Contemporary Art from Hungary 7.


Róbert Csíkszentmihályi’s vivacious art lies in the heart of his constant renewal. Albeit a face realised within the a flash of time has its grounds for existence, Csíkszentmihályi’s shifting forms and messages always have their trace in past oeuvres, as the animal sculptures formed in the last two decades have had their roots right form the very beginning of his art. It seems as if the artist, without aspiring to honours of becoming an animal sculpture artist, was preparing all his life to show something important about human nature through wildfowl, fur and feather animals, big games of Mother Nature and domestic animals living around the house.
These human-animal sculptures mirror habits, gestures and the posing manner of mankind.
His aim is to detect the great secrets of life: on the one hand the bestial features of mankind, and on the other hand, through grotesque animal figures, to catch the traces of rejoicing or struggling human beings manifesting beauty my all means. The exciting thing about the masks is that they slip into each other: however deep the howling is coming from it cannot be anything but vox humana. The uniqueness of this quaint bestiary manifests itself in the power attracting features and characters that seem to vanquish time – however impossible that might be. Paradoxically, the artist realizes this eternal existence through time-related general features, such as managerial ambition or selfishness: Big Boy (1997); or relaxation from intentness: Howl (2002).
Csíkszentmihályi’s sculptures have deep underlying messages – as all great artists’ works do. These are plastic message. One could depict them in the medals ordered for special events (e.g. anniversaries, opening ceremonies, cultural events, etc.) that involuntarily carry certain ‘literature-related’ motifs – yet both the front and back side’s inventive designs point beyond the visible. Thus, the spectators are enchanted by the formal purity of the small and bigger-sized sculptures and soaring plaquettes that were born out of a self-moulding and self-expressing will, and of a creative urge to leave a mark in the world.
This purity embraces the essential elements having an effect on the artefact’s aesthetic quality, placement and working mechanism, without which even sculpture radiating renaissance feeling would be unintelligible. I am not necessarily speaking about massiveness but about the festive penetration of space, and the spiritualization of the light-submerging and projecting, sensual patina. In the rock solid massiveness, with Brancusi’s words, there lies God’s will. Csíkszentmihályi, the deep-rooted materialist, is also approached by the ethereal voice.
Albeit the sculptures located in public places and the imaginative statuettes are equal siblings in the artist’s eyes, naturally, the scale and reason for the above described visible change always depends on the character of the piece of art. And of course the very nature of the material itself (being wood, stone, iron or bronze) also defines the artist’s creative desire to depict the spectre of existence. Csíkszentmihályi, whose oeuvre is intertwined with Szentendre and Rome, incarnates a classical style now and again rambling in the field of grotesque enclosure. The artist’s creative art is inspired by a solid background. In Csíkszentmihályi’s dream reality art is nothing less but life, fate, and the consummation of an exalted will – the completeness of the world itself. (Just as if Michelangelo’s magic wand would enchant the value-canvas of the 20th century.) One can avoid an overt avowal of the world but this would be self-deception behind which less great talents hide. But those confronting the drama-stricken rejoicing will experience astonishing felicity. This supreme joy is that of the rite of passage, and finally that of creation. A true artist will not take on any easier burden – and our artist is well aware of that. Since only the hollow ones will crack up under it.
Luckily, Róbert Csíkszentmihályi is not such an artist. His art derives from the knowledge preserved by ancestors through time spiced with elated Mediterranean breeze. It was this heritage fused together with the light movements of Tuscany and the ecologic serenity of miniature (but seemingly grandiose) Etruscan sculptures that let off Csíkszentmihályi to experience the determining uniqueness of his path in art. In order to become a formative character in the Hungarian contemporary sculpture art the artist ‘simply’ had to acquire craft and the knowledge of fine material moulding techniques.
Present introduction does not aim at giving a detailed account of Csíkszentmihályi’s complete oeuvre, let it be his miniatures depicting animal portraits. Numerous studies would be needed to outline the most relevant phases of his career from wood to stone and towards bronze. But time should be devoted to some of the sculptures, medals and plaquettes that carry the germ for the animal masks.
We call your attention to the red marble sculpture, Introducing the Snail (1970) because it attracts a rich variety of apprehension through the spiralling helix. Although it is a small-sized work of art it has monumental effects as the mollusc is shown only through abstraction of its shell lying in the nap of the figure. It symbolizes the “universal, ancient and basic sign of movement”, including but not limited to birth, unfolding and growth from the point of view of a “repetitive rhythm of life”. Thus, this sculpture symbolizes the “ever changing character of existence”.
By making use of symbols of many centuries the young artist instinctively managed to find a rich treasure-house where his later sculptures could take inspiration from.
(An interesting note: one of the artist’s most provocative statuettes among the animal portraits and nature masks is Mushroom with Lemon Breasts – 2004. In the myths of certain civilizations this mushroom is considered as the symbol of fertility and immortality. Through Csíkszentmihályi’s worldly creation the universe is nurtured by two lemon-like breasts: this is a plastic reference to the fact that thick-leaved mushrooms were referred to as “the nourishment of Gods”, but parallel in Greek culture it was labelled as “Devil’s bread”.)
If we take a look at earlier animal figures – such as the bronze, strict-looking, frightening Predator (1967) and the reddish-brownish, wood-carved Magic Stag (1968) - we can find the traces of future animal masks (The Old One, 1994; Mum, 1997; Howl, etc.). This period can already be characterized by an extraordinary affection for Mother Nature. Here we find how wild animals living in the jungle transform into half-humans whose basic feature is kindliness that gradually makes our life beautiful. Just as earlier sculptures demonstrate grotesque but forgiving gestures, later pieces radiate features such as freshness (Athlete, 1998), roughness (Ancient Voices, 1970) and the drama of the crucified stag (The Last Stag II).
The music of the past turns into modern music just as Béla Bartók was able to compose modern cacophony from the old folk songs. That is why his sculpture Primate (2007) with its self-portrayal can be traced back in his early plaquette Self-Portrait with Crab (Sea Series II). The presence of past in the future is one of the most important guidelines in Csíkszentmihályi’s art, however, there are some other significant trends including time disturbed expressed by broken clockworks (Time I-XXI, 1978-1980), corpus variations (War, 1970), and lustful human-animal figures (Predatorie, 1994, Pussy, 1999).
Watching the bronze Animal Heads full of character we can find that they have got their antecedents. (The eyes - mirror of the soul - bear a significant importance in these sculptures.) And here I do not wish to remind of the multitude of the early animal figures (Memorial to the Last Stag, 1971; Wild Boar,1987) but of the sculptures made recently in the period of 1994 - 2007. One of the last pieces made in this time is Ark (2007) sculptured almost simultaneously with some of the animal-mask series.

