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"My passion is my profession"

Marie Claire 2020.08.24.

Every week, this column introduces lucky people whose work gives their life meaning. It is their passion. We hope that their example will give others the power to make a change, if needed, or to evaluate and adapt their current situation. Meet sculptor Ágnes Nagy, whose exhibition These are not animals! is held from 17th to 20th September at the balcony of Várkert Bazár.

She is a pretty, fragile woman, and at first sight no one would think that these hands create huge, heavy sculptures. Sculptor Ágnes Nagy began her career when she was already a mature adult. Her family plays a central role in her life, but it wasn’t her two children that caused her to discover this profession relatively late. She felt she had to become mature enough for it. She found her own visual language, her sculptures are easily recognizable – the animal figures reflect Agnes's present feelings and thoughts. We were talking in her home at Csobánka, where the original of some of her works in the garden reminds us that talent and creativity can rise to the surface at any time, and artists should create something lasting.

If someone told you when you were a child that you were going to be a sculptor, would you have believed them? What did you want to be when you were a young girl?

I always wanted to be an artist, and a lot of time had elapsed before I found the right way to do that. I was very lucky, for in primary school I had a fantastic drawing teacher, who had no children of her own, so she took some of her talented pupils under her wing and held lessons for us separately. We went to the park of the Royal Palace of Gödöllő to paint. While we were working, her husband bought us ice cream. It was a very good, inspiring, initial motivation for me. Later on, I spent every Saturday, from the age of 14, drawing in the studio of my sculptor teacher with her children and a few talented classmates at the artist colony at Százados út.

Were there any other artists in your family?

The father of my mother, whom I did not have the opportunity to meet, worked as a ship-builder at Hajógyári Island and in his free time he painted, drew, and sculpted. My mother still has a small ebony statue of a young woman crafted by him. He had artistic talent, but there are no other artists in the family to my knowledge.

What did your parents say when you were interested in art and creating as a child?

My father is a mechanical engineer, but he is also an avid art collector. We were quite young when he inherited a painting of the Venetian Rialto. He was so interested in the background of the picture that he had completely dug himself into the research, for it mattered a lot whether Francesco Guardi or one of his followers had painted the picture. In Hungary, the art market was emerging, auctions were launched, private galleries were opened. Valuable paintings were still available at relatively good prices. That was how it began with dad. Later, he also started to buy paintings from contemporary artists. He wanted me to become a painter a lot. He saw that I first started creating something by painting.

How did painting then become sculpting?

When I was a child, I experimented with it, and the formation of clay always attracted me. Although I had made figurines and plaques for order before, I produced the first sculpture I myself considered important 12 years ago. The road which led me here was long and winding. I went to the Secondary School of Visual Arts, and I had a completed a ceramics school before that. My story is for sure different in that on the last day of the two-week application and selection process of the University of Fine Arts, which fell on my 22nd birthday, my little girl was born and my life turned round. I was at home with the baby a lot. When she was around 4 months of age, I felt anxiety sometimes, and painting and creating helped me cope with it. When my daughter was older, I worked in the Kieselbach Gallery, then at the auctions of Judit Virág, but basically I lived in a very nice little cage in those days. My husband worked a lot, but he always provided for us financially, and he always have the greatest support for me to do what I love. I fell in love with fitness, and at age 25 I began to compete in Alexnadra Béres’s team. I did a lot of sports before that, and it turned out that I was talented. However, I soon realized that the intense physical burden of competition was not really about health, and I got out of it in time. I searched for my place for a long time, and I felt in the very heart of me that creation was my path. I missed certain steps as regards my education, and at that time I thought I could never make up for it. As a mature adult, I realized that our talents and our abilities are recognized somewhere, and they were given to us to create something lasting.

Your little boy was born, and you were at home with him, too. How long did this family-focused period last, during which you were continuously seeking yourself? What made you snap out of it?

