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Messenger animals from the spirit world

text by Gábor Szerényi

According to my cliché collection – and from my many, many experiences –sculptors are not very talkative. They are quiet. To clever, witty, to the point journalistic questions, they mutter something like, “mm-hmm”. And“perhaps”. Or “maybe”. A bit longer: “well, I hadn't really thought about that”. You have to pull every word out of them. Their large hands are like the hands of metalworkers who plough the fields in their spare time. They brood in a bearish way, drawing with despairing vagueness (their fine-art graphic designer colleagues excuse them: “they are sculptors, they don’t care!”). And they are usually almost all men.

In comparison, Ágnes Nagy, who enters the radio studio, is the opposite of these stereotypes. Impulsive, full of cheerfulness, she tells her story with such exuberance that we should spend time at the newspaper’s printing house to save the editor’s proofreading work. I look at her hand respectfully: it is graceful, delicate, suggesting maternal tenderness, feminine kindness. But she is a real, manual sculptor. And the sculptures that come into being as a result of the work of these pretty hands are no small models. “These are not animals” – proclaims her latest exhibition at Várkert Bazár. I feel like arguing right away. These are very much animals. Not only in the slang sense of being “wildly” good, but also in terms of my obsession with them as being among the true works that transcend themselves. Because – I raise my forefinger – the anatomical accuracy of representation is, of course, the golden rule of aesthetics and perception. But the really impressive thing is the underlying content, which pulsates through the lines of force behind the otherwise suggestive presentation. The biological, physical existence of animals is the apropos for the suggestion that she calls forth from the hiding place of the visible.

The robust stature and golden majesty of the lion expresses the royal splendor, and it is no coincidence that it is the leading heraldic beast(along with the eagle) in heraldry, the controlling constellation of the summer solstice. In addition to its many positive iconographic roles, it is also known as a symbol of anger and pride, and in the Bible, Satan, who is greedy, ravenous and attacks men, also rises in the image of the lion. The SumerianGilgamesh and the Old Testament Samson also fight it, and Christ was also depicted as defeating the devil in the form of a lion. Just a lion sculpture, and we have already entered the realm of mythological imagery.

Ágnes Nagy, this smiling, kind, communicative artist, says that her path to sculpture was inevitable. Her maternal grandfather was a shipbuilder who drew, painted and carved (some of his works are kept), and then her father, an engineer but an avid art collector, and the many beautiful pictures and works of art in the family, all influenced her. All this motivation could have faded, but it suddenly became “serious”. The enthusiastic drawing and painting child –how great that she had an inspiring, charming drawing teacher! – was happy to make sculptures, and even studied ceramics before going to the Secondary School of Visual Arts in Török Pál Street. (And let's not forget how important it was that she went to the art school on Százados Road, to her sculpture teacher’s drawing class. The spirit of the place was probably also an ample inspiration.)If you spend some time with the rhinoceros sculpture, it is worth noting that this animal is one of the most influential creatures in the history of art.Albrecht Dürer never actually saw a rhinoceros in his life, relying only on the sketches and descriptions by an unknown person, but he nevertheless had an immense influence on artists of later times. (Nor were fans put off by the fact that it was later revealed that the rhinoceros did not have the armour cover the artist had drawn, not to mention the little twisted horn at the neck.)

Ágnes Nagy has modelled the Dürerian-looking animal, and with her unique narrative she authentically communicates that this rhinoceros – from the remoteGanges region – is essentially gentle, loves and enjoys life, and thus represents the desire for freedom. It's respectful appearance, stillness, and monumentality suggests that it is not worth provoking, its fury is terrifying. Peace is better.

Ágnes Nagy always prays before she starts her work. As a believer, she not only believes, but knows that the concrete physical effort, the manual creation, the composition of matter, is more likely to achieve its goal if she also turns spiritually towards higher spiritual worlds, praying to the Creator for the creative impulse. And of course, it is not only for compositions with an inherently religious inspiration that she asks for spiritual help. (She depicts the lamb with liturgical reverence, and behold, it has found a home in the sacred milieu of a small church.)

The sitting horse is also technically one of the more difficult works. The curve of the spine, the arrangement of the legs, the positioning of the horse’s head and the coordination of the details require a particularly high level of concentration. And let’s add that in this particular, less usual resting pose, the animal must also convey the images of the brave, elegant, imposing, nobly striding, triumphant and majestic animal that is associated with it. Because right now it is taking a well-deserved rest, but it is the one whose gallop we are usually enjoying. (Let’s keep quiet about the passion of angry horse-racing betters for now.) But the watchword of this magnificent animal is “dignity in all circumstances”. Because it can be any ordinary horse, yet it is related to the eight-legged horse of the Scandinavian god Odin, the Horse of Death of theApocalypse, the White Horse of Hungarian folktales, to name just a few representative mythological references. The supine unicorn is an even higher grade, its surface showing exotic motifs of a novel, archaic scenes from old engravings.This imaginary creature is a good example of how Ágnes Nagy’s work is about the intersection of the real and the spiritual world. She captures a vision, she presents it in a plastic way, and while contemplating the work we find ourselves looking beyond reality, into mystical realms.

Although she needs outside help to make large sculptures, firing the chamotte works in a large kiln, she is practically in control of the work all the time. (By the way, she is working with her own improved material from chamotte.)

Her decisions are firm, both in her work and in her life. Because of the birth of her child, she did not have a university education in art, but she was all the more creative and determined to develop her own technology and creative character. In an earlier era, she had also imagined a career in sport, training for a competitive fitness career with Alexandra Béres, but then realized that this was not her path. She lives in a supportive, loving family, and it means a lot that she was able to find her way without rushing.

She became acquainted with the domestic art trade in her early youth, working at the Kieselbach Gallery and the Judit Virág Gallery, and later had her first exhibition and sales here. Now a major success abroad, she has a strong chance of having her work managed in the United States.

“These are not animals”, proclaimed the exhibition, almost a flash mob, on the terrace of the Várkert Bazár, an otherwise impressive venue that fleshes out the aura of animal sculptures. We can take comfort in the fact that – to quote Béla Hamvas – it is enough if God knows about the masterpieces. But even more realistic – and more reasonable – is our assumption that Ágnes Nagy’s sculptural arts will in the coming years gain the prominence and appreciation it deserves, both in the domestic and international art world.
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