GUNTHER GERZSO (1915-2000)
The Ireland Collection - Forming the Vision


The Ireland Collection is a body of nearly 400 works from the most formative period in Gunther Gerzso's career. These early explorative pieces, brimming with possibilities, are a visual diary of the artist's thoughts, feelings and emotions. The collection contains the paintings, drawings, costume and set designs that Gerzso produced while working at the Cleveland Playhouse and during his summers in Mexico (1935-1940).

Gunther Gerzso and Thomas Ireland began their life-long friendship when Gerzso came to work at the Cleveland Playhouse as a set designer. Ireland and his wife Patricia, both actors at the Playhouse, took great interest in the talents of the young designer. As passionate devotees of the cultural arts, they befriended Gerzso and encouraged the on-going exploration of his artistic vision.

Thomasine Ireland Jacobs, Tom and Pat Ireland's daughter, recounts the relationship between her father and Gunther Gerzso:

"My father, who saved and preserved so many of the pieces, always held Gerzso's work and talent in high regard, and encouraged him in every way he could. Gerzso inscribed a number of the paintings to my mother and father, and painted a wonderful portrait of my father... These works, which covered the walls of our house, were such an important part of the environment of my childhood", TIJ

Through their work at the Playhouse, beginning in 1927, and their generous contributions to the theatre, the Irelands became well known and respected in their community. A newspaper article from 1942 describes Tom Ireland: "...Aside from a serious authority on the theatre, [he's] a man with a personality who wins friends off-stage as easily as he wins audiences on stage."

Thomasine recounts,

"My Mother and Father, Gunther, and Rilla, (Rilla Gene Cady, then an intern at the Playhouse and later, Gunther's wife) worked on many of the same productions. They were part of an intimate and dynamic community of people focused on the common goal of excellence in all aspects of theater production. Their lives were entwined through professional respect and personal friendship."- TIJ

Gerzso, who initially joined the Theatre Company as a student, quickly gained recognition for his stage design skills and was hired as a set and costume designer. His set designs appeared in numerous Cleveland productions such as "Within the Gates", "Hamlet", and "A Midsummer's Night Dream," and were critically acclaimed. One critic prophesied, "At the age of 21 Gerzso can look back upon an unusual life and forward to a promising one."

With no formal artistic training, the works from the Ireland Collection are pivotal to understanding the visual language Gerzso later created. By the time he had left Cleveland and returned to Mexico, he had progressed far enough in his painting to consider taking it up full-time. His work at the Playhouse was so important to his maturing style that within just four years, after leaving, Gerzso transitioned into pure abstractionism. His set designs offer insight into the meticulously organized abstract works that made Gerzso famous. The style of abstraction that he perfected, orderly, fastidious and detailed, clearly has roots in the drafting skills that Gerzso developed at the Playhouse.

During the five years documented by the Ireland Collection, Gerzso investigated a myriad of styles and subjects including European modernism, cubism, and surrealism. Many of Gerzso's drawings are strongly reminiscent of Picasso, Cezanne, and Matisse.

Other pieces show the influence of the Mexican artists, Jose Clemente Orozco, David Siquieros, Diego Rivera, Carlos Orozco Romero and Julio Castellanos. Concurrently, his exploration into Surrealism began when friend and fellow painter, Juan O'Gorman introduced Gerzso to the works of Varo, Carrington, Peret, Rohan, Paalen, and Matta. As these early influences demonstrate, Gunther Gerzso began his artistic journey by following the Latin and Western traditions. After inundating himself in these established styles, he was able to break away and explore his own vision. Using defracted space and layered planes of color, he created a new Constructivist vision.

The paintings in the Ireland collection show the path Gerzso used in his search for a tangible way of expressing himself. Through this body of work, he demonstrates a talent for characterization through gestural drawings in ink, tempera, and gouache. In addition to his exploration of multiple mediums, he used various materials: paper, poster board, canvas and most anything the young artist could get his hands on. The drawings comment on his feelings about people, events, and everyday life.

"The works in my father's collection clearly state [Gerzso's] thinking and opinions. Many depict atrocities that accompanied the rise of Nazi Germany and his feelings about war in general. Other sketches display a wry humor and insightful understanding of human foibles. Some are simply beautiful." TIJ

While the Ireland Collection documents the artist's exploration of style, it also reveals his complex thinking, his vulnerability and comments on Gerzso's underlying emotions. Eventually, he found his own distinctive style that controlled the former raw expression of emotion and organized it into architectural harmony. Beneath the surface of these visceral compositions, encrypted in form and color, are layers of the passion and humanity plainly exposed in his earlier works.

"The thoughts, feelings and opinions expressed in Gerzso's early works are quite outspoken, later they become increasingly encrypted in his unique language of color and form." Seeing the works in the Ireland Collection helps us break the code andfind the man and the message behind the abstraction".TIJ

Gunther Gerzso referred to Thomas Ireland as his "first collector." The nearly 400 works included in this archive may represent the largest, as well. These extraordinary drawings, paintings and watercolors document the path of a struggling artist, a skillful set designer and a brilliant Modern Master. Ireland perceptively knew that his friend was destined for greatness and by saving and preserving this priceless archive, we are united with the Gunther Gerzso he knew.



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