’You are what your work is,
Neither more, nor less,
This is what keeps the memory of you
from the vanishing time.’
I have never written a catalogue introductory, nor is it going to be one. I am going to tell about my walk of life, teaching career, my art work and my masters and last, but not least about my family.
I have always believed in the human-shaping power of the arts, which is humanity and that with my work of art I can approach people. It was the power of art and poetry that helped me through hardship, which gave me the power to work and restart even when I was distressed or met indifference. It was only in the silence of the studio where I could feel confident, that it was worth working and that I must continue on my way that I chose in my youth.
I must thank to God for I can still work and can delight everybody. I regard this work including teaching at the Academy as a kind of service respecting and serving the eternal human value.
I was born in a little village called Csikóstöttös on 3 January 1931. My mother called Ilona Kocsis, most of whose relatives were teachers too, worked there as a teacher. My grandfather, Károly Kocsis worked as a schoolmaster and cantor in county Vas, in the west of Hungary, from where they moved to county Baranya, the south of the country, where my mother was given teaching work. My mother’s brother called László Kocsis was a Catholic priest and a poet. From 1960 he was the canon of the Cathedral of Pécs until his death in 1973.
We moved to Rákosliget, Budapest, where I have lived and worked ever since. I had hardly turned ten when my father abandoned us, so my mother had to bring up my sister and me. It was a hard childhood in poverty without a father, full of struggles and with the period of the Second World War.
My uncle, the canon helped me with everything, especially intellectually. It was him, who advised me to apply to the Grammar School of the Premonstrant Fathers in Gödöllő. I used to spend my holidays at his place, where in his library I could learn about literature and the arts and I became devoted to poetry, which is a most important power in my life. My uncle lived in Pécs, nearby the Cathedral, in the old building of the Chapter, where I often stayed as a student and later with my family and we were always welcome by him. In terms of my later career this place was determinant with the house, the old stairs, the huge thick walls, the vaulted rooms and the corridors. The old stones, the Cathedral’s splendid towers, which are one of my most- loved and exciting subjects of my sculptures, in addition, Cathedral Square’s human size and dimension made a deep impact on me, the atmosphere of which still seems to be real and appears in my paintings and drawings.
The further years of my life were formed by the freak of chance. After the end of World War II, the Grammar School of the Premonstrant Fathers was closed down. As I was keen on drawing, I enrolled into the Budapesti Szépmíves Líceum (Secondary School of Fine Arts today) where I took my matura exams in 1950. I wanted to be a painter but I was not accepted to the Fine Arts College, as at that time the political power watched their eye on people. So did they on me because of my family background. They knew everything about people, for instance they were informed that I had not joined the demonstration against Cardinal Mindszenty, which meant to influence my later studies. This interlude eventually brought about another possibility, in 1950 I enrolled to the Ceramics Department of the Academy of Arts and Craft, became the pupil of István Gádor, and this decision determined my future life in terms of teaching there for almost forty years.
I got my diploma in 1956 with outstanding result. My tutors were Miklós Borsos, István Gádor and Gyula László, the lecturer of the history of art. At that time the students of ceramics and porcelain designers, gold and silversmiths all belonged to the Department of Decorative Sculpture. The head of the department was Miklós Borsos. In the 1950s the Academy of Arts and Crafts represented a higher artistic standard than the Fine Arts College as the masters, who had a long artistic history and European outlook, transferred this more open mentality to their pupils. Many of my artist colleagues called on us at the Academy to paint and draw. First in 1957 I became Mr Borsos’s professor’s assistant and when he retired, I was appointed to the Head of the Department of Ceramics, which was going to be a hard and responsible position for a young man with not much teaching experience. Fortunately, I could enjoy the older masters and lecturers’ help.
I worked as a university docent heading the department until 1985. I was dismissed because I was not suitable for the new ‘reformative spirit’. Because of my clerical world view I had never been appointed to a professorship. After retiring in 1992 I was awarded the title of ‘titular professor’, though. I have never been interested in rank or power. I looked at my teaching job as a service. I tried to broaden the possibilities of ceramics, which meant that besides traditional modelling and learning technology, I tried to show my pupils different ways towards architectural and figurative ceramics by drawing attention to the architectural remains of ceramics, on their significance of place and time, in addition, where and when they were applied. For this complex work I invited architect lecturers and was also supported by the Department of Architecture as the Rector of the Academy at that time, Gyula Hincz, and his successor, Frigyes Pogány were open-minded to this program. Looking back to these decades, they still seem to be the best times of the Academy for me. That place had prestige, was highly respected and set a good example to other institutions, schools and the whole ceramists’ trade.
During the forty years spent at the Academy I met numerous educational reforms, made plenty of curriculum as required, but in my teaching career I followed one scale of values, which rested on the real relationship of the master and the student. This scale of values I inherited from my previous teachers and schools, and learnt it from my later masters who, beyond their professional and artistic respect were exemplary for me. I have always made the effort to accomplish this way of behaviour in my teaching career. I have respected the students’ individuality, the freedom of creation, the knowledge of craftsmanship, the measurable achievement, the moral character and hard work. I liked the students, the talented and the dynamic initiative ones from whom I also learnt. I was touched by their mettle of youth and initiative nature. Today I still follow with attention their walk of life and I am pleased with their success.
Apart from teaching, the other part of my walk of life is my own art work in my studio, without which teaching is unimaginable. I built the studio in the garden of our house in 1962 at Rákosliget, where I have been working since then. Most of my works can be found here, except the ones, which were made for different buildings and public places in Budapest and other provincial towns in Hungary. These works were obtained at different competitions.
