József Szurcsik: Arcadia


“The dissonance in life for me is, after all, harmony”

József Szurcsik

The introspective behaviour of modern times and the desire to escape from the technical civilization to the world of fantasy, dreams and memories are expressed by sensible paintings created with the tools of reality.

After the wars of the 20th century, a declining faith in social utopias resulted in a unique sensibility, which created subjective universes in painting. This tendency is exemplified by the universe of József Szurcsik, whose imaginary paintings are surreal images impregnated with mystic elements to convey sensible messages to the audience. Szurcsik’s themes are dominated by stylised natural formations, isolated natural spaces placed in gigantic, dreamlike perspectives, and sometimes completely independent geometric forms, with the indispensable young faces incorporated.

Arcadia, the title of the exhibition, refers to introspection. The pastoral character of Arcadian life together with its isolation partially explains why it was represented as a paradise in Greek and Roman bucolic poetry. Since that time Arcadia has been regarded as the allegory of “Paradise Lost”, referring to the irrevocably lost harmony between men and nature. For Szurcsik, Arcadia represents the nature from which human beings isolated themselves. On the other hand, men’s burning desire for nature, the past and a free world creates an inner conflict. As a result, the contrast between the unregulated natural environment and the constructed world appears either markedly or in a more reconciled manner in different contexts.

Szurcsik’s colossal faces, appearing in various qualities and representations, are quietly looking at the infinite landscape, rising above the rhythm of the restless world. They are either gazing at the boundless horizon like guards who keep serious secrets, or come to life in the shape of huge towers, flying monoliths, ruins of ancient castles, or buildings of a megalopolis. With their slowly moving, blinking faces, Szurcsik’s colossuses are living creatures of the present, yet they evoke the spirit of ancient times.

Egyptian art and the sculptural colossuses of other ancient cultures largely influenced Szurcsik’s strange portrays.

For a long time, the relationship between men and nature has been characterised by an overwhelming feeling of respect and fear. The different religions, cults, traditions, superstitions and beliefs stemming from this feeling of awe largely influenced art. Abstraction, however, led to excessively disproportionate artworks. Human portrays simply required to articulate the main contours of the body and the face. The stone heads of Easter Island, Corsica's sculptured menhirs, or the Avebury ring are some of the most important cultic colossuses from the prehistoric world that inspired Szurcsik’s painting. Similarly to the megaliths of ancient times, Szurcsik’s colossuses are meant to be monuments to eternity.

The artist’s massive towers, snail shell phalanstère, and unreachably high walls also inspire respect and fear. His strange perspectives and frames make them look monumental. Frozen in eternity, Szurcsik’s petrified, omniscient creatures are gazing at desolate, abandoned landscapes as if they belonged to a higher dimension. Unnatural lighting, distorted perspectives and the imaginary environment also enhance the supernatural impression of Szurcsik’s paintings.

Applying an unusual mixture of acrylic and oil, Szurcsik’s art approaches eternity, perpetuality and timelessness from the individual’s perspective. As paint tectonics results in a cracked surface, the overlapping layers and the hardened surface reinforce the artist’s concept.

During his early period in the 1980s, Szurcsik was interested in the relationship of the individual and the power, with his motifs focusing on the problems of oppression and exclusion. Recently, he has turned his attention to the paradox relationship between society and the individual, as the individual can only live in a community, where he is ab ovo lonely, or deliberately isolates himself from his peers. The universality of Szurcsik’s painting stems from his philosophical approach: he projects the status of the individual onto the outside world. The status of the individual is the status of the painter, id est the status of everybody else.

Szurcsik’s petrified, carved faces remind us of the topos familiar from ancient myths and folkloric tradition. Petrification, or being turned into stone is a terrible retribution for incompetence and incapability: to deprive somebody from his vitality is the ultimate punishment to a human being.

Yet, for Szurcsik, being turned into stone is not bad fate, but an utmost beauty, an allegory of immortality, perpetuality and timelessness. Consequently, his petrified characters are not condemned to tragic death. Quite the contrary, they gain eternal life and are invited to experience the divine.

Zita Sárvári

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