Kyle artist Milan Gerza has been expressing his creative vision as a sculptor in a series of wood carvings over the past 15 years.
A survey of his artistic achievement is currently on display in the solo exhibition Anti-Universe and Retrospective at the Art Gallery of Swift Current (AGSC).
“It's an opportunity to celebrate a local artist,” AGSC Curator Heather Benning said about the exhibition. “Milan has been a fairly prolific wood carver for the past 15 years and you get the opportunity to see the progression of his work and his talent.”
She has become familiar with his work over the past four years, initially during her time as a travelling mentor for CARFAC Saskatchewan, and then in her current role at the AGSC.
“Milan has been exhibiting in small group shows at the West Wing Gallery in Swift Current for quite a few years now, and it's an honour to present his work in a proper larger gallery space, where all his work can be collected together in one room,” Benning said.
She felt it was time for the AGSC to host this retrospective survey of his years of artmaking.
“He has committed his time to creating other-worldly objects that are truly unique, yet somewhat recognizable, like they always existed,” she said. “The work is also exquisitely crafted.”
For Gerza this solo exhibition is an exciting opportunity to share his work with people, which provides meaning to the visual presentation.
“Without the meaning it would become perhaps only nicely shaped pieces of material, a body without soul,” he said. “The visual experience and the meaning are two aspects, which I want to communicate to the viewer. When I achieve it, me and the viewer would become into intimate relation of our minds reaching the ultimate goal of my work.”
He was born and raised in Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic. He always had an interest in the arts, and he studied dance, philosophy and art history when he was a young man.
His career in the field of electro-technology provided him with the opportunity to live and work in various parts of the world, including Russia, North Africa, and Cyprus. He settled in the town of Kyle after his retirement to be near his daughter in Saskatoon and to enjoy sailing in his small boat on Lake Diefenbaker.
He only started to create his own artworks after his retirement and he has focused on carving wood sculptures.
“I always need to do something,” he said. “Without being busy I would go nuts, especially in the long Canadian winters.”
Gerza noted that he admires the sculptures of indigenous west coast artists, and during his own learning process he tried to imitate their art.
“It turned out good and decent, but I wanted to do something of my original design,” he recalled. “So with years of experiments, I developed my own style and themes. I also tried stone as a medium, but I didn't have so much patience. Stone is beautiful, but the work is too time consuming. The work with wood is much faster, and I am always anxious to do some next and new work.”
He will focus on a certain theme to create a grouping of artworks. Each sculpture will address a different aspect of the overall theme.
“At the beginning my work was rather illustrative,” he said. “With years I developed towards figurative abstraction and surrealism, but not always.”
He has always admired the work of Romanian sculpture Constantin Brancusi and British sculpture Barbara Hepworth.
“The work of these two inspired me, leading me to the diversity of styles and new ideas,” Gerza said. “I usually start not from an image, but from notion, perhaps an abstract word. For example, envy, and then I am asking how it should look like. I consider it as a rather difficult approach, because there is a multitude of options and alternatives, but this is what I like and how I work.”
He has already started to work on ideas for his new projects that he will be carrying out over the next three years.
“I have three groups in mind,” he said. “One would be very abstract, free standing forms with ammonium fumigated finish, the other abstract forms of layered plywood. Presently, I am already working on the series of human vices inspired by Hindu sacred Vedas.”
Benning felt there is a high level of craftsmanship in Gerza’s work and it becomes more than just a piece of carved wood.
“He transforms the wood,” she said. “You don't even see it necessarily as wood anymore with some of his work. His portraits are quite exquisite. It's just very high craftsmanship and it's not traditional woodcarving, because he's always trying to tell his own story or to have his own philosophical conversation. He's putting a lot of thought and idea into his work.”
Visitors to the exhibition will immediately notice the distinctive layout of the sculptures. There is a separate, smaller space within the exhibition for the title work, Anti-Universe.
It includes about 20 pieces, and a surreal atmosphere is created through the use of black lights and kinetic elements. This installation contemplates the mystery of space, the meaning of life, and the insignificance of human existence within the infinity of space.
The rest of the exhibition presents Gerza’s work in different groupings that he created to reflect on various themes, for example, musical forms, war, marine life, emotions, and Donald Trump.
Benning felt Gerza is generous to those who view his work, because people can relate to it and they are also challenged to think about what they see.
“He provides the viewer with enough information that they can appreciate or try to see the thread that he's weaving, but then he leaves still enough up to the imagination for the viewer to put themselves into the work as well,” she said.
This exhibition will be on display at the AGSC until Dec. 30. Admission is free, and the gallery is open Monday to Friday from noon to 7 p.m., and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The gallery follows COVID-19 protocols, and visitors are required to wear face masks, maintain physical distance, and use hand sanitizer upon arrival.