Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Katherine Zsolt Delves Deep

What a blast from the past!  Back in 2010 I heard from artist Katherine Zsolt based in Sonoma California.  Katherine had tracked me down through the Newfoundland and Labrador Craft Council.  When I had last written about Zsolt's art it was 1986 and we both lived in Toronto.  It turned out that a review I had written about a group furniture show at Leo Kamen Gallery, which she was a part of, had had an influence on how she regarded her practice afterward.  Sure enough, Zsolt quoted from the review in her website.  She asked if I was interested in contributing an essay to a significant project, a solo show Zsolt had undertaken at the incredible Icehouse Alternative Arts Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.  To be honest, I was not quite certain what I was getting into but I went with my gut and said yes. 

Zsolt sent me a book by Marion Woodman to read, Leaving My Father's House, A journey to Conscious Femininity because it inspired much of her current work. I read and reread that book and came away with a new appreciation for Jungian analysis and how it evolved via feminism –not in the political sense, but in the wise woman sense.  It is intriguing to think of the feminine as it affects both men and women.  It boils down to the feminine principle and the intuitive.  Zsolt had gone on to do powerful work with the human figure, after that furniture show, with body casting.

For the essay, I would use a Jungian approach to interpret her work.  But we realized through the course of interviews that in terms of art history Zsolt could be best understood as a surrealist.  Think of surrealism in contemporary filmmaking, for example Sergei Parajanov's Color of Pomegrantes and you get a sense of the inner landscape made visible and the bold dramatic flair that Zsolt exhibits as wellWe also discussed fairytales and brought that into the essay, like so:

Zsolt has consistently been attracted to fairy tales as archetypal narratives that explore the vulnerability and wisdom of women and children.  Like Woodman she asserts that the feminine exists within men and women, old and young, and is a valuable asset.  The language of both dreams and fairy tales subverts rational or conventional masculine thinking.  It is like a mirror world where one thing appears as another: left is right, up is down and the useless hairy beast is a resourceful integrated princess.  It is not a simple case of disguise but rather a positioning of opposites as not just complementary but symbiotic.  They are part of the same continuum where one becomes the other.  And this is where the optimism creeps in, the possibility of resolution or transformation.

Zsolt's show in Phoenix was mind altering.  It featured 39 casts of real children cocooned onto the walls of the 2,500 square foot roofless structure.  The floor was intentionally flooded with jet black water.  In Zsolt's words, it was "visually impenetratable…completely reflective.  The boardwalk permitted the viewer entry into the center of the room allowing a visceral experience of the reflections of the children, of the changing light and moving sky, the silence –and if the viewer was open to it–the infinite."  In short, it was a roaring success.

Since then, Katharine and I have kept each other on the periphery of each other's radar.  She recently told me that she is restoring art to pay the bills while she continued her sculpture practice and that museums continued to be interested in her work.

Her sculpture practice has broadened to incorporate non-figurative elements with water like the bed installation in the studio shot below.  Zsolt has a way with water.  Her work evokes water as a signifier of emotion, change, the intuitive and loss of control.  Her work allows the viewer to experience all this first hand: water as emotion, like tears (versus dry logic); water as change as when a woman-in-labour's water breaks or as baptismal water; water as the loss of control as in being swept away or drowned.  We can dream and learn while still awake.

This is a link to Katherine Zsolt's website:

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