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Gabor Peterdi. Hungarian/American Artist 1915 – 2001

Painter and innovative printmaker, Gabor Peterdi, worked with William Stanley Hayter in Europe and the USA and later at Yale where he was a major figure in changing intaglio printmaking in the world after WW II.

Gabor Peterdi, Artist, Portrait, artline
Gabor Peterdi
Gabor Peterdi, Artist, Red Lanikai, artline
Gabor Peterdi
Red Lanikai, 1969
relief etching, edition 75
19 1/2 x 23 1/2"
click on image to enlarge
Gabor Peterdi, Artist, la Grande Batille, artline
Gabor Peterdi
La Grande Batille, 1939
line engraving on copper, HC IV
11 1/2 x 15 1/2", POR
click on image to enlarge
Gabor Peterdi, Artist, Despair, artline
Gabor Peterdi
Despair, 1969
line engraving on copper
edition 35
10 3/8 x 7 7/8"
click on image to enlarge
Gabor Peterdi, Artist, Figure Holding Vase, artline
Gabor Peterdi
Figure Holding Vase, 1950
watercolor
29 1/4 x 21 5/8"
click on image to enlarge
Gabor Peterdi, Artist, Frozen Light, artline
Gabor Peterdi
Frozen Light, 1985
oil on canvas
60 x 70"
click on image to enlarge

Artist Statement

Throughout his life, Gabor Peterdi has not only looked at the nature surrounding him, he has lived it. Few artists have so completely realized themselves through an identification with natural processes. As if proof of the theory of empathy, every form in Peterdi's mature works, whether perceived in nature or created on the canvas, is part of a rhythm that pervades his own being. His resistance to "objective" vision provides us with a heartening manifestation of an innate belief in the continuity of life as proof against an alien environment.

- Joshua Taylor Director National Museum of American Art, formerly National Collection of Fine Arts 1969 – 1981


Essays/Monograph

Pacific by Gabor Peterdi
Pacific, 1971. drypoint, edition 25, 30 x 40"


Peterdi: The American Landscape
The Washington Print Club Quarterly, 2012
By Jane Haslem

Gabor Peterdi (1915 - 2001) was an outstanding teacher, humanitarian, and artist - and one of the most important innovators in print- making after World War II. He was also a great friend, and I can still hear him talking. One time when we were look- ing at drawings in his studio he told me about the time Pablo Picasso came to one of his early exhibitions in Paris and said, "Young man you have the talent and now you must learn to draw." Gabor told the story with such intensity I knew he had thought of Picasso’s observation all of his life.

When the Quarterly asked me to select the cover art for this issue and write a brief article on it, I knew I wanted to select one of his great prints. But which one? The range of his work over his long, productive career is notably wide, and I know it well. But that compounded my problem. While the artistry and evolution of an artist’s work can, of course, be appreciated without intimate knowledge of the artist who produced it, its depth—that is, what the creation of that work meant to the artist—is not easily plumbed. This is not surprising, because it necessarily flows from the interior, quintessentially personal and so private, life of an artist. Not all artists are self-aware and far fewer reflect on this elusive matter. Gabor, however, was an artist who thought deeply about his subject and what he wanted to achieve. He mastered the media he used (drawing, etching, engraving, painting in watercolor and oils) so thoroughly that he often allowed the subject to determine the medium. I heard him say many times that he never had to think about using his tools or applying his marks to a surface: they were ground into his soul. So, I settled on a print that both exemplifies his intense preoccupation with his subject and mastery of drawing that made him one of America’s most important artists: his 1971 drypoint, Pacific, which captures the great contradiction that is the Pacific Ocean, its beauty, its destructive power, and its ever-changing rolling waves.


