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
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."
"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
"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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