Image: Mat Laky. Gyöngy Laky in her Filbert Street studio, San Francisco, 1988
The work of Gyöngy Laky 'defies easy classification,' writes David M. Roth. 'It draws on the history of indigenous people using found or harvested objects to create art and basic necessities...' Indeed, Laky's highly individual, puzzle-like assemblages of timber and textiles helped propel the growth of the contemporary fibre arts movement. Yet her art also reflects an extraordinary personal story.
Laky was born into the chaos of World War II, later escaping from post-war, Soviet-dominated Hungary to a sponsor family in Ohio. She studied at the University of California (Berkeley) and in India, before founding the Fiberworks Center for Textile Arts in the 1970s. In her later role as a professor at the University of California (Davis), Laky fostered innovation.
As the book notes: 'Increasingly, Laky immersed herself in textile history and techniques. The monumental role of the humble, ubiquitous strip, strand, string, yarn, wire, or vine captured her attention and sparked her imagination. These basic linear elements initiated endless possibilities. She braided and spun rope. She wove tubes and stuffed them, wove with copper wire, and experimented with multiple woven and hand-construction techniques. Some of Laky’s earliest works, such as This is My Plastic Bag, 1969, p.18, contained threads of the complex meaning and humor that would weave its way into her later sculptures. Constructed with linear elements spun from plastic shopping bags, then woven in a traditional coverlet pattern, the piece’s design recalls the beauty and ingenuity of Bolivian chuspa or coca bags. Laky’s version, however, is massive—60 by 144 inches...'
Image: Lou Schneider. This is My Plastic Bag, 1969. Plastic twine, vegetable grocery bags, 144” x 60” x 2”
Symbols and three-dimensional words feature in much of her work. Pieces like Line have been described as 'cheeky.' Letters in works like Lag can be read in more than one way; as 'Gal', for example—a statement on the hiring of women to the faculty at the University of California. “[It’s] an intellectual kind of play,” says Bruce Pepich, Executive Director and
Curator of Collections at the Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin. "It’s not a conventional sense of humour, but it’s the kind one gets from walking into various layers that exist in objects...You can take them at face value, but the more questions you ask, the deeper your engagement goes.”
Image: Greer Upton and John Watrous. Cotati Fields, in progress, 1979. For the exhibition, Installations in the Space, Sonoma State University, Rohnert
American readers can now engage with Laky’s art from the comfort of their own homes, with the publication of a new title from browngrotta arts: Gyöngy Laky: Screwing With Order, Assembled Art, actions and creative practice. Run by husband-and-wife team, Tom Grotta and Rhonda Brown, browngrotta arts publications prioritise aesthetic value over utility, foregrounding the materials and technical mastery of the artist as intrinsic to the significance of the work. The volume was designed by Grotta, with text edit assistance from Laky and Rhonda Brown, and features Tom’s photography alongside that of several other photographers.
This is the first comprehensive monograph on the work of this exceptional and intriguing textile artist and sculptor, and it explores three perspectives. Laky’s personal story of immigration and education is narrated by arts and culture writer, Mija Reidel. An assessment of the evolution and impetus for Laky’s work is given by David M. Roth, editor and publisher of Squarecylinder, a San Francisco Bay Area online visual art magazine. Finally, images of forms, vessels, and wall works provide insight into Laky’s studio practice, activism, and philosophy of sustainable art and design, original thinking, and the value of the unexpected.
Image: Gyöngy Laky, Thomas C. Layton. Knotted Column, 1978. Sisal rope 36” x 96” x 36”
Gyöngy Laky: Screwing With Order, Assembled Art, actions and creative practice will be available in the US from browngrotta arts from August.