Artist Leo Schimanszky as seen by Art critics: Guy Robert, Angelica Bäumer and Raymond Lacroix
Guy Robert, Art Critic
In 1966 a Viennese-born artist, 23 years of age, emigrated to Canada and made his home in Montreal. A quarter of a century later, in 1991, sculptor Leo Schimanszky returned to Europe to continue his career here. He has not, though, entirely forsaken his adoptive country, nor his lavish residence in Hudson near Montreal. It's small park was laid out as a setting for outdoor sculptures; it's trout pond is fed by a stream as turbulent and vigorous as the man who designed it.
Leo Schimanszky brings this stream to mind; or perhaps a torrent swollen by an uneasing springtime of inspiration, by the abundance of plans which crowd his mind, their natural energy released in a stream of work.
It was a far cry from the small, impromptu sculpture garden which the teenager created at the family's inn in Vienna to the monumental fountain which the fully-fledged artist was to fashion fifteen or sixteen years later, in 1975, for a shopping mall in the Montreal area. He continues to evolve as an artist, though retaining the same passion in his evocation of the forces and mysteries of Nature and of man in palpable form.
Inevitably, some of Schimanszky's sculptures evince the influence of Henry Moore or Hans Arp, his "masters" who had such a fruitful impact on his own work and who themselves derived their inspiration from their more or less ancient antecedents. Yet, who can justly claim to have originated modern sculpture, or the theme of the mother and child, or bronze patina?
It is the individual contribution which every artist makes that counts. For a quarter of a century now Schimanszky has been evolving an energy and inspiration in his work, which been shown in countless exhibitions in Canada, the United States and Europe. The several hundred collectors who have acquired his sculptures are now beginning to take an interest in his paintings and in his recent monoprints.
As a sculptor, Schimanszky has a superb command of marble, aluminum and bronze. He abjures the polished finish in flavor of sumptuous and voluptuous patina. It is the curve which composes and orchestrates his work, articulating the perceptions derived from Nature, from the human body, and from animal and plant life. In the same way, it is the curve which provides the inspiration for his stylisation and reduction of his models, which he recreates in his own forms-dense, imbued with both tension and tenderness, discipline and freedom, solitude and exuberance.
Leo Schmimanszky plans to explore his creative energies in a European context now, and we wish him all the success he deserves. At the same time we hope he will not forget that it was in and around Montreal that his career began and he made his name.
It was also in his studio in Hudson that, in the summer of 1991, Schimanszky's output took on a new ebullience, imbued with an energy which testified to the maturing of his art. A dozen maquettes on a table, bearing witness to the fact that, against the background of today's cluttered artistic styles, the sculptor is still capable of the tour de force of evoking a highly personal image. Also in his studio: four shapes fashioned in fiberglass, in a subtle red, standing on white pedestals, their visual impact a standing invitation to dream of fabled gardens setting up sensual harmonies with Nature; an antidote to the drabness and increasing pollution of our cities.
Angelica Bäumer, January 1992
Tradition and today's world
As we tum back the clock of mankind's history, the sculpted figures which we encounter, thousands of years old, were not associated with anyone particular location - most of them were burial objects and thus possessed mystical significance. The articulation of large-scale forms was the prerogative of architecture. In the classical world sculpture only gradually became emancipated from architecture. The work of the sculptor, erected on a pedestal and in a specific location, imposed its unique formal character on its surroundings, came to fill out a space and indeed often defined that space.
Monuments and monumental sculpture were an adjunct to secular and ecclesiastical power and as such may be consigned to the annals of art history; they are historical reminiscences. In our own day and age monuments have become a rarity, more seldom erected than they are toppled when power changes hands, as in the countries of the former communist bloc. Yet monuments do possess a significance and an underlying meaning which transcend their historical context: they bear witness to man's propensity for veneration and adoration over the centuries, and they thus constitute part of our heritage. It is the saints and the rulers, the horsemen and the thinkers, the fountains and the statues of liberty which invest our cities with that vitality which we sorely need in an age so direly devoid of feeling and substance; a vitality we seek in cities and villages whose ancient streets and squares serve as repositories of our past.
