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About the artist
Peter Gelencsér has had an international career as a sculptor over the last four decades with major works in public places in Holland, Malaysia, the United States, Japan and Western Australia.
Born in Hungary in 1936, Gelencsér became interested in art at high school under the Hungarian artist, Toth Sándor who ran extra-curricular drawing classes. In 1956, Gelencsér escaped after the Revolution in Hungary and moved to Holland where he lived for the next five years. There he took up art studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in The Hague where he was awarded a Dutch Government scholarship. After two years at The Hague, Gelencsér won a scholarship to study for 6 months in Paris assigned to the French modernist sculptor, Pierre Szekely. This was a major turning point for Gelencsér. In Szekely's studio, he was introduced to abstraction, which stimulated new ways of working after his traditional classical education in the fine arts at the Academy in Holland.
Szekely had a major influence on the development of Gelencsér's distinctive style that blends notions of abstraction with a strong sense of the figure. Throughout his artistic career Gelencsér has pursued directions in both abstraction and figuration. He has achieved a distinctive modernist style in abstract sculptural works and simultaneously become recognized internationally for several major portrait busts of political figures both in Australia and overseas.
From Holland and his time in the Szekely studio, in 1963 Peter Gelencsér took up an opportunity to study in Cararra, Italy where he wanted to further develop his techniques in marble. This was facilitated by the one-year extension of his scholarship. During his time in Cararra he entered and won a competition for the commission of a bust of John F.Kennedy in 1964 for Altoona, Pennsylvania. With this commission Gelencsér addressed the formidable challenge of completing a sculpture in Carrara marble of one of the most televised and visually documented political figures of our time. Kennedy had been assassinated just one year before this commission to honour him by the people of Pennsylvania. Gelencsér began his sculpture by researching his subject. He aimed to create an image that captured both the visionary strength and the human vulnerability of Kennedy as a character who had become even before his death,one of the major figures in twentieth century political history. Discussing this work in 1995, Gelencsér commented: "I didn't just look at photos of Kennedy but I read everything I could about him, his behavior, his personality. I tried to convey his inner being in my work and I think the judges saw that I was reaching for something beyond figurative art. Art is not just representation but communication between the artist and the public. Everything must radiate something more than just a reproduction of appearance."
This bust of Kennedy established Gelencsér ’s reputation in the field of memorial sculptures and would lead to further significant commissions for sculptures of political figures in the 1980s and 1990s. Whilst in Italy, Peter Gelencsér met his future wife Julie who planned to move to Western Australia. In 1965 he joined her and they settled in Cottesloe where they still live. In the late sixties, there were limited opportunities in Perth to gain sculptural commissions. Gelencsér continued his art practice in his studio and supplemented his income with teaching sculpture at the TAFE. In 1970 he completed a Mosaic Relief Mural for the Children's Wing of the Fremantle Hospital and in 1971 the Iron Ore Fountain outside Mt Newman House, Perth. The following year in 1972 he completed a further qualification at WAIT (now Curtin University of Technology).
In 1973 Peter Gelencsér took an appointment for four years in Malaysia, as a Lecturer in Fine Arts at the University Sains, Malaysia. Gelencsér established the sculpture department and ran workshops for three-dimensional art within the School of Architecture. Whilst at the University, Gelencsér completed two major public sculptures representing both of the continuing directions in his artistic practice, abstraction and figuration.
Transformation 1974 is a monumental abstractionist work carved out of Malaysian marble for the grounds of the University. Standing 3.8 metres tall in a landscaped open space, the work is a conceptual minimalist form on a large scale that exploits the solidity of marble as a material. The bold abstraction of this form emphasizes the large-grained structure of the local marble excavated from nearby Baling. This public sculpture was the first of its kind to be initiated by any university in the country and stimulated further interest in fine arts projects at the University.
In 1977 Gelencsér was commissioned by the State of Sarawak to complete his second bust of a major political figure, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman Al-Haj. This one and a quarter life-sized portrait bust in marble is situated in the foyer of a government building at Kuching, Sarawak. Gelencsér's design was to emphasize the paradox of the Prime Minister ’s image as a dignified yet extremely humble man. A plaster model was completed in Malaysia and sent to Italy where Gelencsér has carved the portrait from Carrara marble. Gelencsér had found the Malaysian marble excellent for big, bold shapes but preferred the finer crystalline grain of Carrara marble for the detail necessary for a portrait.
After these years in Malaysia and further travel, Peter Gelencsér returned to Western Australia to continue his art practice and take up further public commissions. This came to fruition in 1980 with his proposal for a public sculpture for the District Court Building in St George ’s Terrace, Perth. He was selected among twenty-five invited artists in a national competition. His winning work, Deliberation 1980, is a continuation of his commitment to modernist abstraction. Made of stainless steel and brass, the work has three components, which are fixed on the wall in the foyer of the Court Building.
Gelencsér took his idea for the design of this work from the cylinder shape of the column in the architect ’s plans. Building on the principal of the cylinder, the three shapes arose as a resolution to the artist wanting to convey something about the meeting of opposites through the vertical and horizontal components that symbolize the opposition between defence and prosecution.
In the Bicentennial year, the Senate of University of Western Australia commissioned Peter Gelencsér to create a bronze portrait bust of John Curtin as a gift to Curtin University of Technology. In the same year two further public sculpture commissions for Bicentennial Memorials were commenced. The Axeman 1988 is a life-size bronze figure of an early pioneer completed for Manjimup and in the following year the bronze Bicentennial Fountain 1989 for Esperance was installed.
Throughout his art practice, Peter Gelencsér has often returned to the figure as an expressive form. In 1993 he worked with Blackwell & Associates Landscape Architects and the local community in Gosnells, to develop a concept for a series of integrated public art and design works at Pioneer Park. The development includes an amphitheatre, innovative specially designed lighting, a promenade and serpentine stone wall constructed of local granite with broken mosaic panels. For this project the artist completed steel cut-out life-size figures of early pioneers and designed the granite waterfall. To form the waterfall, Gelencsér worked with natural materials and designed the placement of selected granite blocks that weigh 5-10 tons each around the old storm water pipe outlet, to convert it into a waterfall with natural appearance. The project was given a State Civic Design Award in 1994. A further public art project was completed at the Canning Vale Prison in the year 2000. This commemorative composition was created out of granite, stainless steel and lead and featured the imprint of a hand with a straight strip of stainless steel across it, contrasted with a winding dotted line of lead. This is epitomized by the inscription: "Life's road is our choice".
Recently, Gelencsér has continued in his studio practice making sculptures also on a smaller scale. These works represent both directions in his practice: a leaning towards abstraction which references the figure. The marble sculpture Niobe 2000 stands 1.4 metres in height and is carved from specially imported marble from Cararra, Italy.
Niobe is the goddess of maternity and is a subtle and poetic homage to the female form. Perpetuity 2001 is a mixed media construction with a kinetic element. Made from stainless steel and perspex, the design incorporates a small red and a blue triangle, which are suspended and move in space. Perpetuity has none of the human passion of Niobe and the work resounds a clinical note about the impact of technology on sexuality and reproduction.
After years of fulfilling public art
commissions and portrait sculptures these recent contemporary
sculptures represent an important period in Gelencsér's artistic
practice where he has focused his studio work towards creating
abstract forms both in marble and industrial materials, which embody
the energy of life.