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Ilka Gedő - The Graphic Artist

"From age of eleven Ilka Gedő, drew, at first forms and colours that excited her as a child during her regular summer holidays on the bank of the Danube , in the towns of Kisoroszi, Nagymaros and Szentendre, and later in their Budapest home. Her childhood drawings already manifested her vivid imagination and excellent sense of colour and form.

Ilka Gedő mentioned the names of three artists, who in the late 30s and early 40s, taught her figure drawing, painting and the knowledge of materials. All the three artists were of Jewish origin and later died in World War II. The oldest and most distinguished artist among them was Viktor Erdei (1879-1944), and because of his relationship with Ilka's family he taught her for mayn years. Viktor Erdei was a painter and a graphic artist of the naturalist-impressionist and Art Nouveau style. Today he is an almost forgotten artist. However, at the beginning of the century, the most significant art critic, Lajos Fülep, wrote about his activities with high respect. The second teacher of Ilka Gedő was Tibor Gallé (1896-1944), the graphic artist famous for his etchings and linocuts. He opened a school in his Budapest studio. István Örkényi-Strasser (1911-1944) was a sculptor. Through his school and exhibitions he was connected with OMIKE (National Israelite Cultural Association). From István-Örkényi-Strasszer, Ilka Gedő learnt the firmness of sculpturesque modelling and the representation of volume.

During her studies, Ilka Gedő quickly developed as an artist. This might have been the reason Róbert Berény and Rezső Diener Dénes, representatives of the first generation of the Hungarian avant-garde art, did not suggest academic studies for her. The young girl's drawings were marks of a bold "handwriting" which would not have fit into the classically proportioned natural form of representation that was practised at the Academy at that time." (Júlia Szabó: Ilka Gedő's Artistic Activities In: The Art of Ilka Gedő , Budapest, 1997, pp. 48-49)


"In 1944 Ilka Gedő was living in the ghetto, and she made drawings, mainly in pencil, there as well. She recorded the thin figure and big pensive eyes of her young cousin, drew pictures of a small boy, staring from behind his spectacles and of weak old people and exasperated women and mothers. These drawings of simple lines are the first masterpieces in Ilka Gedő's oeuvre, and some of them manifest a sculpturesque way of modelling. Their fidelity to reality has a historical significance. Despite their small dimensions, these drawings of Word War II posses the same weight as Henry Moore's drawings of air-raids in London ." (Júlia Szabó: Ilka Gedő's Artistic Activities In: The Art of Ilka Gedő , Budapest, 1997, p. 51.)

SELF-PORTRAITS (1944-1949)

"The <sitter Ilka Gedő>, in most cases, is sitting with her hands on her lap, sometimes she tilts her head to the side or rests her elbow on the table. There are drawings in which only her head and naked neck appear, and in other drawings she is represented with a light shawl tied under the chin as if she were a working or a peasant woman. There are also self-portraits with strange hats, in which she is as mysterious and elegant as the heroines of middle-class novels, secretly adored and beloved. (...) This introverted concentration and ascetic attitude of repetition manifested in her series of self-portraits is unparalleled. In European drawing it may be compared to Giacometti's series of self-portraits. Her art can also be compared with Antonin Artaud's self-portraits drawn with colourful and entangled lines. Antonin Artaud overly confessed that the human face cannot be represented in art via symbolic forms, but it must be drawn from morning till night in the state of two hundred thousand dreams because the human face is the body of the Ego; it is the power of life in the body, which is the cave of death. Ilka Gedő did not know Antonin Artaud's concepts conceived in 1947, but she drew and painted her self-portraits of smaller and larger size with a similarly stubborn and exclusive attention. These works are masterpieces, but besides her family and few friends, no one saw them at the time they were done."(Júlia Szabó: Ilka Gedő's Artistic Activities In: The Art of Ilka Gedő, Budapest, 1997, p. 52. and p. 53.)