The values we crave for are those of harmony and classical order, of artistic quality, of inner and outward balance. It is not nostalgic indulgence to recall that historic CIties had a certain quality, that their proportions were gauged to a human dimension, the interplay of narrow streets and wide open squares leaving room for spaces of pure tranquillity, the whole suffused by a regard for aesthetic and human life. It is an encouraging sign that in our own time we are again - and to an ever greater extent - placing art in the context of public spaces. It shows that, alongside all the pragmatic and technological necessities of life, we ascribe a high moral and intellectual value to art.
Sculpture and architecture serve similar ends: to fashion a space, to determine its proportions in harmony with its form and its purpose. However, whereas architecture is functional, sculpture remains nonfunctional. It is subservient only to the artistic vision and is free to evolve unrestrained. Like architecture, sculpture has to obey the laws of statics and geometry and is subject to the substantive wishes of the client and to the practical constraints intrinsic to the art form. And yet it remains aloof of any function and is art for its own sake. Its purpose is to create form, to portray, to attract attention, to articulate its space.
Even in childhood the sculptor Leo Schimanszky was familiar with the urge to fashion the world around him. Initially this manifested itself in an exuberant playfulness and a child's love of nature, of rocks and water. Later it grew into an insatiable yearning to explore the laws of creativity, to give life to his own ideas, to impose form on the amorphous.
Leo Schimanszky began by studying music, which helped him to discover the general principles applicable to all art forms. Just as notes and harmonies cannot be arranged at random, so there are laws of composition, form and technique in the fine arts. His encounter with artists induced him to begin studying art. When he moved to Canada, there was finally nothing to stop him embarking on an artistic career. Yet it was not painting which fascinated the young man - although he paints and has evolved his own, distinctive technique of monoprinting - but sculpture.
Whether the countless museums all over Europe which he had visited left him with the feeling that sculpture was the right expressive medium for him, whether his urge to impose form on spatial entities was stronger than any other artistic instinct, or whether he was captivated by the technical skills required; for whatever reason, he started exploring sculpture as an art form, and he has never really relinquished it since. Schimanszky began by fashioning apparently naive animal figures in wood. Even this early work contains the seeds of formal freedom. Very soon he was to evolve his own distinctive style, a blend of abstraction and representation.
There can be no doubt that Leo Schimanszky traces his artistic genealogy back to the great twentieth-century masters, first and foremost to Jean Arp and Henry Moore. Yet what he owes to them is the inspiration they offer; Schimanszky sets out to formulate his own statement in countless variations.
His sculpture - both the smallscale and the larger work - evinces a grandiose simplicity. His forms are soft-contoured, always perceptibly derived from organic motifs: the human body or animal bodies. At the same time, Schimanszky makes extremely free use of every form. Even when he is dealing with a concrete subject - mother and child, family scenes and so on - he radically simplifies them; however specific his theme may be, his sights are set on the artistic form and the material, not on naturalistic portrayal.
Leo Schimanszky has a sound instinct for proportions. Whether he is working on a small or a large scale, the relations are always right; so that a table sculpture could readily be blown up to the dimensions of a large-scale work without losing any of its inherent tensions. One important reason is that the surface structure has always been handled with meticulous craftsmanship. The figures are realised with the same thoroughness on every side. A seated woman, for instance, will reveal the same degree of harmony from every angle; opening up a succession of new perspectives, yet manifestly constituting one creative entity.
Small figures in bronze, polished until they shine and carefully mounted on pedestals, are a standing temptation to touch them. Their forms are delightful. The eye wanders along the contours, sensing the secrets of their surface, taking in their persuasive shapes - shapes which could only be precisely as they are. These miniatures would look well on a desk, where the user could pick them up at any time, absorbing their calming, meditative power.
