Slovak artist Maria Bartuszová died in 1996, and twenty years later, Alison Jacques Gallery in Fitzrovia presents her very first UK exhibition.
Bartuszová grew up in the former Czechoslovakia. During her early creative years, she found herself isolated from Europe at large, but despite this she managed to gain access to and absorb the work of European artists such as Barbara Hepworth and Constantin Brâncuși, using what she saw and loved as inspiration for her own singular practice.
Bartuszová’s art is highly universal. Clean in colour, but often messy and difficult in visual content, it depicts in some ways the eternal struggle of existing in society; of dealing with one’s own problems, whilst simultaneously putting on a ‘good front’ and keeping up appearances. Tellingly titled pieces likePerforated Torso (1986, pictured below) in particular highlight this. This approach, which concerns the multiplicity of human (and indeed, all) life, comes through in particular through her striking use of round shapes in her art - as she told the art academic Gabriela Garlatyová, ‘For me, full round shapes can serve as a symbol of what is alive, soft, adaptable, as well as vulnerable and at risk.’
A sculptor by trade, Bartuszová works mostly in plaster. In the late 1960’s, she began crafting sculptures which could be taken apart and put back together by gallery visitors. This was a practice which she continued throughout her career, and again reflects the universality and democracy of her ouevre.
Later on in the 1980’s, the artist began to engage with more aggressive forms of presentation through the ‘pneumatic shaping.’ This involves the effects caused by bursting a balloon which has been covered in plaster, leaving only the plaster shell. Bold, jagged-edged results, intended to give the viewer pause to think about processes of tearing and fissure, both physical and emotional, in her own life.
Maria Bartuszová’s important works have been showcased around the world, both during her lifetime and after it. It also features in collections at some of art’s most prestigious institutions, such as the Tate in London, and Paris’ Centre du Pompidou. Perhaps most specially, however, a number of Bartuszová’s pieces are housed in the Slovak National Gallery, Bratislava - an indication of the artist’s importance to her homeland, and the impact she has made there as well as internationally.
Whilst we wish her touching, often painfully human work had been brought to our attention sooner, we are extremely excited that Fitzrovia’s Alison Jacques Gallery is bringing Maria Bartuszová, a somewhat hidden gem, to the fore with her first solo exhibition in the UK.
Exhibition showing until 11 May at Alison Jacques Gallery, 16-18 Berners Street London W1T 3LN
Words: Lauren O’Neill
Cover Image: Alison Jacques Gallery