La Grande Bataille by Gabor Peterdi
La Grande Bataille, 1939. line engraving on copper, edition 50, 11 1/2 x 15 1/2"

His Life

Peterdi was born in Budapest. At the age of five he began painting little landscapes around his home in Hungary. When he was 15 he won a Prix de Rome. He went to Rome for a year and in 1932 he went to Paris. There, as he later wrote, "I was seventeen then, lost, scared, in the heart of the sizzling intellectual furnace of the world. For two years I went crazy, running back and forth from the leftbank galleries to the Louvre, trying to make sense of the turmoil. Then I met Arpad Szenes and his wife, Vieira de Silva, and suddenly, through them I was in the midst of the avant-garde movement."1 Peterdi became actively involved with the Polish printmaker, Kolos-Vari, and his prints from this period are mostly engravings. But he wanted to learn more about other forms of printmaking and began working at Atelier 17, the Paris workshop founded by William Stanley Hayter in 1927. Here, Gabor was greatly influenced by Hayter and other artists working at the atelier, including Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, and Alberto Giacometti.

Then came the war. As Peterdi describes it, "The six-year interval between 1933 and 1939 was a violent, tragic period in the world. Our life in Paris was engulfed more in hatred, bitterness, and anguish for the future. I witnessed the rioting at the Place de la Concorde where over 200 persons died, and saw refugees stream into Paris, fleeing Nazi terror; then Spain and, finally, Munich."2 Prints from this period took on violent overtones that reflected his reaction to the brutalized world, such as Despair I through V and the Black Bull series, a portfolio of seven line engravings, published by Jeanne Bucher Editions, Paris, France in 1939.

In 1939 Peterdi immigrated to the United States and went to work on a farm in west Florida. "His career as an artist seemed utterly remote ... physical action was the only choice."3 In 1944, at Camp Blanding, Florida, he joined the U.S. Army and became a U.S. citizen; soon thereafter, he was reassigned from the Anti-Tank Infantry to the 6th Corps of the Seventh Army, where he served as a cartographer to U. S. Army Intelligence. After the war, in 1945, Peterdi worked again with Hayter, who, during the war, had moved his Atelier 17 to New York. He taught printmaking at the Brooklyn Museum School of Art (1948-1952), Hunter College (1952-1960), and at the Yale School of Art (1960-1987). In 1959, Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc., printed his book, Printmaking Methods Old and New. Reprinted in 1971 and 1980, it is considered the quintessential book on the subject, has been and still is used in American printmaking departments throughout the country. During his lifetime, Peterdi created some 389 prints (which have all been catalogued), and hundreds of paintings and drawings. These works were exhibited in hundreds of solo shows in the United States and abroad throughout his career and they continue to be today. At this writing, the Midwest Museum of American Art in Elkhart, Indiana, has on view an exhibition of nearly 100 prints and drawings, "Gabor Peterdi: The Expression of Nature."


Germination 1 by Gabor Peterdi
Germination 1, 1952. line etching, soft-grounded etching, engraving, and aquatint on copper, 20 x 24", 8 stenciled colors, edition 30

His Prints

In the late 1940s Peterdi began exploration of the creative potential of a wide range of printmaking techniques and "plunged into a feverish experimentation."4 His first color print, Sign of the Lobster, 1947, was an etching, engraving, and aquatint on copper with eight colors stenciled on the plate. He eventually returned to his first love, the landscape, but with a new emotional interest brought about by his move from the city to the Connecticut countryside. Gabor once described to me how he had repaved his driveway with asphalt. In the spring he noticed tiny plants springing up through the pavement. These resilient plants sparked something in him and led to a series of Germination prints. Germination I is abstract. Peterdi said, "no matter how extensively abstracted the finished art work is from its original source if its concept is the result of personal involvement, it will have a truth that no clever designing, no coy juggling of materials, can convincingly approximate."5


Vertical Rocks by Gabor Peterdi
Vertical Rocks, 1959. etching, engraving, engraving,
and aquatint, edition 45, 32 11/16 x 23"

Peterdi received a Ford Grant that made it possible for him to travel through the American West. Later he went on to travel in Alaska and teach in Hawaii. His response to each experience was deeply personal. "How," he asked, "can one talk about light, space, color, texture, smell, heat and cold? You have to inhale it, taste it on your skin, and deep inside."6 In one of his early Western landscapes, Vertical Rocks (1959), in this image Peterdi piled monumental stones one on another. The stones are juxtaposed against a black, night background that emphasizes their mass. He rendered the stones’ interior by building up fragile elements like coral building on a reef. The result is a print that conveys massive weight and at the same time has textural richness and microscopic detail suggesting to the viewer the centuries of geological processes that had created it.