The large-scale sculptures serve a different purpose. In keeping with the traditional function of sculpture in public places, they open up perspectives, provoke a reappraisal of urban settings as places of encounter, as oases of tranquillity in the bustle of pedestrians and traffic. A sculpture is an occasion to stop and to think - for a moment, at least - of other things than business and everyday worries. A sculpture serves as a reminder that art conceals a higher order, that the meaning of life cannot lie in the pursuit of day-today success but rather in the quest for truth and harmony, for spiritual values and visions.
When, walking around an historic city, we sit down to rest on the pedestal of a monument, we see the surrounding square with different eyes than the motorist on the lookout for somewhere to park. This is the purpose of sculptures in public places: to serve as occasions for resting and thinking. For a moment they help us to understand, even as we hurry past, why the artist created this figure and what significance it has for us if we explore its intrinsic meaning, if we have learnt to perceive.
Leo Schimanszky knows what power the artistic form emanates. He erects his figures in streets, in front of buildings and on squares, even in gardens where they strike up a harmony with the trees and plants. He has gone so far as to create floating figures made of fibreglass which radiate a special enchantment in ponds or swimming pools.
Bronze, aluminium, alabaster, marble, but also wood and plastics are the materials Leo Schimanszky works with. He has developed a command of wide-ranging techniques, and his craftsmanship is extremely versatile. His artistic goal is the reduction of form without complete abstraction. Far from denying his indebtedness to the tradition of twentieth-century sculpture, he concedes that his admiration for Henry Moore amounts to a deep-rooted relationship while pointing out that it does not get in the way of his own work. The path he is following is a different one: a path which is related to the distinctive personality each artist possesses, to his individual strength and his lonely, unstinting quest to articulate age-old truths and the exigencies of our own day and age.
Raymond Lacroix, July 10, 1991
International Association of Art Critics
A sculptor of dazzling insights
The articulation of sensitivity is fraught with complexity because it is guided, not by reason, but by the intuitive will. Alberto Moravia (1907-1991) departed this life last year. The Italian novelist will long be sorely missed. His books are read the world over. Few writers have so aptly depicted our own day and age, its qualities and its iniquities: The Time ofIndifference, The Woman of Rome, The Empty Canvas.. Moravia was also a fine thinker who sought to define the phenomenon of art,
"Art is engendered by an excess of uncommon, rare sensitivity .. The act of artistic creation is tantamount to the creation of a new form of sensitivity .. The artist moves over the surface of things, liable to be destroyed by his abnormal sensitivity .. He is constantly assisted by a demon who lights his way. Thus, he works by illumination, often at a giddying speed."
What Moravia means by the term "speed" is clearly the speed "of conception". This is the central element; the remainder is a matter of craftsmanship. This point applies particularly to the sculptor. The painter's expressive idiom adapts itself more readily to rapid execution. Contemporary painting is an apt illustration of this point.
However dazzling the sculptor's vision, however swift his resolve to lend it palpable form, the process of realisation will nevertheless be slow and arduous. For articulating forms without falsifying their language is a laborious undertaking, and the material resists manipulation. It is a fact that the artist stands above things in order to see them better and in order not to miss anything that merits contemplation. Yet, once his interest has been aroused, the artist must embark on his exploration of the subject without putting a foot wrong.
Here, sensitivity and intuition play an essential role.
Close to beings and to natural forces
• Seeing: an action of the eyes.
• Observing: an action of the mind.
• Contemplating: an action of the soul.
The man who reaches this third action enters the realm of Art.
Emile Bernard (1868-1941), painter and friend of Cezanne
Leo Schimanszky strikes us as an artist who evinces an exemplary response to these three actions: seeing, observing, contemplating. He is also endowed with the craftsman's fastidious eye, his minute attention to detail, his unfaltering patience. Although he works within the great tradition of the great humanist masters of form, he is not enslaved by their language.
