Otto Rothfuss

Agathe Sorel

Once again we realise that cultural development runs in many different directions, and that the English mainstream is both powerful and important. But we also realise how few German names appear amongst these artists.

Agathe Sorel left her native Hungary after the uprising and came to London, where she continued the fine art studies she had begun in Budapest. The Gulbenkian Scholarship, more than anything else, helped her to work under the new circumstances. The brain drain of 1956 cost Hungary its intellectual elite, as so often happens when a regime persecutes the thinking part of its population.

A great influence on her, and one that should not be underestimated, was the work she did with Bill Hayter at Atelier 17, Paris - a meeting point for the joyful, experimentally avant-garde in graphics. Travel and work in the USA and Mexico was made possible through the Churchill Scholarship. As well as her artistic studies it has always been important for her to pass on her immense knowledge, and her specific way of seeing the world, for the benefit of a wide audience. As a result, she became a sought-after lecturer and founder member of many institutions that introduced many new possibilities in the production and appreciation of graphics.

The list of museums and public collections that contain Agathe Sorel's work reads like a Who's Who of collecting establishments, and to extend this list into Germany should only be a matter of time after the Geiger Gallery exhibition.

To what does she owe her success?

Agathe Sorel is, technically, a perfectionist in her craft. She was influenced by Naum Gabo - who made space vibrate, and even oscillate. Influenced also by Moholy-Nagy's clarity of divided spaces, and by the importance of photography in a century obsessed with images - a medium that became central to the prints of Rauschenberg, and to Michael Rothenstein in England. This is not enough, however, to validate the importance of Sorel's work.

Influenced by studies of visual perception and the geometry of optics and mathematics, and of complex images communicated through a computer (according to Imre Pal or Tam Banchoff), Agathe Sorel found her very own way. This way led beyond the limitations of specifying and categorising and made possible her individuality, innovation and originality - the criteria of the modern artist.

If we look at one of the key elements of this exhibition, the Dark Satanic Mills of about 1972, we can already recognise the beginnings of her new route. The engraving integrates early Victorian photographs with an impressive perspective, and is, with its two unidentifiable but three-dimensionally striking forms, a pointer to what this artist discovered: the fascinating connection between two and three-dimensional objects.

Agathe Sorel offers a simple but plausible parallel, that of a worm crawling over a sheet of paper, and then man as viewer of an image. For example, if the artist now folds the paper into a loop, then takes perspex instead of paper, the worm has the opportunity of escaping from the two-dimensional into the more complex three-dimensional sphere, which can only be seen by the outside observer, not by the worm.

This becomes clearer if we think of her perspex objects: we have 'Inner Lights', a perspex cube with irregular dots which is on an angle and attached to a flat plate. Opposite this we have the projection of this object onto a plane, in two dimensions.

We find the same visual experience in the object 'Woman in Waves', preceding Frank Stella. It’s on the print version where the folded and photocopied parts reappear on the surface. Here she challenges the naive perception of reality, and we suddenly find ourselves in the role of an inhabitant of Plato's famous cave, or, as the artist would prefer, of Alice's Wonderland where we discover the other side of the mirror. The path from one to three dimensional is made through light, the total illumination that creates both the brightness and the shadows of space.

Agathe Sorel confidently goes to the high ground beyond the limitations of categorised styles. The graphic thesis of the engraving and the antithesis of the three-dimensional; the space drawing becomes as a synthesis of the space engraving. Her materials are ingeniously worked perspex and an almost invisible steel armature ensuring static balance.

We could proceed chronologically as this exhibition has the character of a retrospective - all the important phases of her work are here. But it is more interesting to start with a work which integrates all facets in one, namely 'A Grotto for Torus'. The importance of the titles becomes apparent here, where experience of grottoes and caves has been gathered by the artist from travel, and life in Lanzarote, which has become a focus in her life.

A large part of human history has to do with caves. Zeus was born in a cave, and the grotesques we associate with caves come from exactly this. 'Torus' has several meanings as well: in geometry it is the area of a ring; it is also the bulge on the base of a column, and is used as a metaphor for the bulge above the eyes of Neanderthal man. If we pronounce it the English way it sounds a bit like Ta'aroa, the god from a Polynesian myth of creation who lived in a shell, revolving in space. He is said to have broken this shell, creating from it an infinite number of things.

A sensitive viewer will associate several things with the sculptures, and like the twine of Ariadne we can be led from one to another. So the wealth of this art is not easily exhausted.

In these plastic complexes Agathe Sorel has managed to create spaces that are usually the domain of mathematicians. This is achieved through the transparency of the material. A visual comprehension under the aspect of the one - and polydimensional, is made possible through the shaping of perspex through heat, mirror effects, coloured elements of collage, and especially through the transfusion of graphic methods, deeply engraved bundles of lines, with trompe-l'oeil effects and an imaginative arrangement of light that reminds one of light playing on water. Her style mixes the warmth of personal experience that manifests itself in the conscious awkwardness of the engraved lines. Another attractive thing is her treatment of the edges of the material, making it lose its ice-floe like quality.

This object, together with 'Swansong', with its kernel of deadly North Sea oil, one of the more recent pieces. Both have the lightness and elegance of an economic artistic style borne of necessity.

Besides these, we have the already classic pieces like 'Oyster' and 'Titania' with its mischievous play on the donkey-like male part in love in which we also discover, with a changing viewer's perspective, new and attractive sights and insights. The blue T-shape in the corner TAO has the economy of the beginning.

A famous one is 'Macho the Cock', which is based on a study by the artist done in Lanzarote: a cock is sitting on a polished motorbike which is made up for a parade. From a watercolour there develops a witty and complicated object which we could only compare to David Parish's famous 'Motorcycle' of 1971.

This combination of general statement and personal experience we can also see with 'Ego the Goat' - the association of a goat balancing on rocks combined with the image of a wine press - which recalls Baccus.

Discover for yourself the many and lively faces of Agathe Sorel's work, the witty relationship between objects and prints that has developed from this.

With her engravings, English printmaking has reached a climax. The wealth of her talent is stupendous. She prints in a differentiated and essential, but not decorative, choice of colour, and does this with plastics and other suitable materials. She uses the computer. She adds and composes her images in a sometimes surrealistic manner which creates something new from the disconnected and, paradoxically, something of complex simplicity. Another important aspect in this area: you will have noticed that one can find Frei Otto's forms of light structures of planes, but changed and transformed, often with sexual implications.

Let us enjoy the play or reality and illusion which Agathe Sorel presents us with, and enter into a dialogue with these mysterious objects - and the artist herself, who can best interpret them.

Dr Otto Rothfuss
Im Heppächer 3
D - 73728 Esslingen
In-Print/Catalogue/Papers/Sorel/9/5/01 page 6
Edited version of a longer article