The distinctness of the paintings by Agnes Toth is finest quality – images with incredible details and without visible traces of the brush marks on the canvas. In most of her works, Agnes showcases human figures and she focuses on the unique, differentiating characters of her sitters.
The unparalleled mixture of razor-sharp details and pleasant, pastel colors without deep shadows and firm contours make her paintings inimitable in style as well as in the way of telling a certain story. Even though her paintings are peaceful, Agnes captures different facial expressions and emotions excellently – one almost hears the sitters think and speak. Some of the works seem unfinished and fractured, but it is a deliberate effect and this way the viewer becomes part of a silent conversation between the artist and her sitter, and is invited to fill out the empty spaces.
“Dichotomy is the main feature of my practice; my work is equally precise and detailed, but also fractured, unfinished and deconstructed. A type of manipulation, where the painting is abstract and realistic at the same time.”
Agnes – a graduate of University College Falmouth (United Kingdom) with MA in Fine Art Contemporary Practice as well as of the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest – was born in Gyor, Hungary and despite her young age, she has already had several international solo and group exhibitions.
In September 2013 the National Portrait Gallery in London nominated her incredible portrait of the British Magician Drummond Money-Coutts for the BP Portrait Award. This was an amazing possibility for the young artist to receive even more exposure and to acknowledge her talent. During a lovely conversation with Agnes I took the opportunity to find out more about her creation and artistic routine and to receive some insight into the artist’s unique world.
Hungarian Success Stories (HSS): Agnes, can you please talk a bit about the sources of your inspiration?
Agnes Toth (AT): The source of my inspiration is primarily from nature, and my own life. I usually use images from my personal experiences, I like to travel and collect inspiration from these journeys. I am an image gatherer; I have a whole archive of thousands of collected pictures, that I have taken. The painting that I am currently working on is mainly composed of details from a journey to Paris in 2011. This also includes a picture of the interior at the Rodin Museum with all the chandeliers and large old mirrors, and I also used an image from the rooms of Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon in Versailles. Sometimes these pictures would rest in my drawer for years, and all of a sudden they would be used if I feel like that they are appropriate for one specific composition for a painting.
HSS: How shall we imagine the course of the creation: do you listen to music or are you in a totally quite environment, do you perhaps need special lights?
AT: I do listen to music while I am at work in the studio, it does help me to get into the specific mindset, which helps me focus on painting. The range of music varies; it can be on a whole scale from Debussy to Eminem. Sometimes it may be the most contradictory type of music, it is possible that I would work on some very important areas on the painting, like the face or a difficult detail, and I would be listening to a perfectly unexpected tune. For painting I do use good studio lamps, because I find it better to have a permanent source of light that would maintain the same light qualities throughout the day. Also because quite often I would work more then 12 hours, and at night time a good source of light is crucial for me.
HSS: Do you start and finish one artwork in one setting or do you let your work sit for a while and return to it later?
AT: Each painting takes about an average of 5-6 months to paint; it is an unusually long period of time in the modern world we live in today. I often have about 2 or 3 paintings in progress at the same time, this means I may work on one of the pieces for a week, and the following week I would move to the next work. Each day I would focus on a small area of the composition, which I would work on as long as I am completely satisfied with it. For example on Monday I would paint the right eye, then after that I would jump to another area like the shoulders or the toes, and then the third day I would paint the fingers. It also depends on the oil paint, because it takes about 3-4 days to dry. The painting would build up of these fragments, and in more completed areas these fragments would join up, depending on how I decide to finish the piece.
HSS: Do you still remember what was the key moment in your life that made you start to develop your signature painting style where the viewer only sees parts of the picture and the rest remains invisible?
AT: The very first oil painting I painted at the age of 16 was a copy of Pieter Bruegel’s Triumph of Death, this is when I properly fell in love with Painting. The work took about 6 months to paint, tons of little details that I got fascinated with. I believe that this was the most determinative work at the very beginning of my practice, even before I knew I was going to become a painter. This piece never got finished, half of the painting is incomplete; I sometimes think I would get back to it one day and continues the missing bits. But I think from the very beginning of me becoming a painter, the source of fragmentation and incompleteness was there even without me being aware of it.
From than on everything developed naturally, I never thought of creating a style or wanting to be different, or finding something new, all what has driven me was passion, simply wanting to do it, and not being able to stop. I believe that I soaked up the whole art history. I remember looking at art books for hours and gazing at the details of Botticelli’s beauty, or John Singer Sargent’s light and colors. I remember this constant thought in my head: “How is it possible, I want to find out”. I think that the whole past of Art History is there within my work; it is built upon this past, from Fra Angelico to Anish Kapoor today. Not avoiding or denying but reconsidering, and all this source and theory have led me to fragmentation.
HSS: One of your current paintings, the “Drummond Money-Coutts – The Magician” was nominated for the BP Portrait Award in Great Britain. Why did you choose DMC as your portrait subject?
AT: The BP Portrait Award is one of the most prestigious awards in portraiture in the world today, and to me being selected was something that I aimed to achieve. Although I do not consider myself a portrait artist, figures have always played a major role in my paintings.
The sitter of the painting Drummond Money-Coutts is an English Magician, I found his character determining: the man of today, the man of our age. He is an absolutely iconic figure, ambitious, unique and metropolitan; with a strong traditional and historical English background. Drummond’s character seemed to be the perfect model to describe portraiture today.
The tripled portrait composition occurred to me at the time of our first meeting, there was something very geometric about him, his movements, his lines, the crispiness of the suit. I knew it was not going to be a painting similar to something I have done before. I knew I had to be very specific, very sharp, and approach the idea of this piece from a new viewpoint.
I wanted to capture his fine lines, his immaculate appearance, and the showman with this very powerful mesmerizing atmosphere. The composition was the consequence of his character, something that perfectly suited Drummond’s personality. My aim was to paint the finest possible portrait, to make it become the ultimate portrait that I can possibly achieve, and the ultimate portrait to represent portraiture today.
HSS: What do you think is the crucial element in this artwork that makes the viewers stop & stare?
AT: I like to think that the crucial element that makes people stop and stare at this piece is the energy that the subject of the painting gives to the audience. The emphasis was on the sitter for this painting, everything else that could take away the viewers’ attention, like background or another element is missing from the painting, I deliberately did not use these in the composition. I decided that it is entirely about the figure.
The visitors at the gallery may also stop because of the amount of details within the painting, the blue suit, the hands, the cards that Drummond plays with, the watch on his arm, the tattoo on his head, everything has been done with absolute precision and I hope this will give satisfaction to those who will visit the gallery to see the exhibition.
The BP Portrait Award Exhibition in 2013 is travelling to Aberdeen after the display in London at the National Portrait Gallery. The painting will be on display at the Aberdeen Art Gallery from the 2 November 2013 – 1 February 2014. ♦
“My aim was to emphasize his strong personality, and mesmerizing character. I tripled the portrait and placed it in a neutral space, the dynamics of the picture are provided by the motion of the hands as they play with the cards.”
Source of images: Agnes Toth’s courtesy.