I think that some divine hand just patted me on the shoulder and told me to just go do what I am supposed to do. I received a request to make a sculpture for an exhibition. This was the first serious work I had, the Rhinoceros. It is also emblematic to me because this is when I truly found myself. I was inspired by a Dürer engraving. I worked on it for a month, and the sculpture formed in the process. I built it from the fireclay I had become familiar with from ceramics, and I developed the technique myself. Ceramicists and sculptors are bewildered by it because they have never seen such a thing. I always thought that it would only make sense to do something if it was different from others’ work. That was how I could turn the disadvantage of not having studied sculpting at university into an asset. I had no masters, no one I had to follow the style of or imitate, so I could listen to what was inside of me and create that.

Where do you fire ceramic sculptures? Do you have your own furnace?

No. I always fire the sculptures in an external furnace. They are so large that they do not fit into an average furnace, so we travel 60 kilometers with them in semi-finished condition. They must be able to handle the journey. In recent years I have scanned them in case something happened to them. I have tried a lot of materials, experimented with what I could use to make them. I was one of the firsts to create from stainless steel. I found a metal shop at Csepel, they have been my experimenting partners from the very beginning.

The first sculpture was a success. Did you get started on the second one immediately?

Yes. At that time we were in a more difficult position with my husband because of external circumstances. I realized I could express myself well with the animal sculptures. At the beginning this was very instinctive. The rhinoceros also shows the armor I wanted to use to protect ourselves from external attacks. My spirit is there in each of my sculptures. I tore forms to atoms, I wanted to understand them, and then playfully reassemble them. This is why the warthog resembles a chopper engine. The sculptures of recent years have been quite different, they are a reflection of my thoughts about the world. The unicorn on his back, with the antique engravings, is an expression of our changed world, where nothing is like it was before, but of course, we can still change this and get back on our feet again.

How long does it take to create such a sculpture?

It takes at least a month, often more.  It takes serious physical strength, but even more importantly, I consider creation to be an intellectual work, which is preceded and accompanied by constant contemplation and thinking, and sometimes this cannot be expressed in time. For me, routine would mean something very significant has become lost in the process. Now I have a studio in the house, and it would certainly be nice to have my own furnace where I can insert my sculptures and put the glaze on. But my sculptures are so large that industrial conditions are necessary to fire and glaze them, so I do not see any reason to integrate such an infrastructure in our house. So, for now, I am still taking the risk this situation presents.

Do you now see sculpting as your job? What do you like most in this activity?

That I can speak to people through art. Through my sculptures, I can direct your attention to my thoughts. I adore creating unique things.

What is the most difficult part of it?

Ceramics is a very difficult art form, because burning above 1000 degrees results causes physical and chemical reactions that we cannot always influence. It is with great excitement that I open a furnace after several days of burning! But I don't see any real difficulty in it, if I did, I couldn’t work with such passion. It doesn't bother me that this is a physically demanding job, and sometimes I am in my workshop for nine or ten hours because I just can’t abandon the process. Sometimes, for days, I can only take inspiration from a trip or do other things, but they are also important periods in the creation of a sculpture. Sometimes it is necessary to create some distance so that I could look at my work as an external observer.

You are now making money with sales. What do you remember about your first sales?

My first exhibition was in the gallery of Judit Virág nine years ago. Judit and her team put my little bronze sculptures in the shop window, and I owe them the first two of my customers. I have a great deal of help from social media. Many find me here. I have sold my work at auctions, too, and there are many private requests.

Your sculptures are very spectacular. I think many people buy it not only because they are collectors, but because they like it, they fell in love with it.

I hope so. In Hungary, people are a little afraid of sculptures and prefer to buy paintings. My sculptures are also quite large, although I think that is relative. When I create, the primary consideration is not about where they may be exhibited, because I can imagine them in so many surroundings.

You now have many recurring buyers, and the profession is keeping track of you.

I know most of the galleries today. At the end of January, we were in Palm Beach at the Art Palm Beach art fair. Our appearance was excellent and it caused the local media to notice me. I was interviewed by a well-known art journalist, which turned out especially well: it was published widely and I almost became a folktale hero in Florida. A well-known curator from Florida approached me, and offered to manage my American presence.

Perhaps in ten years you will be a well-known American artist? Where would you like to see yourself then?

Who knows? The most important thing for me would be to have my sculptures where many people can see them. It would make me happy if the public and the profession knew me even better. We are also planning on moving to a Mediterranean country and live at two places at once. I love the sun, the sea, and sometimes at home I feel that I need more light and impulses.
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