Editor's note: The Plains Art Museum provided source material to Resource Library Magazine for the following article or essay. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Plains Art Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:
Bela Petheo: Portraits and Self-Portraits
January 10 February 24, 2002
The Plains Art Museum will exhibit Bela Petheo: Portraits and Self-Portraits, opening January 10 through February 24, 2002, in the Raw Space Gallery. Through his own self-portraits and portraits of others, Petheo presents his own search for psychological truths in various phases of his life and in the life of his various sitters. Of this exhibition, Petheo said, "To establish deeper connection between the portraits and self-portraits would be a fascinating inquiry let alone relating them to previous practices as witnessed by the history of art. For the time being, however, this exhibition calls the attention to things that matter and by raising the issue and pointing the viewer in the right direction, the museum more than fulfills its educational mission." (left: Bela Petheo, Self-Portrait as a Cardinal, 1967, 36 x 28 inches, oil on canvas, permanent collection, Plains Art Museum)
On Sunday, February 10, 2002 at 2 p.m., Petheo will present a lecture entitled Reading and Misreading: Portraits and Self-Portraits. Participants will be able to meet the artist and discuss his work with him.
Petheo is Professor Emeritus of Art of St. John' s University, Collegeville, Minn. He was born in 1934 in Budapest, Hungary, where he earned a Master's degree in art history from Eotvos Lorant University. In 1957, he escaped to Vienna, Austria, where he was awarded a Rockefeller scholarship to study simultaneously at Karl Lueger University and the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna under Albert Paris Gutersloh. He also had brief contact with Oskar Kokoschka's "School of Seeing" at Salzburg.
In 1959 he immigrated to the United States. In 1963 he received his M.F.A. degree from the University of Chicago. He joined the Art Department of St. John's University in 1966 where he retired in 1997. He maintains his painting studio in St. Cloud, Minn. His works are in public collections in Europe, Africa, Scandinavia and the United States. He has been exhibited and has and has lectured widely throughout the world. (Note: biographical information drawn from Bela Petheo: A Retrospective, Works Between 1985-2000, published in 2001 by Saint John's University, Collegeville, Minn; Artist's Statement below from January/February 2002 Plains Art Museum Newsletter Volume 2, Issue 1)
Allegedly Goethe said that "the more you know yourself, the more you know your fellow human beings." Here is already a valid basis of self-portraiture, which is always suspect to the uninitiated: self-glamorization, "facial improvement," etc., can sneak in through the back door. Fortunately, more often than in these instances, artists ranging from Botticelli to Lucian Freud use their particular medium to explore their existential choices, take stock, or even "paint out" a personal crisis. Since most of us go through similar experiences, the artist's insight can be shared. I refer to a selection of sketches in one frame where the artist as a young man explores different states of mind, such as the sweet, little, naïve one or the cockiness of early adulthood, even forecasting the worries of old age-let alone the formal compositional problems which are confronted in the process. Later work amplifies on those drawings in a more ambitious media of oils, gouaches and prints: Self-Portrait as a Cardinal (1967) refers to the loneliness, even alienation on the top. Self-Portrait with Bottle from the same year transforms a banal, everyday gesture into a triumphant affirmation of youthful vigor and confidence. The range is wide and based on these few examples, the viewer might find the right key to unlock the "secrets" of the personality in question. (left: Bela Petheo, Self-Portrait with Bottle, 1967, 34 x 32 inches, oil on canvas, permanent collection, Plains Art Museum)
Now to portraiture proper. It is vastly different in our contemporary setting than it was before: the "serious" portrait painter, i.e., he who searches for deeper psychological truth has to navigate between two deadly rocks: the unashamed flattery and shallow cosmetic approach to the sitter (Portraits, Inc.) or contend with the mindless, visual inventory of surface peculiarities of photorealism. But the "narrow path" allows the artist to capture the existential stance or the essence of the sitter. Thus one sees the almost brazen self-assertion of attractive, healthy teenager (Natascha in Red, 1983), the quiet anxiety and defensive gesture and hands of a young, somewhat emaciated woman (Irene) or the immutability of old age (My Parents, 1969), just to mention a few.
To establish deeper connection between the portraits and self-portraits would be a fascinating inquiry, let alone relating them to previous practices as witnessed by the history of art. For the time being, however, this exhibition calls the attention to things that matter and by raising the issue and pointing the viewer in the right direction, the museum more than fulfills its educational mission.
There is a catalogue which may be of interest to our readers titled Bela Petheo, A Retrospective: 1985-2000, published in the U.S. in 2001 by Saint John's University, Collegeville, MN 56321, Library of Congress Control Number: 2001 131847, ISBN 0-917939-13-1, copyright Bela Petheo, distributed by CSB-SJU Bookstore, Collegeville, MN; phone 320-363-2011.
Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Plains Art Museum in Resource Library Magazine
This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 11/28/11
Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.
Copyright 2011 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.