The strangest sculpture to start the series is Foggy Morning (1994). The painful melancholy of the roe-woman - foreshadowing a frightful future – is expressed not only by the helpless bearing of the body, the trembling stick-like legs but also with the artistically shaped head with its closed mouth, long nose, popping though introvert eyes. Nevertheless, the artist first of all minds the character of the body (the body of the human-animal) but he uses the face to express important features as well. Examples of the above are his Wings (1995) representing the artist’s overall desire for freedom with its arms spread to fly, or Romulus (1995) with its cage-like body to depict ever-existing care, and finally Big Boy with its phallus erected to the sky like a canon to symbolize human desire to possess the universe.

Through artistic virtuosity the sculptor is able to show different emotions in waves on a single face as if they were suggested by the character itself and not created by his virtuoso hands. Though it is possible to depict sadness and radiant happiness on the same face – Foggy Morning enchants its viewers this way – full-figure sculptures carry various emotions on each and every face. (Thus the smile on Old One’s face, appearing in the figure of a lion, shines with the wisdom of an experienced old fellow, meanwhile the wooden Prayer expresses faith of higher quality than that of a dog’s in its face open to the sky.) For these sculpture are less and at the same time more than a caricature. They are less because their destroying power is relative – laughter is not meant to destroy – and they are more than caricatures because their sculpture-existence is provided not only by jolly distortion but also by mocking force.

It is interesting to observe that Csíkszentmihályi’s animal-human figures are much closer to figurative style than his non-figurative idols (Music, 1981), let them represent either a real or a mythical world (for example the aristocratic couple of Tango (2001), where the woman and the bull dancing with her express this dual character in a highly talented way.) His series – all of them masterpieces - are popular for different reasons. We love his dual-sculptures with their hints to biblical situations. Lawrence and Alexander (1987) could be taken for a special Pieta-variety and shows the passionate delight of belonging to someone. Csíkszentmihályi’s Blessed Elisabeth (1980) in the crypt of Saint Peter Cathedral in Rome radiates faith carved into limestone to rejoice the visitors.

Though Ani(mal) Heads – 16 up to now – can be taken for ’half-bestiary’ compared to full-bodied sculptures, they carry the essence of any bigger sculpture together with the features characteristic of small ones.

Csíkszentmihályi has a stinging view of existence.

He is cruel to both men and women in the animal masks. Using caricature, he emphasises the features of a human-animal to evoke laughter. Hen (2007) becomes ridiculous with its long neck while the aristocratic dog-prodigy called Aristide (2008) wears a bow-tie to create the same atmosphere. The collection includes the Orator (2008), an eagle with its turned-up head, Rexi (2007), showing off as a lion, a frog that uses its own body to complete a wind-instrument with the title Blown Up (2007), Pussy (2007) a shrewd lady with two plates, the antique-looking head of a horse, Lola (2007) and Predatorie (2008), flashing its teeth at its pray. Beauty (Lady, 2006) and ugliness (Emeritus, 2007) walk hand in hand here like daylight and night in nature.

These Ani(mal) Heads have no mercy, mask covers mask and the story hidden in a motif hides another one. They are sculpture-allegories of good and bad human features appearing on countless levels of reality. They possess less tolerance than full-figure sculptures. How would it be possible to beware of them – they are our own reflections.

Lajos Szakolczay

Text by: Lajos Szakolczay PhD.
Layout: Gábor Gerhes
Content: 66 + 4 pages, with 54 colour-plates
No. of Issues: 1000
Date of Publication: 2008