several thousand years ago. It is not important because looking at it feels good but because it can be used and there are mysterious powers residing in it. The work, therefore, is a device of magic and the process of its making is identical to the act of Creation. Similar associations are evoked by the painted wooden sculptures of József Gaál, which also lead us back to the ancient world of masks while (and this is a fundamental difference compared to the works of Tamás Szabó described above) introducing specific human characters. A fundamental metaphor in the art of Gaál is the mask, which hides and reveals at the same time, showing simultaneously individual and general features. It is a tool of both ritual hiding and confessional self-revelation. It is a medium of role playing, which enables one to hide behind the chosen – or predetermined – face and to experience metamorphosis by bringing to the surface a hidden, subconsciously existing self through the character. The mask, therefore, is a means of metamorphosis; it offers the possibility to reach to the most distant points of memory and the past, when the mask was still identical to its referent. In the mask dream and waking state unite; it is of this world and of the other world. It is important to mention here Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. It is no coincidence that this god is mentioned in connection with the works of József Gaál, since he created an entire series of drawings called Morpheus pages in 1986. The mask may also represent the narrow line between inside and out or up and down (Unsociable I-II. 1999). Masks painted on the body or the face (whic, therefore, are not separate entities) demonstrate even more directly the metamorphosis of body into image or the process of identification with the selected mask, the process of transubstantiation. In this case the body, that is, the person wearing the mask, turns into a medium, while in the case of separate masks the mask itself is the carrying medium. Similarly, in several works by József Gaál (Green clown, 2006; Harpy, 2005) or Tamás Szabó (such as First witness, 2005) their creations do not only wear the masks but they become the masks, they become the medium.
Yet, as Thomas Macho has pointed out in several studies, the mutual referentiality of mask and face may not be reduced to the mere circumstance of hiding (face) and revealing (new face or masked face). As Hans Belting argues in his work Body – Image – Medium, following Macho’s footsteps, the real face is not the one hidden by the mask but the one producing the mask. This is why the mask can be seen as the beginning of the process of regulation for the natural face, which offers a mask-like stylised version of itself in order to live up to the code in the mask placed on him. A face without a mask, in this sense, represents itself as a mask while it is itself becoming a mask: “the mask of the face”. Since currently the role and definition of art are in constant change, the changeable yet unchanging masks offer artists a representation of permanent, constant values.
The motif of the moon appears in several of József Gaál’s recent works presented in this exhibition (Looking at the moon, 2004; With a face like the full moon, 2005; Moonclown, 2004; Moon face, 2004). The face masks showing various stages of the moon also symbolise permanence and permanent change simultaneously. The sculptures of Tamás Szabó and József Gaál could be listed under the heading anthropomorphic (meaning of human form) as well as that of metamorphic. Yet anthropomorphic would be most adequate as a category for the works of István Drabik and János Kalmár from among the members of the group.
They offer two different approaches both on the level of form and content. The two artists can almost be considered as the polar opposites of one another. István Drabik produces expressive works with vibrantly dinamic surfaces and waving and gesture-like lines. The sculptures of János Kalmár, on the other hand, are characterised by a static, settled calm, almost straight lines and geometrical shapes. Yet, in spite of their different approaches, the way the human figure is presented, the attempts towards expression using minimal tools, and the exploration of the line between reality and abstraction, bring the works of these two artists close together. István Drabik creates most of his sculptures directly: rather than modelling or casting, he uses the method of immediate gestures, unusually for sculptors. Hence the association of the term graphomorphic (drawing-like) with his works. His pieces give the impression of light, airy, immaterial drafts, while they are in fact heavy, solid bronze statues. For the representation of human character and human states he uses mutilation and distortion, which results in his works carrying deep drama. His fragmented presentation primarily suggests a lack of wholeness; his tormented surfaces offer a synonym for internal conflict and continuous struggle, both in terms of the mundane and the artistic. The apparently harmonic, calm and antiquated bronzes of János Kalmár have a no less dramatic effect. The reduced forms, the subtle, restrained colouring on the surfaces of the sculptures (Man looking down, 2006), the statical balance of the structure (Figure bending, 2006) are all suggestive of the notion of balance. The pieces are also balancing between a meditative person’s search for the essential and the generalised views of ideas, showing something uniquely human and vulnerable. Besides, there is a tension much like an ominous silence, as if before the strom breaks, present in these fundamentally transcendental sculptures. The elongated, thin figures (Man looking back, 2006; Boy sitting, 2004; Man sitting, 2006) seem fragile, almost without a body, metaphors of the soul. (Offering souls, 2006). These works offer a representation of the deep calm of the soul as well as of the vulnerability and transience of physical human life. The geometric sculptures of Attila Mata, reduced to contures and skeletons, are also connected to the adjective antrhropomorphic, as they focus on the representation of the human figure (such as Woman of luxury, 2000). Yet, in spite of their geometric shape, I would connect them to a term of my own coinage, biomorphic, meaning a shape reminiscent of organic or ancient forms. As well as representing actual persons (such as Anikó Fûr, 2000; Hommage à Dezsõ Korniss, 2001) his works also provide representations of more general spatial connections (Female figure with anatomic indications, 2003) and concepts (Night, 2006), as well as of ancient, ritual characters of various cultures (Golem, 2004; Shiva, 2004). In his analytical exploration of anatomic and geometric relations he is using the perforated natural surfaces of bronze, but he also often applies colouring on his pieces (Mary of the Three Buttocks, 1995).
As I have mentioned above, all exhibiions of the Morph Group are, emphatically, presentations of sculptures. The material presented, however, is usually complemented by drawings by the artists, which are mostly independent works of graphic art, while showing obvious traces of attitudes and techniques characteristic of sculptors in general. The sculptures of the five artists of the Morph Group draw attention to the fact that contemporary (Hungarian) sculpture does, indeed, exist. Classic sculpture – similarly to panel painting – is still alive. Or at least has been reborn.
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