Once again we realise that cultural
development runs in many different directions, and that the English mainstream
is both powerful and important. But we also realise how few German names appear
amongst these artists.
Agathe Sorel left her native Hungary after
the uprising and came to London, where she continued the fine art studies she
had begun in Budapest. The Gulbenkian Scholarship, more than anything else,
helped her to work under the new circumstances. The brain drain of 1956 cost
Hungary its intellectual elite, as so often happens when a regime persecutes
the thinking part of its population.
A great influence on her, and one that should
not be underestimated, was the work she did with Bill Hayter at Atelier 17,
Paris - a meeting point for the joyful, experimentally avant-garde in graphics.
Travel and work in the USA and Mexico was made possible through the Churchill
Scholarship. As well as her artistic studies it has always been important for
her to pass on her immense knowledge, and her specific way of seeing the world,
for the benefit of a wide audience. As a result, she became a sought-after
lecturer and founder member of many institutions that introduced many new
possibilities in the production and appreciation of graphics.
The list of museums and public collections
that contain Agathe Sorel's work reads like a Who's Who of collecting
establishments, and to extend this list into Germany should only be a matter of
time after the Geiger Gallery exhibition.
To what does she owe her
Agathe Sorel is, technically, a perfectionist
in her craft. She was influenced by Naum Gabo - who made space vibrate, and
even oscillate. Influenced also by Moholy-Nagy's clarity of divided spaces, and
by the importance of photography in a century obsessed with images - a medium
that became central to the prints of Rauschenberg, and to Michael Rothenstein
in England. This is not enough, however, to validate the importance of Sorel's
Influenced by studies of visual perception
and the geometry of optics and mathematics, and of complex images communicated
through a computer (according to Imre Pal or Tam Banchoff), Agathe Sorel found
her very own way. This way led beyond the limitations of specifying and
categorising and made possible her individuality, innovation and originality -
the criteria of the modern artist.
If we look at one of the key elements of this
exhibition, the Dark Satanic Mills of about 1972, we can already recognise the
beginnings of her new route. The engraving integrates early Victorian
photographs with an impressive perspective, and is, with its two unidentifiable
but three-dimensionally striking forms, a pointer to what this artist
discovered: the fascinating connection between two and three-dimensional
Agathe Sorel offers a simple but plausible
parallel, that of a worm crawling over a sheet of paper, and then man as viewer
of an image. For example, if the artist now folds the paper into a loop, then
takes perspex instead of paper, the worm has the opportunity of escaping from
the two-dimensional into the more complex three-dimensional sphere, which can
only be seen by the outside observer, not by the worm.
This becomes clearer if we think of her
perspex objects: we have 'Inner Lights', a perspex cube with irregular dots
which is on an angle and attached to a flat plate. Opposite this we have the
projection of this object onto a plane, in two dimensions.
We find the same visual experience in the
object 'Woman in Waves', preceding Frank Stella. Its on the print version
where the folded and photocopied parts reappear on the surface. Here she
challenges the naive perception of reality, and we suddenly find ourselves in
the role of an inhabitant of Plato's famous cave, or, as the artist would
prefer, of Alice's Wonderland where we discover the other side of the mirror.
The path from one to three dimensional is made through light, the total
illumination that creates both the brightness and the shadows of space.
Agathe Sorel confidently goes to the high
ground beyond the limitations of categorised styles. The graphic thesis of the
engraving and the antithesis of the three-dimensional; the space drawing
becomes as a synthesis of the space engraving. Her materials are ingeniously
worked perspex and an almost invisible steel armature ensuring static
We could proceed chronologically as this
exhibition has the character of a retrospective - all the important phases of
her work are here. But it is more interesting to start with a work which
integrates all facets in one, namely 'A Grotto for Torus'. The importance of
the titles becomes apparent here, where experience of grottoes and caves has
been gathered by the artist from travel, and life in Lanzarote, which has
become a focus in her life.
A large part of human history has to do with
caves. Zeus was born in a cave, and the grotesques we associate with caves come
from exactly this. 'Torus' has several meanings as well: in geometry it is the
area of a ring; it is also the bulge on the base of a column, and is used as a
metaphor for the bulge above the eyes of Neanderthal man. If we pronounce it
the English way it sounds a bit like Ta'aroa, the god from a Polynesian myth of
creation who lived in a shell, revolving in space. He is said to have broken
this shell, creating from it an infinite number of things.
A sensitive viewer will associate several
things with the sculptures, and like the twine of Ariadne we can be led from
one to another. So the wealth of this art is not easily
In these plastic complexes Agathe Sorel has
managed to create spaces that are usually the domain of mathematicians. This is
achieved through the transparency of the material. A visual comprehension under
the aspect of the one - and polydimensional, is made possible through the
shaping of perspex through heat, mirror effects, coloured elements of collage,
and especially through the transfusion of graphic methods, deeply engraved
bundles of lines, with trompe-l'oeil effects and an imaginative arrangement of
light that reminds one of light playing on water. Her style mixes the warmth of
personal experience that manifests itself in the conscious awkwardness of the
engraved lines. Another attractive thing is her treatment of the edges of the
material, making it lose its ice-floe like quality.
This object, together with 'Swansong', with
its kernel of deadly North Sea oil, one of the more recent pieces. Both have
the lightness and elegance of an economic artistic style borne of
Besides these, we have the already classic
pieces like 'Oyster' and 'Titania' with its mischievous play on the donkey-like
male part in love in which we also discover, with a changing viewer's
perspective, new and attractive sights and insights. The blue T-shape in the
corner TAO has the economy of the beginning.
A famous one is 'Macho the Cock', which is
based on a study by the artist done in Lanzarote: a cock is sitting on a
polished motorbike which is made up for a parade. From a watercolour there
develops a witty and complicated object which we could only compare to David
Parish's famous 'Motorcycle' of 1971.
This combination of general statement and
personal experience we can also see with 'Ego the Goat' - the association of a
goat balancing on rocks combined with the image of a wine press - which recalls
Discover for yourself the many and lively
faces of Agathe Sorel's work, the witty relationship between objects and prints
that has developed from this.
With her engravings, English printmaking has
reached a climax. The wealth of her talent is stupendous. She prints in a
differentiated and essential, but not decorative, choice of colour, and does
this with plastics and other suitable materials. She uses the computer. She
adds and composes her images in a sometimes surrealistic manner which creates
something new from the disconnected and, paradoxically, something of complex
simplicity. Another important aspect in this area: you will have noticed that
one can find Frei Otto's forms of light structures of planes, but changed and
transformed, often with sexual implications.
Let us enjoy the play or reality and illusion
which Agathe Sorel presents us with, and enter into a dialogue with these
mysterious objects - and the artist herself, who can best interpret
Dr Otto Rothfuss
Im Heppächer 3
D - 73728 Esslingen
In-Print/Catalogue/Papers/Sorel/9/5/01 page 6
Edited version of a longer article