A larger-than-life, Santa Claus-esque sculptor and painter, Gyuri Hollosy has, throughout his four-decade career, created works that are massive, both in size and spirit. One of the best-known is the 19-foot bronze sculpture “Aspiration for Liberty,” a memorial to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution that stands in Liberty Square Park in Boston. Then there is “The Family,” a joyous, energetic bronze piece large enough for viewers to walk under, situated on the Municipal Complex in Peoria, AZ.
Perhaps this bent towards working large runs in his blood. Hollosy is the great-nephew of Hungarian painter Csontvary Tivadar Kostka (1853-1919), whose artistic visions burst forth on canvases that can cover an entire wall of a museum. “My great-uncle’s paintings were overwhelming,” Hollosy says. “When I saw what he was doing, I thought to myself, ‘Why am I making small stuff?’ I’d even like to make my more playful pieces large enough for people to walk under and around, like they do with ‘The Family.’”
“Hollosy: 40 Year Sculpture Retrospective with Paintings and Drawings,” an overview of his career is on view through Sunday, March 22, at the Museum of the American Hungarian Foundation in New Brunswick.
The artist, who lives in Titusville and has for years had a studio at Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, walks a visitor through the gallery on a sunny afternoon and reflects on his body of work. Art seems to pour out of his imagination and hands. Even Hollosy himself looks around and shakes his head as if to say, “wow, I did all this.” Indeed, his great-uncle Kostka was a huge influence on Hollosy’s artistic career, as was another great-uncle, Simon Hollosy, as were his parents. However, there was another older relative who had an even greater influence on Hollosy’s sheer love for working with his hands. His grandfather was an engineer who invented at least one piece of practical farm equipment, a sprayer for fruit trees.
“Seeing him making the different parts (of the machinery), using the lathe, stuck with me, and I picked up a lot of things from my grandfather,” Hollosy says. “He had a Shopsmith which I always wanted to get my hands on. It went to one of my uncles instead, but then I found one in a catalog.” This was apparently an “aha!” moment for Hollosy, and the Shopsmith (which consists of five basic home shop tools, all in a versatile machine about the size of a bicycle) has a place of honor in his studio.
Hollosy’s father studied music and law before becoming a military officer during World War II. When he suffered an injury, he was sent to a hospital in Austria, where the woman who was to become Hollosy’s mother was his attending nurse. They never returned to Hungary, knowing that the Soviets would be invading. His father also had a wonderful voice and was a gifted radio announcer. He eventually became a broadcaster and program director for Radio Free Europe’s Hungarian branch. Hollosy was born in Germany on September 19, 1946, just as the noon bells were ringing, he says.
Though happy in Europe, his parents learned that the United States would be closing its borders for any new immigrants for the next decade and the offer was put to the family to stay or go. After some debate, they left with government connections they had made through his father’s work in radio. The Hollosy family arrived in Cleveland, OH, in 1955. Once settled in the United States, Hollosy’s father became an engineer and worked for an elevator company. His mother was a talented seamstress.
As a youth, Hollosy was inspired to take up art while attending a summer camp at a Franciscan monastery. There, the 12-year-old Hollosy witnessed a priest burning the images of saints into large oak columns as part of the construction of a chapel. His artistically inclined parents (with all the creativity in their own extended families) encouraged Hollosy’s decision to become an artist.
In his teens, his art education started specifically in sculpture as an apprentice to sculptor Frank Varga in Detroit during the summer months of 1963-’66. He started his undergraduate studies at the Cleveland Institute of Art from 1965-’68 and then went to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, to study under David Hostetler. He received a bachelor of fine Arts in 1969.
That very summer was pivotal, since Hollosy had the opportunity to take an internship with Meyer, John & Wengler Foundry, where he studied bronze casting techniques for fine arts purposes. In the fall of 1969 he returned to Ohio University to begin graduate studies in sculpture and painting. This was in the midst of the Vietnam War however, and Hollosy was drafted and would spend more than five years in the military with the U.S. Coast Guard.
