Budapest-born artist Gábor Miklós Szőke’s eye-catching, supersized sculptures and installations can now be spotted all over the city. Inspired by animals and a touch of magic and fantasy, Szőke’s works pay homage to their various locations around the Hungarian capital, while also adding a touch of modern artistic flair to each locale. Here, he talks about his favourite neighbourhoods in his hometown and the local sites that inspire him.
How did you first become interested in art?
I became interested in art when I was about four or five years old. I loved to doodle, to draw and to take objects apart and put them back together again. When I was eight, I started going to a creative workshop for children held at the Buda Castle, where we learnt to draw and get acquainted with different techniques and media both individually and in groups. It was very exciting, enjoyable and inspiring for me at the time to continually create something new. This was a defining moment for me as an artist, not only because of the workshop, but also because of the venue. Home to the Hungarian National Gallery, I spent a lot of time there both before and after the workshop admiring the pieces in the permanent exhibition.
What are you currently working on?
Currently I’m working on several projects at the same time, as usual. The largest part of my work is my public sculptures and, right now, I’m making a permanent public sculpture in the Buda Castle. I’m using bronze for the first time to create a sculpture of the Greek goddess Athena, constructed from several thousand individually welded bronze discs. In addition to my public sculptures, I also design furniture inspired by my late Doberman, Dante, who is the central figure of my private mythology, the Dante Empire. Furthermore, I’m also organising a special event called Dante XXI in October with my team, the official debut of Gabor M Szoke Studio, which is located on the site of the former Manfréd Weiss Steel and Metal Works in the 21st district of Budapest.
You’re well known for the enormous scale of your sculptures. How do you go about creating pieces this size?
First I have a look at the location and its surroundings and I think about what would fit. I assess the physical and cultural context of the sculpture, the architectural and natural environment and the people. Then I start trying out different concepts, first in thought and then on paper, selecting the best and elaborating on them. After I have finished a couple of designs, the 3D modelling of these is done, so the client and I can agree on the final design. Next comes the actual physical realization of the sculpture. This starts with the static and production plans, and then my team and I start constructing the sculpture at my studio. The final stages are lighting design, licensing tasks, the on-site installation, the hoisting and the inauguration of the sculpture.
Where in Budapest is home for you?
I was born in Budapest and this is the city where I feel most at home. I’m a downtown kid, I have lived on Madách square in the 7th district since I was born and I’ve witnessed the continuous evolution of this place first-hand. I’m fond of the 5th district too, as it’s where I went to primary school, and where my parents worked. But I also like the outer parts—Csepel for example, where my studio is. The long-forgotten past of this place inspires me; I see a lot of potential and opportunities in it. It is developing dynamically and I feel completely at home here.
How would you spend a perfect day in the city?
I would wake up downtown, have a coffee, and drive to the studio. We go along the quay of the Danube with the beautiful Budapest cityscape in the background and we get to Csepel Works, where my team is busy working. In the afternoon, I would go for a run on Margit Island, or canoeing on the Danube in Csepel or just for a walk. Then I would go to the theatre or the cinema downtown and finally, if there is still time, I would have dinner or a drink at one of the many great restaurants and bars in the 7th and 5th districts. For example, I like Black Swan, Bestia and Lakatos Műhely at the Hold Street Market Hall.
Where do you like to take friends that are visiting from out of town?
I like to show them the historic sights of Budapest such as Heroes’ Square, the Parliament, the Danube quay and the Castle. Budapest also has some beautiful modern buildings, like the Palace of Arts, the Kopaszi dam, and the Groupama Arena football stadium, which is very close to my heart because my first stainless steel sculpture, the FTC Eagle, is located by the main entrance.
Do you have any local secrets that you’d be willing to share with us?
My secret place is definitely my studio, located in the former Manfréd Weiss Steel and Metal Works, which was the biggest industrial centre in Central Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. Most of the original buildings are still here, some run-down, some renovated. My studio is a complex of 100-year-old buildings and I’m striving to restore their lost glory in my own style. There is a tasteful contrast between present-day aesthetics and the historic industrial buildings. This is a secret place, because it has never been open to the public until this October. Today, this place is called Csepel and, as it’s very close to the Danube, there are fantastic views of the industrial docks, the cranes and the enormous ships passing by.