The material of the ceramics made for buildings is fire-clay without glazing baked in a naked flamed kiln. For firing I used wood to stand out the natural colour of the clay and the power of the flame and fire. By this the surface of the forms became effective.
I like this technique of firing even today and that is why I prefer terracotta. Fired clay denotes the natural beauty of primary modelling.
At the beginning of my career the basic shapes were made from clay modelled on the turning wheel. I built the shapes from cylinders, tubes, cones and the products of this period were the Rooster, the Frog King, the Owl and other figurines.
I was looking for the way of simplification. The great inheritance and lasting spirituality of the Etruscan, the early Greek Ceramics as well as peasant and rustic art had a great impact on me. My ideas are based on the plastic effect, the formal expression, the connection between order and light and the shade and scale. I do not use much oxide paint, just as much that contributes to the shape and does not interfere with its different colour patches. However, at the beginning of my career I used covering glaze, in which I poured and dipped the statues and statuettes. These were the red and black, white and red idols. I experimented with colourful enamel burnt in glaze, but I always returned to the simple clay and the coarse grained chamotte. This material required a special technique when I moulded and assembled my works with clay strips and panels.
In 1957 I made the two-metre high idol sculpture, which was the main piece at the exhibition of my works in Adolf Fényes Art Gallery. Since then I have made several large-sized sculptures because I like this building technique and I also encouraged my students to try this. This is how the torsos and the female figures moulded into pots were made. I am attracted by the undulating mass rhythm of the idols and the beauty of the polished surface.
An important element of my working practices is that I make plenty of sketches which usually lead me to newer possibilities. I only start making moulding in the real size when all the technical questions are clear for me, that is assembling the parts, the place of the reeds etc. To be a ceramist is a trade, a craft which requires honour and respect. I look up to those old craftsmen, well-known and anonymous masters, who were able to create at such a high level, at which today’s people can still be astonished.
Let me tell you about my pieces of work.
I have never counted or listed how many I have made in the past forty years. It may be hard, though, as many of my works can be seen or found in museums, public collections or owned by collectors.
My diploma work was to make four figure reliefs and to model symbolically the four branches of arts-and crafts – the weaving girl, the hammering silver and goldsmith, the architect with the drafts and the girl with the jug depicting pottery. I also had the task to make figures on the potter’s wheel – the rooster, the owl and the lion built from hollows. The sketch of the goat was produced in 1960 large-scale.
In the 1960s I turned to the subject of the horse and the man, the man and the chariot and the charioteers. I was interested in the spatial and sculptural solutions as for me man, the chariot and the horse comprise a homogeneous manifestation, which I showed as a simple sign ignoring whether they are shown individually or moved in space or appearing in lines. This subject occupied me for more than ten years, returning to it so many times. I made drawings and paintings to investigate. Today I still like these pieces, they were important in my life and my art work, for through them I was made to realize things that helped me with my later works. There is one thing that makes me feel sad - several of these works got to other places from my studio.
Another field of sculpture that occupied me for decades is the world of female torsos and idols, the simplification of the female body to the world of pots. I am still fond of this subject because I always discover new possible ways which make me rethink my work. The way negative and positive shapes react and how the eternal rules of lights and shades work, they all make me do what I have to and it is worthwhile.
At the end of the 70s I made the Cross-bearers (Keresztvívők), Leaning Crosses (Dőlt keresztek), which were displayed at the exhibition in the Art Gallery in 1978 and from which several pieces were purchased by the Ministry of Culture. Some of them are exhibited in the ceramics collection of the Janus Pannonius Museum in Pécs.
The other symbol being constant as a sign and a sculptural representation is the cross because of its tectonic structure. Several works have been made from slabs. I was interested in their build, connection and rhythm. Later the cross turned up put up in a niche – this time as the corpus – as a message.
In the 90s the so-called religious niche reliefs, such as the Last Supper, different versions of the Entombment, Ecce homo, The Monk were made together with St George, Memories of Pécs, The four churchtowers and etc.
I must mention my drawings and paintings which have appear in my life-work as a hiding place. As I said before, I had wanted to be a painter-artist. Once, when Jenő Barcsay, the master artist came for a visit and was watching my paintings, he said ’You could have been a painter-artist!’ It was a complimentary remark, so I replied ‘Sometimes I am an artist, sometimes I am a sculptor as in the ceramist’s job both crafts are represented.’
Whenever I feel tired and worn-out, I know that I must find other activities to do, so I turn to the colours, such as the delicate grey and the shades of blue and brown which are in close connection with my ceramics. In many cases I depict on the flat surface what I moulded. This is not a conscious way of thinking - it is rather a different approach of the original spatial composition, so it is not a landscape description of the already finished object.
I followed this way of work already at the Academy of Crafts and Arts. Painting and ceramics supplement each other. However, moulding the clay is different as clay dries up after a while, it loses its plasticity and cannot be moulded. So work must be completed within some time and you must know where you want to get to with moulding and creating. We must also bear in mind firing, because only the kiln, the appropriate temperature will give the final form, colour and facture to the ceramics. Even today, after such a long time of practice and experience I still feel excited and anxious about the ‘final product’ when opening the kiln – what will I find inside, what it is like? Contrasted with a painting that I can continue or change, with the clay you have to start the whole working process again – this is what makes it wonderful but also hard.
Finally, let me say a few words about my family, first of all my wife, who provided a peaceful and calm home and my daughter, son and grandson, who have always supported me with their help and understanding.
Autumn, 1996, Rákosliget