He went to Alaska, where he said he saw the "ice turn from blinding blue through saffron yellow into olive green, and heard it crack like thunder."7 His prints from this period are abstract, multi-plate landscapes that express the paradoxical deadly power of glacial ice, jagged and harsh, and its mesmerizing cold blues, blacks, yellows, and purples. He traveled to the Yucatan and other South American countries, and in the late 1960s and again in the early 1970s, taught printmaking at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. Some of his Hawaiian prints are beautifully executed drypoints while others are etchings. The Alaskan and Hawaiian etchings reflect his reaction to the great contrast between the austerity of the Arctic and the lush tropical environment of Hawaii. The succulent vegetation of the latter heightened his color palette in his relief etchings, and he liberally applied complementary colors to simplified shapes. These prints are very rich and some glow, suggesting the intense heat of volcanoes.

By the 1990s his prints became monochromatic, complex linear drypoints, some very large, like his superb 1971 Pacific. Peterdi considered the drypoint the most difficult to execute of all print media. But with his assurance of line, he could simultaneously draw on the plate and coordinate the pressure and angle of the needle to achieve the variation he wanted in the burr. And it is impossible to look at Pacific without being instantly awestruck by the variation in dark and light tones, the soft modulated, velvety, texture of the line, and the richness of the image.


Red Lanikai by Gabor Peterdi
Red Lanikai, 1969. relief etching on zinc, three colors, edition 75, 20 x 24"

Peterdi was always creating. When he visited me and my family, he would get up early, put a large piece of paper on the kitchen table, and begin to draw, all the while singing scores from operas at the top of his lungs. He was always like that, ebullient and working. And he always printed his own editions. It was by his unique inking and wiping of the plates that he created many of his best images, as in Pacific. Once he showed me all the cuts on his hands from inking his plates. Peterdi said of himself: "I have all of this in me—the cold Arctic, and the hot desert, so similar in space and so different in color, light, and texture; the flowers of my garden and the arid rocks of the West; the sea, the sun, the wind, and the rain. All the miracles of nature and behind it all the lingering terror of the atomic age."8 For me, this is apparent in his prints.

JANE HASLEM

1. Gabor Peterdi, "A Biography of My Landscape," Art in America, vol. 51, no. 3, June 1963, 39.
2. Peterdi, 39.
3. Una E. Johnson, "Introduction,"
Gabor Peterdi: Graphics 1934-1969, New York: Touchstone Publishers Ltd., 1970, unpaginated.
4. Janet Flint, [Smithsonian National Collection of Fine Arts curator], Foreword, Gabor Peterdi: Printmaking: Forty-five Years of Printmaking, exh. cat., Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979, unpaginated.
5. Peterdi, 41.
6. Peterdi, 41.
7. Peterdi, 41.
8. Peterdi, 41.


Biography

A BIOGRAPHY OF MY LANDSCAPE
By Gabor Peterdi
Art In America, 1963 (when the magazine was published with a hard cover)

When I was two years old my parents decided to move out of the city to a hilltop overlooking Buda and the twisting, turning Danube. My childhood memories are related to nature, I remember the changing seasons, the delights of spring and summer, the glorious reds and oranges of fall, and the crisp white snow. I still remember the silvery mist that swallowed the Danube at horizon.

When I was five, I started to paint with watercolors. I had three colors: red, yellow and blue. My mother said she knew that I was going to be a painter when she made me cry by painting clouds into the sky in one of my landscapes.