What intrigues Schimanszky most is the subjective aspect of artistic representation. It requires no effort of the spectator's imagination to recognize the subjects of his work: the crouching woman, the mother and child, the female figure, the seal, the bear, the bird ..... The idiom is not pretentious, there is no baroque ostentation or formal provocativeness here; merely a persuasive significance enhanced by immense sensitivity despite Schimanszky's lightness of touch.
Does this mean to say that Schimanszky rejects all constructivism in sculpture?
"Nothing is further from my mind than to reject forms of art which are unrelated to the sculptural idiom that I have embraced.
Indeed, I have myself in the past produced several semi-abstract pieces in polished bronze, and I do not dissociate myself from them.
If I had to define the role which I should like to see attributed to my work, I should put it this way: the more aptly they fill out a space and the more poignantly they strike an emotional chord in the greatest number of spectators, the happier I am.
It seems to me that the ultimate aim of a sculpture is to take possession of a space and to excite emotion in the soul by imposing its presence on them. So there are three related elements at work in the appreciation of a work of sculpture. First, the sculpture itself as the moulding of matter in the intrinsic balance of its substance. Second, the spirit with which its forms are imbued. And third - and of equal importance - the place in which the sculpture is erected. Sculpture which is constructivist in style will readily blend in with certain settings and will not fail to inspire an uplifting of the soul. Take the linear-oriented work of Norbert Kricke, of Naum Gabo, of Hans Uhlmann - they have an overwhelming presence.
The poetry and playfulness of Calder's sculptures invest their surroundings with vigour by dint of their seductive forms and their movement. They lend a dynamic energy to the spaces in which they stand. Max Ernst evokes mystery. Giacometti focuses on the relationship between sculpture and space. Picasso's figurines, and in fact all of his sculpture, are the work of a magician of form and presence. Cesar is so persuasive because of the way he compresses, expands, sets in relief; Louise Nevelson and Vic Gentils in the way they assemble their material.
The sheer simplicity of the Romanian Brancusi and the Italian Modigliani asserts itself in even the most dynamic surroundings. I could cite countless other examples. Each occupies a key position in the idiom of contemporary sculpture.
For my own part, I am closer to the approach adopted by Henry Moore, an artist who succumbs to and is then guided by natural forms. His unconscious mind and his genius mould them to suit his own temperament, but it is from them that he derives the power, the strength, the vitality of his work. I feel very close to natural beings and natural forces ."
From Phidias to Schimanszky via Michelangelo
The artist's bearings: the sublimest thought articulated in the most grandiose form.
There is an obvious genealogy which links the so-called Coulonche head by the classical Greek sculptor Phidias (490-431 BC) which once adorned the Parthenon, Michelangelo's Moses (around 1530), Rodin's Bronze Age (1876- 77), Henry Moore's King and Queen ' (1952-53) and Schimanszky's Feminine Upright Figure or Father and Children (1980).
These artists have expounded a traditional art which may have evolved significantly over the centuries but which retained as its basis a great intimacy with the representation of man and Nature.
Schimanszky ushers in the era of animist sculpture. The objects which he evokes have been engendered by the magical animation of natural, enigmatic phenomena.
The phenomena have been exposed, suddenly laid bare in the mystery of their existence. Not immobilised, anaemic, devoid of their substance or dynamism, but revealed naked, in all the splendour of their vitality. The artist's genius has sought out the place where the soul of these objects lay concealed.
In his work, Schimanszky immortalizes the spiritual origins of the subjects he deals with: affection, love, rest ..... His sculpture moves us because it awakens in the depths of our being an archetypal awareness, submerged far beneath the surface then abruptly transported to consciousness.
Schimanszky's work is built around a core on which he fashions his sensitive forms. He is endowed with a stupendous faculty for conjuring up the real world in inanimate matter. Like a magician pulling out of an empty hat a dog, a rabbit or a fish - or all three at once if his demon comes to his assistance. Schimanszky seems to be reconstituting the world; a world which is secret, concealed, no longer perceived.
