Seen and Never Seen Sculptures
A salient moment of the artist’s starting career was meeting sculptor Attila Szederkényi in Balassagyarmat. He had called Péter Párkányi Raab’s father, a wood carver, to his studio with the offer to train him, but in the end the young boy became his pupil. He learnt the basics of the profession from him, but the great questions of the world and art remained unexplored: the teacher died young, at the age of 58. Taking stock of Párkányi Raab’s masters, one encounters a peculiar situation. After admission into the Academy, his tutor was one of the party’s favourite sculptors István Kiss. Párkányi recalls that the students were truly scared of becoming his subalterns. Still, in the first year, he carved a Christ fragment. His environment and friends were shocked by the theme, afraid that it might mean the quick termination of his studies. When however István Kiss saw it, he was surprised at the accomplishment, praised the student and this time he deigned to correct, instruct, help him. He was in the third year when the political change – the “bogus turn” as he labels it – brought another teacher in his way, about whom he is still reluctant to speak. Later a conflict mainly of a political nature evolved between them the spectre of which led to a break in the personal connection. At the end of his studies he was craving for a true master. Circumstances brought stone carving work in his way. Miklós Melocco was working on a monumental job. Párkányi sought him out. Melocco welcomed him saying: “Leonardo also began in Verrocchio’s workshop.” He soon “liberated” him, as he put it, and added: “you shouldn’t be carving for me, I’ll get some work for you specifically.” Párkányi still looks up to him. To quote him: “I am grateful to him. When I go to visit him, I set out to meet my master, when I take leave, he lets me go as a friend…” Public sculpture is not only physically overstraining: it puts a mental, philosophical, historical and obviously also political burden on the sculptor – on sculptors of public monuments, to be more precise. That applies strongly to East-Central Europe, say, in the past seventy years. The classical genre of commemorative sculpture has been part of the history of art for centuries: major historical and national events, outstanding figures of a nation and its cultural region are honoured also with monuments of plasticity in space by the country, its leaders, communities, individuals. The uninterrupted social–political development in West Europe has resulted in something like consensus about the great and important historical events and the outstanding persons. Sculptors, particularly sculptors of public monuments, mature late, as I have found. To be in possession of a sharp sense of space in addition to the basic professional skills and to have the scope of intellectual insight for the interpretation of the task (be it a simple portrait which, too, needs probing into the sitter’s personality and activity apart from his/her physical appearance) – all this requires great maturity, and that is a matter of time. Péter Párkányi Raab has attained it at a young age. He was hardly past twenty, still a student of the Academy, when a public sculpture was commissioned from him as a participant in a competition. It is also rare that during his studies he was invited to several symposia and exhibitions, and he produced public sculptures, too. An additional gain was that his work began to kindle interest abroad. When he was over his studies and post-graduate training, he began a career as a fully-fledged, already sought-after artist. The arc of the career has been unbroken for a quarter of a century. This can be ascribed to several factors apart from the above-mentioned. One is that he is neither a carving, nor a modelling sculptor – for he is simultaneously both. While great many sculptors prefer one or the other procedure of sculpting (not accidentally, mind you, for a different frame of mind characterizes the additive, modelling sculptor from the carving, “reducing” sculptor), he continuously uses both in symbiosis, so to speak. In his case stone and bronze are composed into such a harmonious unity that is rare in contemporary sculpture. Then came a new phase in his career, a perfectly idiosyncratic one. Péter Párkányi Raab’s more recent works – the ones created out of an inner drive and not on commission (for the time being) – are peculiar kinetic creations re-using tools, mechanisms, machineries of industry historical value, but of course he also accepts and applies the ideal of static sculpture. He does not simply assemble these mechanic fragments but builds from them moving, or rather, movable kinetic sculptures producing the illusion of enhanced motion. And another trouvaille: these works are capable of producing musical effects! They are novelties in art on several counts. Not only their material (neither bronze, nor wood or stone!) but also the mode of creating is new (neither modelling, nor carving but a peculiar assembling-fixing process). They are innovative in their state of motion (instead of the static state) and also by creating sound effects, which all add up to a complex aesthetic importance. How he arrived at this stage is described by the artist as follows: “Absorption in figural sculpture, its exploration always brought something new. But then there was nothing to discover, all I did was “only” telling stories. I missed the moments of discovery, so I began to explore and study the forms of old industrial tools which imply abstract sculptures. I fell in love with them, grouped and systematized them. Then I began to imagine doing something with them. I wanted to create never-seen sculptures by combining figurativity, fantastic industry historical details and mechanics. I felt like Pygmalion who wanted to bring his work to life. I partly succeeded, these sculptures move and “speak” and the work is going on.” His sculptures are incredibly consciously and finely wrought works on account of the mentioned outstanding professional craftsmanship, but also because of the depth of intellectual interpretation, which is manifest in the multitude of his extraordinary drawings. Párkányi’s plans for sculptures are designs drawn in soft pencil – each an autonomous work of art. Asked about his attitude to drawing recently, the sculptor remarked: “I have a special relationship with drawing. Before ending up in sculpture, I was headed for painting, I drew a lot, I had excellent teachers. A sculpture is actually a drawing in space, the totality of lots of drawings (sections). I can carve stone for twelve hours a day, I can only draw for three hours at most. Drawing is something else for me, a state of tranquillity, a state of grace.” In this kaleidoscopic array of materials (paper, graphite, bronze,
stone, marble, wood, industrial relics) the distinguishing mark of the personality or the hallmark of his art is found, on the one hand, in the extraordinary imagination that the sculptures are based on, and on the other hand in the static, balanced situations each composition (or parts of a composition) displays, which embarrasses the viewer into intense identification with the sight. Obviously, it is different to present the likeness of a certain person and to compose a work commemorating a historical event or an idea. Péter Párkányi Raab is (also) singular in contemporary Hungarian sculpture in that early in his career he committed himself to figural, anthropocentric sculpture of a dynamically rich surface and ran the “risk” – here comes a serious contradiction – of incurring the charge of sentimentality, pointing toward the past instead of the future, because of his excellent (even virtuosic) modelling skills. He did get this accusation, but instead of hindering him, it egged him on along his chosen path. An outstanding figure of Hungarian sculpture and – as mentioned – the paternal master of Párkányi, Miklós Melocco wrote: “When I say Párkányi is an excellent master of his trade, I declare that he can »speak precisely«. This is rare, it means his works are responsible, stand the test, because they are exactly what he imagined them to be. When he wants something beautiful, he makes it beautiful, when he wants drama, he makes something dramatic.” He is then a figural sculptor who works in bronze, stone, wood, builds and assembles sculptures from old contraptions, adding his own technical invention. His career started with classic portraits (Attila József, György Szondy, Erzsébet Fráter, King Béla IV, and two significant Saint Stephen statues). Emerging as it were from the mythological, historical themes close to him, he created two arched richly modelled welcoming Salve statues for the beginning of the mall in Szeged downtown in 2000. Perhaps his best known works are the full-length actor figures modelled with deep empathy (Lajos Básti, Margit Lukács, Hilda Gobbi, Kálmán Latabár, József Tímár, Imre Soós, Ferenc Bessenyei) in the park outside the National Theatre in Budapest. The statues of the nine Muses on the façade of the theatre are like peculiar architectural sculptures well above the theatre-goers (also looking “into” the theatre through the large windows), but the dynamic modelling, mixed materials and intense colours, the original indication of the attribute of each Muse have turned them into decisive marks of the building façade. It markedly expresses his views of history and the world that in 2009 he carved aMindszenty relief for Balassagyarmat (and later a statue for Zalaegerszeg in 2016), an Albert Wass monument for Mátészalka in 2009 and a Trianon memorial for Kaposvár in 2010. He made a sculpture in commemoration of Sir George Solti outside the Liszt Ferenc University of Music in 2013. The highly inventive metal composition shows a broken circle with the portrait of the conductor lifting a hand in a conducting gesture, suggesting that upon his guidance the arbitrary array of instruments will come to life and the broken ends of the circle will meet. The Memorial of the victims of the German occupation of Hungary in 1944 was erected in Szabadság Square, Budapest, for the 70th anniversary of the tragic event in 2014. Párkányi Raab’s activity was well known in professional circles, but the placement of this monument made his name widely known, the public and also the professional community taking diagonally opposite positions in their judgement of the work. The ideas and their formal rendering have been worked out by the sculptor with great devotion. The dramatic forms of the eagle diving down and the symbolic figure of the Archangel Gabriel combine a powerful expressivity with an elevated and finely wrought plasticity, complemented with the calm dramatism of the broken columns influencing the setting and suggestive of historical allusions.
