For many years Sophia Szilagyi’s work has traversed land, sky and seascapes, inventing a universe that appears plausible yet is largely make-believe. Through digital printmaking she skillfully merges numerous images to create a distinctive sense of otherworldliness in her work that is entirely unique.
However in a marked shift from her earlier prints, Nostalgia sees the artist turn her serene and penetrative gaze away from the restless seas and churning skies, and look inward, to the private realm of home and the friends and family members who inhabit it. This deeply personal dimension forms the starting point for the works in the exhibition. Yet through Szilagyi’s printmaking process of layering images and merging forms, she achieves a quality of timelessness and universality even with such personally significant subjects.
The original limited edition prints that comprise Nostalgia are created using contemporary digital technology. Yet many of them contain aesthetic qualities more reminiscent of paintings from the canon of western art history, than some of the current photographic sources from which she draws. Three of her four portraits most exemplify this: Yumi, Isabel and Valentine.
In Yumi the girl’s quasi-profile pose and pale translucent skin against the vivid blue of her jacket may call to mind the artist Vermeer. Yet it is flowing tendrils of hair by Renaissance master Botticelli that leave a barely perceptible shadow along Yumi’s brow. While Valentine is cast with Pre-Raphaelite lightness and grace, the lovely Isabel could easily be looking out of a Rembrandt painting. Even the pink pom-poms that dangle from her hat are touched by the warm light of the Dutch Old Master’s paintings.
Szilagyi’s work is unique for her merging of elements from both painting and photography, while also embracing the surprise ‘accidents’ that printmaking is known to engender. With a highly intuitive, process-driven methodology she will often repeatedly photograph an image on screen that she is working on, and then incorporate some new element from that image into the final. Each time the image is translated through the lens of a camera it takes on often unexpected dimensions, and new elements are introduced while others may diminish.
The portrait of Bek reveals visible signs of Szilagyi’s rigorous process. The areas of slight pixilation and scraped linework that could have been made with an engraver’s burin, gives the work a printerly quality that is slightly different to the seamlessly rendered, smooth surfaces in the other portraits, which are more akin to painting. This edgier surface tension is also seen in the glowing white Lily that accompanies Bek, which seems to emanate an almost spiritual light (Lilies have traditionally been associated with hope and faith).
While the portraits make powerful stand-alone pieces, when each figure is paired with floral blooms something truly magical takes place. Poppies, Camellias, Lilies and Dahlias with their variant aesthetic and symbolic qualities, are perfectly attuned to their human counterparts in this series.
Shells, like the other floral pieces in the exhibition refer to a still life tradition that seventeenth century Dutch art made famous. Whereas in Safe spindly foliage from a she-oak emerges from the edges of the image to encircle other leaves and vegetation in its centre, all of which have been derived from the artist’s garden. The resulting image exudes an aura of softness, serenity and protection. One work renders treasures from the deep, the other from the garden, but both prints are reflective of an inside/outside conception of the artist’s private universe.
This body of work takes a bold figurative step in a new direction, yet contains the depth and unsettling beauty for which Szilagyi’s landscape derived work is so well loved. It’s a powerful statement of tenderness and vision.