Michael Rothenstein

Michael Rotheninsten Cat. Essay, Wise & foolish virgins 1966

line on paper line in space

Agathe Sorel came to England in 1956, shortly after the revolution in Hungary. She had already studied art in Budapest, doing stage design, mosaics, and some monumental social realist images, before again taking up her studies, this time at Camberwell School of Art, in London, where she pursued a course in graphic design.

On leaving art school she won a much coverted scholar- ship, the Gulbenkian Grant, which enabled her to work in Paris. This chance offered an almost exotic glamour to a young artist at that time, and certainly Agathe felt that. On her return to London it was clear that her stay in Paris had been of enormous value. She had chosen to work with S W Hayter at Atelier 17, and under his stimulus she soon became a committed engraver.

On her return to London two years later much of the quietness and reserve had gone. Her stay in Paris had conferred a new confidence and firmness. Her work was likewise firmer and more energetic and showed already the first uncurlings of those vigorous shoots that have since formed the basis of her personal style. It was clear that her foot was already on the ladder: Agathe now held one's regard with a new interest and a new respect. Back in London she soon found work as a teacher and - more important - set up her own press. This was a decisive step. For in setting up her own workshop, Agathe was able to think very consistently in terms of the medium. Having equipment under her hand enabled her to turn to the workshop at all hours, night and day, as ideas formed themselves and came alight in her mind. She was thus able to close the gap - to an exceptional degree - between the medium and the message. As a result she is able to conceptualise in styles entirely appropriate to the behaviour of the metal plate under attack from the various tools, acids and other agents used to shape and engrave the sculptural landscape of its surface.

Within a few years she won the Churchill Award to work and travel in the United States, and here she spent some six months visiting artists' studios, museums, art colleges and universities. Before returning she also visited Mexico. All this made a further decisive impression on her work as an engraver. She began exhibiting in some of the more important shows in England and elsewhere.

Agathe's work combines an imaginative purpose with an acute awareness of the right technical means to fulfil that purpose - an awareness, moreover, that is quite exceptional in quality. It is certain that she is one of the most resourceful workers in the various etching media in this country.

On a more recent visit to America, she was given the chance of working in an experimental plastics production plant. An experience that greately excited her interest in the potential of these remarkable materials. Since then Agathe has been building sculptures and constructions, combining the properties of engraving with three dimen- sional form. In this way she is able to make her linear configurations float, flow or glide in space. As you walk around these remarkable constructions, the engraved line appears to wrap around the transparent columns, or to float across the perspex space frames, and to do this in a manner at once elegant and purposeful.

"It is line in space moving freely almost as in weightless atmosphere, enhanced or broken up by the optical effects of mechanical and hand-made systems". This is how Agathe herself describes this purpose.

Michael Rothenstein