Generally, there is a great deal to be learned from work created by artists while they were searching for a personal style. Before establishing their iconography, they identified with imagery that 'spoke' to them about their own struggles and, under its influence, also created admirable works themselves. When this work is acknowledged, it usually provides clues that can help one unlock the mystery of their personal style, created later.
Gunther Gerzso's unmistakable iconography is generally considered hermetic. However, the work he produced during 1944-1947, under the direct influence of Surrealism, is so loaded with information about the way he thought, felt, and was, that one can use it to understand the imagery he began developing during the winter of 1946, under the influence of pre-Hispanic architecture. Gerzso often repeated that although his style changed, the emotional content that shaped it had remained the same: he was still Gerzso. Furthermore, he added that labeling these early works as his Surrealist Period was erroneous because in the work he produced after 1946, he remained a surrealist.
How can this be explained? It should not be a surprise that under the umbrella of Surrealism, there are as many styles as artists. The reason is that surrealism is the outward expression of the artist's unconscious, and every artist has a different one; the personal history defines the outward appearance of the work, but the genetic history provides its universal appeal. Although initially, Surrealism followed Freud's drive theory about the interaction between the sexual and aggressive drives, it was a matter of time before certain members of the movement broke away to explore areas less evidently influenced by Freud, such as metaphysics and spirituality. On the other hand, some of the original artists within the movement never identified with Freud's teachings and directly sought within themselves ways of visually shaping their internal world.
However, a few remained believers in orthodox surrealism. Gerzso was among them. Interestingly, before being drawn to the Surrealist Movement, and even before reading Freud, Gerzso's unconscious was eager to express itself. This became evident in 1944 when he met the surrealist refugees in Mexico, and they became instant friends. Under their influence, he began producing a particular brand of imagery that projected his fascination with destruction. Gerzso never broke away from the Movement or from painting his fascination with destruction because there is where he had found his psychological home, where he felt most comfortable.
Gerzso had been painting professionally for some three years when, on February 20, 1943, the modern world saw, in the State of Michoacán, Mexico, the birth of the Paricutín, the youngest living volcano; and during a period of nine years, watched its development and finally its extinction. It began with rumblings beneath a corn field, which soon became the source of a sea of melted rock that buried everything within some 25 square kilometers, including the towns of San Salvador Paricutín and San Juan Parangaricutiro. The natural wonder was interpreted variously, even as the end of the world and as a punishment by God.
We must assume that Gerzso was fascinated with the spectacle as well as with the endless uneasiness it caused because this same disquiet had shaped the work he had created since the beginning of his traditional Surrealist Period in which destruction shaped the events he portrayed. The latter iconography would be characterized by tension within structures or behind walls, sometimes pushing through enough to cause them to crack, and for the viewer to experience a sense of impending doom. Among the more disquieting ones would be those created prior to 1959 where ancient structures retain the tension that destroyed them, projecting a sense of being alive.
Early viewers of Paricutín (1945) reacted in the same way as others did when facing Gerzso's later iconography: by sensing tension conveyed rather than portrayed. Gerzso left in Paricutín his uneasiness over what may be taking place beneath the volcano as well as his curiosity to be near it. He conveyed his conflict as the thorny ground between him and the volcano, to warn him of the hellish doom that awaits him, should he come near. Paricutín is what André Masson had described years earlier as an "inscape," existing only within the painter, which is what Gerzso was still painting at the time of his death.
By the time Gerzso created Paricutín (1945), he was deeply immersed in Yves Tanguy's influence: the horizon-less landscape, the unfamiliar source of light, which Breton referred to as "the great subjective light," and the nearly recognizable ambiguous shapes. Within two years, Tanguy's assimilated final lesson helped Gerzso create landscapes populated by inhuman shapes that speak of the human world. Most significant is that a circle was closed. In Surrealism and Painting, Breton linked Tanguy's world "halfway between the ancient cities of Mexico, hidden between impenetrable forests and Tanguys's." The extraordinary coincidence is that Gerzso found in the work of Tanguy, a French painter who had never been to Mexico, the landscape that he had been searching for all his professional life, but had eluded him despite living in it. And now, thanks to him, he was painting it.
Salomon Grimberg, March 2007, Dallas, Texas