TABLE SERIES (1947-1949)

"The subject of these drawings, a small and narrow, always visible table, is prosaic. This table is always at hand, and because of this, the everyday miracle and metamorphosis of the visual image unfolds gradually. The objects to be found on the table, and the shadow of the light falling on the table, result in thousands of small modifications. Everyone knows the most popular game of our imagination: if we persistently watch the cracks on the wall, our mind soon starts to project into them meaningful forms, and we end up being able to discern a number of them. (....) In the case of Ilka Gedő the game of the imagination became a factor of artistic creation. In the Table Drawings , the lines are never the contour closing an area; they always move, and as soon as they are moving, they liberate mysterious energies. One has the feeling that the sunshine has etched its playful traces onto the sheets where those drawings are found." (Mészáros, F. István: Moon Masks, Glittering Triangles in: The Art of Ilka Gedő, Budapest, 1997, p. 75)

"I would like to write now once again on the drawings. Júlia Szabó was absolutely right to compare them to Giacometti's works. Any drawing collection in the world should regard it appropriate to acquire drawings by Ilka Gedő. These drawings are full of torment an mystery. They let the viewer only guess the physiognomy. The obvious reason for this is that in the self-portrait drawings the increasingly independent lines are a thousand times more important than the physiognomy. Instead of being used for reflecting the psyche through physiognomy, these lines follow the emotions. The composition of the later oil paintings probably originates from these increasingly independent batches of drawing lines. However, to me the Table drawings are most wonderful. I still rememeber them from the studio exhibition of 1964. In Júlia Szabó's place I would have exhibited much higher number of them. (People say there are many more of them.) These table drawings are beautiful, delicate, clumsy, convulsive, tormenting, deplorable, fearsome, The lines start out from the object and whither away in the line. The surfaces of these tables are weighty, yet they float in the air. (Please excuse me for the banality, these tables float in the air as deplorably and vulnerably (A quote from László Beke's letter dated 10 August 1980 written to Ilka Gedő. The manuscript of this letter was discovered in the artist's estate.)

Ilka Gedő was always preoccupied with the "personality" of the objects in her environment. Also later on in her life she was fond of her somewhat worn furniture, preserving the design of the early 20th century and bearing a testimony to Art Nouveau. However, as far as I know, she made a series of enigmatic drawings only about these two seemingly fragile but well-constructed tables that can be adjoined to one another. In these drawings the object and, alongside with it, in the invisible background, also that something, we could call the object's aura, come to life. Thus, amidst a multitude of drawing variations that can be compared to musical variations, these tables become persons. However, the furniture, manifesting the design style of some decades before, is also the past that has been passed on to the artist as a gift from bygone times. Through the works and instruction of his masters, Viktor Erdei and Tibor Gallé, Ilka Gedő may probably have got acquainted with the message of the line symbolism of the fin de siécle . The artist grasped and responded to this message: these large-sized drawings, depicting the life of an object have a significance in Hungarian and European art history comparable to the works of the most famous graphic artists of the fin de siécle . (Júlia Szabó: Opening Speech, 5 October 2001, Municipal Picture Gallery of the Budapest Historical Museum)

THE GANZ FACTORY (1947-1948)

"The Ganz factory, situated at the Margit körút in Budapest, was a large enterprise, producing elements for electrical engineering in one plant, and metal parts for machines and tools in another plant. In the late 1940's after the war, it offered an educational programme, organised by a liberally minded engineer. Ilka Gedő was welcome on the premises to sit and draw, even if the result did not correspond to the official image of a worker. In her diaries Ilka Gedő mentions the fantasy architecture of the Berlin architect Bruno Taut as well as the works by the Italian futurist Gino Severini. These references testify to her keen interest at a time when little or no information travelled across the Eastern borders. The kinship of the present drawings to Alberto Giacometti remains a curious phenomenon, since the artist saw Giacometti's work only in the mid 1960s." From the exhibition catalogue: Ilka Gedő (1921-1985) Drawings and Pastels (November 21st-December 29th, 1995) (An exhibition organised in co-operation with Janos Gat Gallery) Catalog by Elisabeth Kashey /Shepherd Gallery 21 East 84th Street, New York, N.Y. 10028)

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by the owners of the estate of Ilka Gedő.