Monday, 8 October 2012

Gyula Jakabffy, Sculptor

While I was writing my latest post I mentioned the period when I shared the studio with a sculptor in Rome. It occurred to me that I must write about him, Gyula Jakabffy, who has been incredibly important for me.

Gyula had arrived in Italy after escaping from romanian Transylvania, where he was part of the Hungarian minority. He was born in an old Hungarian family and received a traditional education.
Interested in sculpture and not particularly in politics, he entered the studio of a well known sculptor who was making social-realists monuments. He eventually could not bear the regime anymore and, with the help of Narayan, a friend who had initiated him to the culture of India and Hinduism, planned his escape, leaving as the huge sculpture "Socialism Wins" on which he had worked was to be unveiled.
His rocambolesque trip in the boot of a Saab 900 led him to Vienna, where he arrived at 21 provided with a letter to some family friends who took him in.

Shoes seem to be a constant element in his life: he left the ones he was wearing outside the Saab so he arrived in Austria not only penniless but barefooted. He once told me in Vienna he was working as a hotel doorman and had to decide whether to use up his best shoes to walk there or pay the bus fares ! When we were sharing the studio he sculpted a wonderful and powerful head in pink marble, a portrait of a very sophisticated shoe maker of the via Veneto, who paid him back with indefinite pairs of amazing handmade lace ups.

I met Gyula soon after his arrival in Italy, the next leg of his trip toward classical sculpture. A few years later we bumped into each other on the street, I was back in Rome after a year in Florence, his studio mate was vacating the space and he asked me if I'd take it.

The next two years were pivotal for me: without Gyula I would have had no artistic ambition whatsoever. Under his tutelage I started to draw from life, learned about art, and taste.
He was the first real practicing artist I met, and I got the bug.

Sharing the studio was great fun, we had the most unusual models for life drawing, a homeless man straight from the street ( the smell stayed with us for days), a guy with pierced nipples and a chain in between, a stranded american girl we later recognised dancing in the street with Hare Krishnas.

The studio was right on the street, so people just dropped by. We had all sorts of visitors, from the local mechanic to mittel-european princes.

When Gyula arrived in Rome as a very handsome young artist, incredibly polite, with impeccable manners and an exotic austro-hungaric wardrobe he was a great success, acquired good patrons and all sorts of friends.
    This was only the froth though, as under this bubbly social life there was a most serious artist. Gyula had a deep knowledge of Hinduism, and he spoke to me about all these fascinating themes, the stories of the Mahabharata ( future husband was so happy to seat through three hours of Peter Brook's movie...), the writings on art of Coomaraswamy.

Gyula's work is in many important private collections and totally absent from internet. I am posting some photos from a book in which his pieces have been documented by renowned photographer Uberto Gasche.

Gyula works in traditional materials: clay, gesso, marble, bronze. His sculptures are based on archaic concepts, take us to a mythical and heroic world of war and heroes. They represent the noble animals that have accompanied men in civilisation, the dog, the ox and most of all the horse, a great love of his.
Works like The Plough, The Wheel, The Cart, The Cohorts of soldiers and knights have dignity and pride. Ancient architecture is evoqued by arches, columns and roof tiles, the sculptures go to the core of human history.

Thank you Gyula for sharing so much with me in those days now twenty years ago. With all my gratitude and admiration, Happy Fiftieth Birthday !

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