Military service was followed with graduate work at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he studied with Jules Struppeck and received his master of fine arts degree in 1977. Hollosy then began to teach fine arts at various universities and institutions, including Tulane, as well as Washington University in St. Louis and Bethany College in Lindsborg, KS.
He came to Grounds For Sculpture in 1988 and held positions there as an instructor, as well as assistant director and program coordinator for the Johnson Atelier Technical School of Sculpture’s apprenticeship program. He also served as gallery director for the Atelier’s Extension Gallery. He has also contributed to the collection of works at Grounds For Sculpture: his bronze, “Kathy B.,” was installed there in 2006.
The foundry facilities allowed him to experiment with his personal work, learning and experiencing different sculptural processes that took his art in new directions. One of those fresh roads found Hollosy developing a series of works expressing the fluidity of the dancing body. “I was playing with ideas of movement,” he says. “There’s one piece that is now in Connecticut called ‘Seven Easy Pieces’ — one sculpture with seven different positions it can go into. From there, I wanted to look into the idea that sculpture can have more than one singular position. I started to create these around 2000.”
Hollosy indicates “Never at Rest,” a work from 2003 that can be moved around by the observer into eight different positions. “I also wanted to explore what happens with the dynamics and the environment,” he says, handling another untitled piece, created with resin bonded sawdust. It appears to be a little crablike, poised and balanced on tenterhooks. Yet, look closely and you see two slender figures, interlocked, dancing or tumbling. “They’re twins,” Hollosy says. “Their individual dynamics are a lot alike, but at the same time, as this piece moves around, you can’t quite see that they’re the same. If I were to enlarge this — as someday I’d like to do — I want the viewer to see that this sculpture, although I see it in a position, has the capability of many other positions. Its form can go into a continuous transformation.
“When people are rotating these, playing with them, they’re even having arguments about which is the best position,” Hollosy adds. “So, there’s a real engagement with these. Some of it has to do with what the viewers are bringing to the table. But this technique really opened up (the process of observation).”
Visitors to the Museum of the American Hungarian Foundation can see, touch and move around a few examples of these tumbling forms. (They’re indicated with blue dots.) Hollosy enjoys the idea that viewers can touch and feel a few of his works of art, perhaps transferring to gallery visitors his own love for handling materials. Whether it’s bronze, stone, clay, or resin bonded sawdust, it’s the tactile, hands-on activity that drives his creativity. “Sculpture is three-dimensional, you can connect to it,” Hollosy says. “It’s reality, whereas painting is fantasy.”
Painting is prominent in this retrospective, however, and suitably, some of Hollosy’s recent works, oils on canvas, are sizeable and vigorous. Upon entering the gallery, your eyes are drawn to a painting of a vibrant, golden sunflower, a close-up, like you’re an insect taking a sunbath on the petals.
Scrutinize the flower paintings and you’ll see the same hands-on manipulation of materials Hollosy applies to his sculpture. The canvases are thick with blotches of paint Hollosy has moved around meditatively, almost playfully. He doesn’t work with a brush but rather his fingers and a spatula.
Interestingly, he began his artistic career as a painter, and names Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, Rembrant, and Van Eyck as just a few influences. Hollosy says he was always tuned into feeling the form of the paint, just as he feels the materials he uses for sculpture. He also has a sense of pushing the dynamics of the paintings to make them, well, larger-than-life. “With this size you can come down in scale,” he says. “I felt the need to push the paintings, really make them feel like four-by-sevens. That gets back to my sculptural sense, pushing things, finding the essence that defines the scale.”
Art Exhibit, Museum of the American Hungarian Foundation, 300 Somerset Street, New Brunswick. On view to Sunday, March 22. “Hollosy: 40 Year Sculpture Retrospective with Paintings and Drawings.” $5 donation. For more information on Gyuri Hollosy visit www.hollosy.com. 732-846-5777 or www.ahfoundation.org. Museum hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.