For 10 years I diligently painted and drew the world that surrounded me, the trees, the bushes, the flowers, and the mysterious city below. I also started to paint a distant exotic country with dream landscapes that I covered with the plants and trees of our garden, but populated with fantastic animals concocted from the memories of one visit to the zoo. At fifteen I had a one-man show in Budapest, then off to Rome on a long journey to re-learn again many things that I knew so well when I was five.

After one year I left Rome, the churches, cats, and Mussolini, for Paris. I was seventeen then, lost, scared in the heart of the sizzling intellectual furnace of the world. For two years I went crazy, running back and forth from the left-bank galleries to the Louvre, trying to make some sense out of the turmoil. Then I met Szenes and his wife Vieira da Silva and, suddenly, through them I was in the midst of the avant-garde movement. For the first time in my life I learned the meaning of experimentation.

For a while I went back to landscape in my paintings but, deprived of the physical reality, I tried to reconstruct the essence, the concept, without direct reference to the object. I was interested in space itself. I was excited about the possibility of creating an "absolute" landscape without anything local, subjective or temporary. I followed the error of many artists who thought that one can start with a general idea and turn it into a unique personal experience. This can rarely be done. The history of art seems to confirm that most of the significant works of art originated the other way around - a personal experience made into a universal statement. The six year interval between 1933 and 1939 was a violent, tragic period in the world. Our life in Paris was engulfed more and more in hatred, bitterness and anguish for the future. I witnessed the rioting at the Place de la Concorde where over 200 persons died and saw refugees stream into Paris, fleeing the Nazi terror; then Spain and, finally, Munich. My work took on more and more violent fantastic overtones that reflected my reaction to the brutalized world.

In 1939, one month before World War II started, I arrived in New York and after a few months I left for Florida. This was an exciting encounter with a landscape totally unlike anything I had experienced before, The Florida I knew was not the tourist country of Miami and Palm Beach but the swamps of the Swanee river, some places thick and wild like the African bush. This was a country of exasperating sand, heat, redbugs, and rattlesnakes; there was also work on a farm, clearing palmettos, hunting, fishing. For the first time in my life I was more than a mere spectator of nature.

But it was a long time before my Florida experience manifested itself truly in my work. After Florida, I was in the war, with all its terror and stupidity. As a soldier I saw the continent I came from - France, Italy, Germany, Austria and Hungary - beat up, bloody submerged in misery, bitterness and hate, When you are a soldier nature is hostile. To the farmer, rain is life but to the soldier it is shivering at nights, soaking wet in a foxhole, The hills, the rocks became only shelter in which to take cover, or fortresses to attack. The landscape of Europe turned, for me, into an immense arid field covered with pulverized stones and bleached bones.

Despair, Gabor Peterdi
Despair I, 1938
engraving, edition 35
10 5/8 x 7 7/8"
Dark Visit, Gabor Peterdi
Dark Visit, 1948
relief etching on zinc, edition 30
15 3/4 x 19 5/8"

Years later, surrounded by the gentle landscape of Connecticut, the drama and violence of my war years was slowly replaced by a poetic reality - an awareness of the eternal cycles of growing things. In Rowayton I started a series of prints and paintings to express the cycles: Germination, Seed and Rock and Triumph of Spring; these were all related to the struggle for survival of all organic life. The Spawning cycle is related to the struggle for survival in the ocean. These works had obvious symbolic intent but the fact that they came as the result of deep personal involvement saved them from sterility.

Although my impulse, as an artist, always came directly from nature, I never had any wish to be descriptive. The tangible things around me simply served as a visual and emotional stimulus that made things happen on the canvas. I am convinced that no matter how extensively abstracted the finished art work is from its original source. If its concept is the result of personal involvement, it will have a truth that no clever designing, not coy juggling of materials, can convincingly approximate. I was always more concerned and moved by the phenomena of nature - the wind, the sun, the light, the storm - than the objects on which they manifest themselves. Nevertheless the two are inseparably related, as the personal experience is tied to a specific event with specific objects existing in time and space.

