Ildikó Kalapács laughs easily and often, and when she laughs, the joy-filled sound bursts forth, breaking open and inviting you to join in. Her home studio is filled with light, and her work is striking for its bright and vibrant colors.
But the layers below the sunny surface are more complex.
Kalapács (say “kahl-uh-PAHSH”) grew up in Hungary, in the mid-sized city of Szeged, during the 1960s and 1970s, when the country was under the influence of the Soviet Union....
Not surprisingly, her work explores identity — both cultural and personal — and the layers of memory, experience and storytelling that we use to forge an identity. She opens “Domestic Patterns,” a solo exhibition of sculptures and paintings, this week at the Kolva Sullivan Gallery. The human body figures prominently in her work, and each piece — whether two-dimensional or three — is built of layers and patterns.
The sculptures are the heads of women — real women, Spokane women — created life-size from clay as the models sat for her. Each gray or beige head is adorned with medallions and ribbons from Hungarian folk culture: some ribbons are embroidered in rich blues and reds, some are jewel-toned satins emblazoned with words and even poems. The faces are intimate and individual, yet their eyes are closed — they invite contemplation, not communication. Resting on their sides or backs, the heads look vulnerable, even tragic perhaps. The colorful ribbons may be full of life, but the faces are definitely in repose. Kalapács likens the heads to recovered bits of sculpture from antiquity...
Kalapács selected 14 women to be models for the heads, and she chose women who would be open to sitting for an hour-plus while she studied their faces in intimate detail. “These are my friends, very dynamic women,” she says. “I tried to select women who are very progressive, like I am, and also who’d feel comfortable sitting there for me, because sometimes I’d get up in their face.”
The models range in age from 23 to 59, ... the past is right there, etched in laugh lines, worry wrinkles, sun damage and the distinctive characteristics of genetics.
“I have a different concept of beauty,” she says. “I like strong women — I mean, physically strong women. Or [faces with] quirky characteristics. Even in ugliness, I see some beauty.”
The 14 heads rest in the center of the gallery; surrounding them, 14 paintings hang on the gallery walls. Each painting has layers of images, integrating bold, primary colors, decorative patterns, words — in English, Hungarian, Russian and Japanese — and the human body, whether in paint or in formal photographic portraits.
The colors and patterns stem from Kalapács’ deepest memories, from growing up in Hungary during the Soviet era, living in gray, seemingly featureless concrete-block apartment towers that Kalapács playfully calls “the rabbit holes.” Amid the bleak sameness and conformity, people sought out splashes of color — in gardens, in cut flowers, and in the intricately embroidered ribbons and dresses of traditional Hungarian folk dancers.
“When I grew up, even if you didn’t have money, you bought some cut flowers with your last pennies, because it brought some brightness in your life,” she says. “The flowers would be on your kitchen table, and you look at it, and you feel good.”
“[The heads] are physical fragments, and [the paintings] are cultural fragments,” she reflects. “Visually, the sculptures and paintings are opposite, but they’re two parts of me.”
“Domestic Patterns” by Ildikó Kalapács will be on display at the Kolva Sullivan Gallery, 115 S. Adams St., from June 5-26. Gallery hours: Thursdays-Fridays from 11 am-5:30 pm; Saturdays from 11 am-4 pm. Opening reception: Friday, June 5, from 5-9 pm. Call 462-5633.
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