Two years later the sculptor received the commission to make another great monument, a memento of Malenki robot. The memorial was to commemorate hundreds of thousands of innocent Hungarians dragged along to the Soviet Union for a “little work”, for forced labour, less than half of whom returned, the rest perished in the inferno of the Gulag. Remembering them is multiply justified: if there was anything kept perfectly veiled from society in past decades, then it was this theme. One could read and write (already in the Kádár era) about the horrors of the Stalinist age, the atrocities during Rákosi’s regime, but no word appeared in public about hundreds of thousands of our compatriots and their fate. These topics have triggered off constant disputes and comparisons about diverse disasters of the nation. Let me just cite one sentence by writer Gábor Révai, who claimed that “hundreds of thousands or millions of just as innocent people perished in the Gulag as in Auschwitz”. The artist was faced with a new challenge already when he began designing the work: he had to include the robust concrete air-raid shelter outside Ferencváros railway station in the composition. Since the collection of people for “a little work” took place in the entire Hungarian-speaking area including Transylvania and Transcarpathia, the space outside the station was to be the place for commemoration and reunion of all Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin. The site is in front of Ferencváros station, indicating that most captives were transported from Budapest. “Military and civilian prisoners of war from the western and north-western parts of Hungary were also taken across the temporary railway bridge over the Danube to this station, only to end up in lagers in the Soviet Union,” as historian Zalán Bognár writes. The invitation for the competition specified that the approach should be figurative and it would be appropriate to indicate the railroad trucks in which the people were carried off. A shocking sight in the location is the mentioned concrete pillbox, an allegedly safe control centre of the Hungarian Railways in WWII, which survived the tempests of the times from the forties of the last century and is well-nigh indestructible. The central element of the monument is the sculpted group of captive people added to an original wagon placed on a granite base. The individual figures give a cross section of society in their clothes, characters, ranging from middle-class citizens, workers, soldiers, peasants, women, men to children all rounded up randomly. The group holding to each other are shown getting out of the railroad truck – and out of life. They arrive in captivity but more typically, in death, which the artist suggests by the hovering, flying garments, the outward shell of their lives indicating that once flesh-and-blood figures filled them. In early 2017 Péter Párkányi Raab and Győző Somogyi created a spatial installation entitled The decision in Székesfehérvár (curator Norbert Tóth). The peculiar and unique conception of the exhibition put the conflict, clashing and coexistence of Good and Evil in the focus. On Párkányi’s part the novelty was the showing of photos and prints made after photos alone, as a counterpole to Győző Somogyi’s works made with traditional techniques (Gallery of Hungarian Saints, Gallery of Hungarian Heroes). The exhibition proved that photography was coming to the fore in Párkányi’s oeuvre, in symbiosis with digital photo manipulation, which produced several series (of different conceptions) on display. It is an important question how this kind of picture creation can harmonize with sculpture and drawing. The artist had the following to say about what attracts him to photography, photo graphic, digital picture creation: “Photography is both a new and an old story. I’ve been using a digital camera for about a decade. I started taking photos as a hobby, a “pastime”. But photography began with analogic pictures. In the secondary school I attended an optional photo course. But its magic: the incalculability of the development disturbed me. The current technology, digital elaboration of the picture allows me to do anything and even generates the bliss of drawing. My photos are taken with the head of a sculptor, not a photo artist. I am not out in search for the moment, but create it with several days’ or weeks’ work to take a shot and then draw it anew on the screen. My photos are actually two-dimensional sculptures.” For the exhibited ominous series he used his photos of Busó masks. Not much later, his 50th birthday was also celebrated in the King Saint Stephen museum with the exhibition entitled Declining – Soaring open until March 2018. He showed drawings, medium-sized sculptures, prints based on his photos, and kinetic, movable works made with mixed techniques, “fixed” from found and modified objects, manufactured stone, iron, metal structures. The title was peculiar announced by an enormously enlarged drawing of his: Hanyattló – Szárnyaló/Declining – Soaring [the present participle suffix -ó with the -l of the verb being homonymic with the Hungarian word for horse – the transl.]. The question arises why he chose this title. He has sculptures including horses but he is not a bona fide equestrian sculptor. About this, Péter Párkányi Raab says: “The term equestrian sculptor was used in the previous regime for someone who had modelled at least two horses. I deem myself a figural sculptor. And that includes horses. I’m working on the sixth of my equestrian statues, half of which are unknown at home, as they are abroad. The exhibition title picks and connects two of the exhibited works, thus defining the theme and message of the showing. At the entrance – by way of a poster – a bronze sculpture and a huge graphic sheet symbolize decline and soaring, this time via »the horse«.” A smaller part of the Székesfehérvár exhibition provided a cross-section of the oeuvre, and the larger part introduced the innovative artistic attitude present in the more recent works in the round, and in the spectacular, artistic and deeply symbolic photo graphics, prints. In the fifty years of his life Párkányi Raab has produced a significant sculptural oeuvre. It is peculiar that lots of his works are abroad in public spaces, private collections. His works got to all corners of the world, all continents, to people of diverse identity, religion and mentality. They can be found in all countries in Europe and from China to the USA, from Canada to Singapore, from Australia to Russia. This life assures perfect freedom for him. What he longed for, he has achieved in his sculptures. That is how his path is leading toward the realm of never-seen sculptures.