I had wanted to go West ever since I saw it for the first time, at the age of seven, in a Tom Mix picture. This desire stayed with me although the motivation changed. The western landscape represented to me a light and scale totally different from anything I had experienced in Europe. Also, after living and working within the intimate, human scale of New England, I felt the need to see something drastically different.

A Ford Grant made it possible for me to take a trip through the states of Washington, Oregon, California, New Mexico and Colorado. What could I say about this experience that wouldn't sound trite? How can one talk about light, space color, texture, smell, heat and cold? You have to inhale it, taste it on your skin, and deep inside. One moment this vast country can make you feel like a worm, the next like an eagle. What do you see when you walk down the Grand Canyon and look up? The purple and red rocks towering over your the blinding blue sky? And what do you see in the Mohave desert: the undulating horizon pulsating feverishly on the tiny plants under your feet surviving bravely in that bleached, burned sand?

As the result of my trip through the West I started to work on several cycles of prints and paintings. I had been fascinated by the textural richness, the infinite microscopical details that make up this giant world. Instead of using large monolithic volumes rendered in mass, I built them up with delicate, often fragile elements like coral building up a reef. Big things are not necessarily monumental and violence in not strength. The object, the physical presence, is just the beginning that can turn into a work of art only the revelation of its reality on a deeper level.

Vertical Rocks, Gabor Peterdi
Vertical Rocks, 1959
etching, engraving, aquatint on zinc
edition 45, 33 x 23"
Arctic Bird, Gabor Peterdi
Artic Bird II-A, 1965
combined technique, four colors,
edition 25
35 3/4 x 24 3/4"

After my experience with the West and my growing preoccupation with a monumental landscape, I couldn't resist an opportunity to see Alaska. The flight itself, from Seattle to Fairbanks, was an awesome visual experience. Rugged mountain peaks piecing through mother-of pearl cloud blankets, creeping glaciers reflecting the iridescent sky, and then the red glow of the sun. Finally, the twisting, turning Yukon looping around black green hills like a giant white snake.

In Alaska my main interest was the Arctic region. After having completed a series of lectures in Fairbanks, I set out to Tigara, the Eskimo village on Point Hope. Now I know what cold is and I have seen the ice turn from blinding blue through saffron yellow into olive green, and I have seen it bloom. I also heard the ice "talk" under the pressures of the sea and the wind, then crack with thunder. I heard the blinding blizzard whine, and muskies howl into the white night. And I have seen the Arctic light fan out like a peacock's tail.

I have all of this in me. The cold Arctic, and the hot desert, so similar in space and so different in color, light and texture, The flowers of my garden and the arid rocks of the West. The sea, the sun, the wind and the rain. All the miracles of nature and behind it all the lingering terror of the atomic age. I want to paint all this, and say A man was here.


