Amerigo Tot Album Design

Hundreds of sculptures, countless graphics and ceramics are listed under his name. Though he was greatly admired during his lifetime, by now this impressive oeuvre of Imre Tóth – who was born in Fehérvárcsurgó, but in his youth he immigrated to Italy where he settled for the rest of his life – has been quite neglected. His brazen statues show the signs of time, they stand discoloured on their jagged concrete pedestal sadly reflecting their once glorious past, and desperately wondering for how many more times should their own shadows have to turn around themselves before someone at last would recognize that the coming generations should feel responsible for taking care of their heritage from the past. Who would guess, that the creator of these sculptures used to chat with Lajos Kassák or Attila József at the tables in Cafe Simplon; or that in the 30’s he went on foot to Dessau to study at the school of Bauhaus? How many people knows nowadays, that the sculptor worked as a cook in ships wandering the Baltic Seas from Kornstadt to Helsinki; that he went to Paris to learn drawing from Malliol, or that after he had managed to escape from Nazi captivity he went to Rome – again on foot – where he had to draw portraits in cafés for a living? While looking at his sculptures now, who is aware of the facts that their creator was trained as a paratrooper during the Second World War; that later he won the tender for the implementation of the front frieze of Termini train terminal in Rome; that he travelled the world from Palermo to Tokyo from India to America; that his exhibition in Hungary in 1969 was visited by more people than any other exhibition had been before? His hobbies included car-racing and harpooning. He even appeared in the film Godfather II. by Francis Ford Coppola. Through all these experiences the peasant boy from Csurgó transformed into a world famous sculptor.
These are only a few moments of the incredibly adventurous life of Imre Tóth. Let’s focus our attention again on Rome. As we can read about his romantic arrival to Rome in Antal Szerb’s novel (“Utas és Holdvilág”), our protagonist arrived to the Eternal Town through Via Flaminia, that is, the Road of the Winners. He spent the night on Gianicolo, and the next morning he bathed in Aqua Paola. In this town, which is full of history, where there are everywhere in indefinite distances fossilized skeletons of ancient ruins, Imre Tóth started tracking the classic masters. Entering in 1933 the Hungarian Academy in Rome he fell in love with sculpturing. He started scrutinizing everything from Etruscan portraits to renaissance embossments thus collecting the knowledge of the centuries to improve his sculpturing skills. As proofs of his special talent for this genre in six years time he managed to win two tenders for public statues and in 1938 he even won an award in Italy (Premio per Giovani Artisti). By this time he was working in his own studio on Via Margutta – which later was talked about as a cultic site by many – and, as a result of some bureaucratic misspelling under the name of Amerigo Tot.
After the Second World War he became interested in a formally tighter way of expression. His “Pebble women figures” were born in this period (1946–48). From this time on these earth mother-like figures accompanied him throughout his life and often appeared in his drawings and ceramics as well. In the pebble stone form Tot found the image of nature transformed, and even more importantly the forces of nature that change everything but leave the essence untouched. Similarly to the rough rocks grinding together to turn into smooth pebbles with centuries but do not lose their essence, Tot’s pebble women be as distorted as they may their essence remains the same: earth mother, earth, women. Thus his earlier, study-like sculptures were followed by creations heavily packed with ideas. Instead of the conventionally “beautiful” people reflected in his earlier works, his later figures were rather more the caricatures of often anguished human beings. Creatures somewhere between fantasy and reality; loathing and pleasure: The Wrestler, totally beaten up, his human shape is hardly recognizable; The Count, a portrait of the past times; the International Reporter, a messenger of modern times, the proof of a thoroughly changed world. The images of his worst nightmares, his stoned anticipations carry genuine enigmas of the era. At the same time past worlds resuscitate under his hands, so some of his works show moments of peasant life: The Gossip, Visit in the Country. Prophecies fixed in space, memories cast into the future. Yet other works of his, for example Susanna in the Bath or The Beautiful Woman of Naple resembles of findings from ancient Pompei.
In the 50’s, Amerigo Tot, the always renewable, always refining artist transgressed his masters from the renaissance and created his own style. Though it seems he follows totally different paths, in fact through the abstract, minimalistic forms he follows the traditions of Bauhaus but goes one step further when transforms his ideas about human figures into abstract forms. He goes against the ordinary, he protests against the industrialized world that is getting out of control, he fights for human values and, ultimately, for humanity.
The path he cut is slowly getting to be overgrown with grass. It is high time we dusted the discoloured sculptures kept in cellars and stores of museums. Amerigo Tot, „the smallest world trotter” would celebrate his 100th birthday this year. Not only because of the centenary of his birth but for the thoughts he left for the coming generations to contemplate about, no doubt that he highly deserves a commemoration which is comparable to his greatness.

Peter Nemes

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