Painted in 1957, Untitled reveals an energized crystallization of Gerzso’s decade-long synthesis of myriad influential sources. Born in Mexico to a Hungarian father and a German mother, his affinity for the sensibilities of abstraction were first marked as a teenager while living in Lagos, Switzerland with his uncle, Hans Wendland. A prominent art dealer and collector who filled his Swiss home with works by Pierre Bonnard, Eugène Délacroix, Paul Cezanne and others, Wendland gifted Gerzso with a copy of Le Corbusier’s 1923 polemic book, Vers une architecture nouvelle (Towards a New Architecture). In this foundational book, the modernist architect celebrates geometry as the building block for the construction of the new modern city, awakening Gerzso to the realm of abstraction. While he eventually worked as a costume and set designer, most prominently in the United States at the Cleveland Play House during the 1930s, it was not until Gerzso’s permanent return to Mexico in 1941 that he would fully dedicated himself to painting. Gerzso’s homecoming fell in tandem with the advent of the Surrealist exiles of Europe, among them Benjamin Péret (the surrealist Poet and husband of Remedios Varo) and Wolfgang Paalen (the founder of DYN magazine and husband of Alice Rahon) who were the most influential in encouraging and promoting Gerzso’s early development as a painter. Gerzso’s predisposition to the aesthetics of Surrealism fueled a brief but intense two-year period throughout 1944 and 1945 where he “studied and experimented with styles of most all the major first generation Surrealists, from the illusionism and of Tanguy to the abstract biomorphism of Masson” (ibid, p. 98).
Gerzso’s interest in Surrealism was eclipsed by his predilection for abstraction, in this case a desire for an architectural structure that Surrealism was unable to provide. Traveling throughout Mexico, he found abundant inspiration in the ruins of Chichén Itzá in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula and Teotihuacán just outside of Mexico City, continuing his travels to Bolivia and Peru to explore Tiahuanaco and Machu Picchu respectively. In the meanwhile, he was filling his personal library with the writings of pioneer archeologists and ethnographers such as Alfonso Caso, Miguel Covarrubias and Maud Worcester Makemson. Fascinated by these ancient and mystical sites, Gerzso would use “the tropical landscape, pre-Columbian architecture and figures as a point of departure the same way the Cubists used African art or Matisse used Persian miniatures” to usher in a new strategy for his version of Abstraction (ibid, p. 110).
As seen in Untitled, Gerzso reoriented his paintings by the mid-1950s to a vertical format, layering small and large squares (harkening advanced pre-Columbian masonry techniques) to manipulate multiple planes of perspective, creating moments of light and shadow. His paintings became uneasy and mysterious narratives. While appearing to have a connection to “Paul Klee’s fusion of Surrealism and Constructivism, his method of transforming impressions of nature into poetic abstract equivalents represented by prismatic squares” (fig. 1), Gerzso’s paintings, unlike Klee’s, are subjected to “architectonic principles” where deliberately precise and sensibly precarious squares create heightened rhythmic drama and evoke an imagined landscape of ancient ruins (ibid, p. 123).
Gerzso’s intention for his recontextualized version of Abstraction, one that poetically explores a hidden emotional experience, is seen in Untitled. Enlarged blue and green prisms reveal themselves behind a cascading shower of small, golden-hued squares. This precise, rhythmic succession of multi-sized forms coupled with a juxtaposition of cold and warm tones of blue, green, yellow and red reveal a majestic and overwhelming structure. As described by Octavio Paz, “in all Gerzo’s pictures there is a secret...his paintings indicate its existence behind the canvas...they allude to what lies on the other side” (ibid, p. 123).
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