CV

born 1915 Pestujhely, Hungray
died 2001 Stamford, CT

education
1933 Atelier 17, Paris ,France with William Stanley Hayter
1930 Academia delle Belle Arti. Rome, Italy
1929 Hungarian Academy. Budapest- won a Prix de Rome
permanent collections
Albright Knox Gallery, Buffalo, NY
Art Institute of Chicago, IL
Auckland City Art Gallery, New Zealand
Baltimore Museum of Art. MD
Basel Kunstmuseum, Switzerland
Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France
Boston Museum of Fine Arts, MA
Brooklyn Museum, NY
Cincinnati Art Museum, OH
Cleveland Museum if Art, OH
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D
Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI
DeCordova Museum, Lincoln, MA
Flint Institute of Art, MI
Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, MA
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA
Honolulu Academy of Arts, HI
Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington
Kunstverein, Bremen, Germany
Kunstmuseum, Dusseldorf, Germany
Indianapolis Museum of Art, IN
Library of Congress, Washington DC
Los Angeles County Museum, CA
Maggar Nemszeti Galeria, Budapest, Hungary
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
Musee de Beaux Arts, Montreal, Canada
Museum Boymans van Beuningen Rotterdam, Holland
Museu de Arta Moderna de Sao Paulo, Brazil
Museum of Caracas, Venezuela
Museum of Modern Art, NYC
Museum of Western Art Tokyo, Japan
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia
Nazionale Museum, Rome, Italy
William Rockhill Nelson Gallery and Atkins Museum of Fine Arts, Kansas City, MO
Roy Neuberger Museum, State University of New York, Purchase
New Museum, New School of Social Research NY
Oakland Museum, CA
Pasadena Art Museum, CA
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia
Philips Collection, Washington DC
Portland Art Museum, OR
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Holland
Seattle Art Museum, WA
Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington DC
Szepmuveszeti Museum, Budapest, Hungary
University of Alberta, Canada
Vitoria and Albert Museum, London, England
Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC
Yale University, New Haven, CT

Reviews

Pacific and other Recent Works, 1990
By Andrew Forge

Gabor Peterdi has been an American for nearly half a century but there is still something exotic about him. Whenever I think of him I imagine a figure gazing towards the horizon of some Hungarian plain, peaked cap at an angle, a sheep-skin cloak slung over massive shoulders. He has a certain style. It is part of his style to tell stories, recalling bizarre events and distant places. He is like one of Conrad's story-tellers – pipe smoking, measured, inexorable – although unlike theirs, his stories are likely to be widely funny. His youth, like that of so many European artists and intellectuals, was spent on the move and one can't help wondering whether his weighty presence, the density of his personality, is not in some way an adaptation, as though an oak tree's roots had become its branches.

He has continued to travel and although a central inspiration in his work has been the marshes and woods of the Connecticut shoreline, other more distant places have been important too; he has explored the Florida Keys, the desert and canyons of the South West, the northern tundra, the Pacific Islands. The most recent paintings are about Hawaii. Peterdi goes straight to their most spectacular aspects – jungle, volcanoes flowing lave, the sea, the conjunction of fire and water. There are no people in these pictures. These are landscapes pure and simple. But not of particular locations, it seems. We don't find ourselves standing on a particular patch of ground. They are not landscapes in the naturalist tradition but rather in an alternative line, the tradition of the sublime in which the onlooker is coaxed out of himself into limitless space 'out there' and is occasionally touched by a sense of infinity.

The mood in which Peterdi approaches this grandeur – grandeur of distance, as in "Hawaii XIII" or grandeur of energy as in "The Message" – is not solemn, melancholy or awe-struck. It is relaxed.

The pictures are decorative in the best sense: decorative taken to stand for joy and athletic delight, the opposite of anxiety. His colors sing in a major key. And they sing in continual movement. They most characteristic feature of these paintings, and it has been so in Peterdi's work for a long time, is the way that they are structured out of small, distinct dancing touches of the brush. These touches are not merely ways of brushing on the color as they might be in the hands of another painterly painter, the functional consequences of doing what had to be done as directly as possible. Peterdi's marks are like a highly conscious calligraphy. They evoke aspects of Chinese brush drawing in their exactly balanced double nature, but descriptive and autonomous, alive with the life of the water or the foliage that they stand for but equally alive with life on the hand that made them. Through that hand there flows an energy of a special quality, powerful and delicate unflagging yet nuanced and under tight control. It is an energy akin to a musician's: there are marks that attack and others that trill away 'pianissimo' into open space.



Gabor Peterdi
The Message (aka Pacific), 1988
oil on canvas, 60 x 70"


In 'The Message' the whole surface is filled with these brush marks that range from tiny parallel hatchings in the distance to much larger squiggles that snake and leap across the foreground, not describing the boiling water so much as "enacting" it in their watery dance.