In a 2000-word testament Rodin offers the following advice to aspiring young artists:
"Strengthen your sense of depth." And he proclaims: "All life originates in a centre where it germinates and then grows from the inside outwards ..... the most important thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to thrill, to live ..... To be a Man before becoming an Artist."
Schimanszky has discovered the centre Rodin meant. The discovery moved him. He has loved, hoped, thrilled, triumphed, because he has acted as a Man. Consider the emotional impact of the way this entwined couple face each other, united for all eternity in a gesture of fusion, immortalised in bronze and fire.
Observe the Seated Reclining Figure dating from 1980. While unhesitatingly surrendering its voluptuous forms to sight and touch, while letting the spectator's eyes penetrate the sensuality of its curves, it equally jealously guards the intimacy of its being focussed upon itself, revealing nothing of its countenance nor of its eyes, the mirrors of its soul. This secret is the prerogative of the sculptor.
The sculpture is characteristic of Schimanszky. The outward form of his King (1979) are far removed from Henry Moore's King. Nevertheless, the two figures are closely related, radiating the same strength, the same presence, the same dignity, the same majesty.
Voluptuousness cast in strength
What better source of knowledge do we have than our senses?
Lucretius (98-55 BC)
What is it that catches the eye?
What is it that guides the caressing hand?
What is it that captivates the mind and the heart about the sculpture of Leo Schimanszky?
First and foremost, surely, the sensuality of the forms. Schimanszky is a sensualist. Yet he has succeeded in avoiding the stylistic pitfalls and the unfocused multifariousness which so often mars the work of artists who give their senses free rein.
All of Schimanszky's work is clearly focused; his recurrent bursts of energy are channeled, harnessed. Wherever you look, rays of light set off the countless subtleties of his work.
Schimanszky's sculpture is devoid of pretension, of compromise. He is a fastidious artist. His craftsmanship is impeccable, perfect. The French sculptor Maillol once asserted that it is essential to be artificial, to reduce twenty forms to a single form.
Schimanszky has this gift of synthesis. His art is immediate, his work redolent of abundance. As we stand before a Schimanszky sculpture, we feel gratification. We are not left expecting more; we readily apprehend what is there. This is the secret of a great sculptor.
Matter, Mind and Form blend to gratify both our senses and our soul. Cast in grace, in strength, in gentleness, matter is here utterly subservient to the needs of the artist.
Man, animal, vegetable, the pleasure of form, the same direction
To speak of these things, to seek to understand their nature, then to try, slowly, humbly, to create an image of this beauty that we set out to comprehend: that is what art is about.
James Joyce (1882-1941)
Much as Schimanszky's approach is primarily devoted to the representation of human subjects, the essential humanism of the sculptor's art impelled him also to venture into the animal and vegetable worlds and even, quite simply, the world of forms, for the sake of the pleasures which they afford. Schimanszky invests his forms with a magic power that derives from the universality of things.
"Everything is contained in everything, he tells us. Sculpture not always require of the artist a serious or a reflective manner and manner of thinking. I enjoy investing some of my work with a playful spirit. I divide them up into various parts, lending them demented movements. Often they continue to make me smile long after I complete them."
Schimanszky's views readily accord with those of the sculptor Emile Gilioli (1911-77), who wrote:
"It is a futile undertaking to contort forms. The most important thing of all is the presence of the man who lives in expectation of life."
" ..... not to achieve a a resemblance with the Venus of Lespugne or the Hera of Samos, but to create a column which moves in space, which is infused with as much life as the Hera of Samos or a beautiful woman walking down the street."
Leo Schimanszky's sculpture - his large-scale work reminiscent of Eskimo art, his more ethereal work revealing its intimacy to the spectator - is bursting with vital tension, strength and harmony.
Sensual, original, personal, it is work which looks forward to a great future - as great as the gifts of its creator.