Peterdi turned to landscape in the mid fifties. He was thirty six when he moved to Connecticut. Within a few years he had found his subjects and the kinds of spaces into which he could project his states of mind and feeling. He had taken a long road to reach that point.

Gabor Peterdi was born in Hungary in 1915. Both his mother and his father were well-known poets. He grew up in a time of historic change – the collapse of the Hapsburg empire. The revolution of Belo Kuhn, Horthy's counter-revolution, prototype of later fascist regimes. For a while the Peterdi family was in hiding. Gabor made a precocious start as a painter, having his first exhibition when he was only fifteen. He left Budapest to study for a while in Rome, then moved to Paris arriving there early in 1932. After a year of lonely isolation, working at the Grand Chaumiere and other open academies, he became friendly with Vieira de Silva and through her, with painters of his own age such as Esteve and Hartung. Before long he had found a place for himself among the Paris studios. He collaborated with Jean Lurçat in his famous tapestry enterprise and on a prize-winning mural for the Exposition International of 1937. A profoundly important contact was with Stanley Hayter whose Atelier 17 was a center of innovation in printmaking. Through Hayter, Peterdi gained entry to a world that he was later to inhabit like a sovereign.

He had arrived in Paris during the golden age of Surrealism – 1933 saw the last issue of 'SASDLR' and the first of 'Minotaure.'Hayter's experiments had attracted the attention of the 'Surrealist' painters and Peterdi came to know many of them, including Ernst, Miro and Giacometti. It was an eclectic period in Paris. At the opposite pole from the Surrealists there were the abstract painters. Mondrian Kandinsky, Gabor, Van Tongerloo were all in Paris. The aftermath of cubism and towering figure of Picasso were inescapable. A young painter struggling for a place in this environment was inevitably caught between the heritage of French painting and the disparate forces of the avant garde.

Nor were the times conducive to calm or detachment. From 1933 onwards the refugees poured out of Germany. Extremes flourished. Peterdi witnessed bloody clashes between right and left in the streets of Paris. The Surrealists were deeply enmeshed in the politics of the left. Few artists were untouched by what was happening, especially after the war in Spain had polarized extremes of hope and despair.

Peterdi left Paris for New York in the summer of 1939. He arrived with enough work to have a show at the Julien Levy Gallery that October, sharing it with Matta, the first of the 'Surrealists' to arrive in New York. It was five years before Peterdi returned to Europe and when he did it was as an American citizen and in uniform. Trained for infantry, he found himself in a special unit set up to trace Hungarian war criminals and return them to trial in Hungary. These missions took him through scenes of despair and devastation; but he was able to regain contact with his family, with whom he had been out of touch for years. Back in the states and demobilized, Peterdi plunged into print-making. Hayter was in New York and had set up his Atelier 17 where again it became a gathering point for artists. Working with Hayter, Peterdi got to know many of the abstract expressionists. By the end of the decade he had set up his own workshop and was gaining a reputation as one of the leading print-makers in the country. He was in demand as a teacher, working first at the Brooklyn Museum School, then at Hunter College where one of his colleagues was Baziotes with whom he became friends. At the invitation of Josef Albers he began to teach at the Yale Summer School and in 1960 he took a regular appointment at the Yale School of Art, continuing to teach there until only a few years ago.

Much of the work that Peterdi made during the years immediately before and after the war focused on scenes of violence. It would have been difficult in those times for anyone of his background and generation to have ignored the terrible events that surrounded him. He was haunted by the things he had seen in Europe after the war. Typically his images included the figure, but the figure in conflict, distorted dismembered, transmogrified. His line was spiky with the spikiness of barbed wire and clutching, emaciated fingers. The models came from Grunewald and from that central icon of committed painting, Picasso's 'Guernica'.

Gradually the violence of these images dispersed, to be replaced by a calmer mood. In 1951 he moved away from New York to the house he still lives in, about forty-miles up-coast from the city. Here he turned to landscape, finding his subjects among the thickets and wasteland, saltmarsh, fields and the open sea itself. The mood had changed. His subjects were places without local features, without figures or houses but where a feeling of boundlessness dominated. These were all-over images, completely different in their structure than anything that he had done before, owing more to the sublime expanses of Pollock or Rothko than to anything that he had brought from Paris. The new subject matter and the new pictorial conceptions interacted in an unbroken loop, each giving force to the other. Would the idea of this kid of picture have appeared feasible if it had not been for recent developments in American painting? On the other hand, would the idea have had any urgency for him if it had not been for the pressure of his experience in front of the landscape?

What is certain is the importance of printmaking. It is impossible not to see the prototype for his repeated marks in the hatching that the etcher-engraver builds his forms with crowds of lines or dots arranged with formality, each mark considered clearly as itself as well as with a view to its effect o the whole. (Another artist whose painterly notation must have owed something to prints is Van Gogh. We can see his broken spirals and hooks and dots as a marvelous transformation of the hatching of the English engravings that he collected and copied.) A very large plate of Peterdi's called 'Angry Sky' is one of his first and most authoritative landscape subjects. The whole image, a space of infinite extent, is built out of an infinity of parallel strokes of varying thickness, weight and speed, repeated and repeated. Each line, taken singly, is as springy and vivid as if it contained the strength of the hand that made it; yet seen 'en mass' they become an elemental void.



Gabor Peterdi
Angry Sky, 1959
etching and engraving
22 13/16 x 32 5/8"


The human content of landscape painting is that of the viewer's imagination. The mind moves out, searching for the horizon and in its search absorbs vastness into itself. Constable's sky – his 'organ of feeling' – is the avatar of all landscape experience: what we see "out there' are the shapes of our feelings, the sites of our terrors and our resting places. Movement from here to there is movement from one state of mind to another. Space is anticipation and memory, both. The sea is Peterdi's mirror and it matches his hand in its forming and spraying the surge and spiral of its waves, its vast heaving strength. The Hawaiian valley, densely carpeted, is the site of his distant dreaming, and the fantasy is enacted 'here' in the immediacy of his touch, his lighting runs on the surface of the canvas, each phrase articulated so clearly, pausing, turning back on itself, running on, hooking, flickering running on – hand and eye driven forward as if memory, wonder and an irrepressible sense of life came together under the compulsion to reconstruct how it was.


Bibliography

Gabor Peterdi: Graphics 1934-1969, Una Johnson, hard bound, deluxe edition 200, with 282 illustrations and 6 relief etchings signed & numbered by the artist, Touchstone Publishers Ltd, New York, 1970.

Gabor Peterdi Paintings, Burt Chernow, introduction by Joshua C Taylor, boxed deluxe edition, with three signed & numbered etchings, book signed by artist, full color,120 pages, Taplinger Publications Company, New York, 1982.

Printmaking Methods old and New Revised Edition, Gabor Peterdi, MacMillan Publishing Company Inc, New York, 1980.

Gabor Peterdi Forty-five Years of Printmaking. Graphics 1969-1977, Janet Flint , Smithsonian Institution, Museum of American Art, (National Collection of Fine Arts), Washington DC 1979.

Gabor Peterdi: A Biography of My Landscape, softcover catalogue, compiled by Joan Peterdi, Gabor Peterdi Studio, 2002

catalogue raisonnés

Gabor Peterdi: Catalogue Raisonné Prints 1980 - 1997.Jane N Haslem, Haslem Fine Arts Inc, Washington DC, 2000

Gabor Peterdi Forty-five Years of Printmaking. Graphics 1969-1977, Janet Flint , Smithsonian Institution, Museum of American Art, (National Collection of Fine Arts), Washington DC 1979.

Gabor Peterdi: Graphics 1934-1969, Una Johnson, hard bound, deluxe edition 200, with 282 illustrations and 6 relief etchings signed & numbered by the artist, Touchstone Publishers Ltd, New York, 1970.


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