’What would you like to be when you grow up?’ we often hear grown-ups ask. Sometimes the answers are surprising. These days few children want to become engine drivers of electricians. We live in a different world now. Looking back, as a child, what did you dream of becoming when you grew up? What were your childhood ambitions? I asked Yvette Botz.
It took me a while to find the answer because even before I reached the age of fourteen I had seen and experienced so much that my options seemed like an embarrassment of riches. I had a different view of life because, thanks to my parents, I went to primary school in Maryland, USA. While we lived there, we travelled a lot and, at the risk of sounding immodest, I can say I was lucky to have seen more than most people do in a lifetime. However, in seventh grade I chose a direction that I had not considered before: I wanted to become a book illustrator. At that time courses in that subject were organised by the Secondary School of Visual Arts – Training School for the Hungarian University of Fine Arts, where admission was highly competitive with only one in ten applicants accepted. I had not had much experience in drawing then so my parents turned to a friend of the family, whose son, final-year painting student Bela Garamvolgyi, became my tutor to help me prepare for the challenges of the entrance exam. To me, he was “The Master”. His way of thinking, vision, and attitude guided me on my path. Within three months my young master had given me the technical skills which, coupled with my enthusiasm, got me into the school – albeit not the course I had chosen. For some reason they put me in the glass design class and said that if I still insisted on becoming a book binder and illustrator, I could transfer at the end of the term. I did not. I was fascinated with the material and I stayed.
– When was the moment when you knew your future was in creative arts? And how did your friends and family respond to your choice?
At secondary school most of my time was spent studying. I felt I was in the shadow of my teachers and highly gifted schoolmates, and I did not see myself capable of creating anything that would have a lasting impact or be aesthetically pleasing. The years at secondary school flew by almost unnoticed but it never got better – I still lacked the strength, confidence, and competence to be prepared to show myself to people through my works. Naturally, I decided to go into higher education, and my parents supported my choice. I was admitted to the Rome University of Fine Arts; this time, to study set design. Life is so full of surprises. This was a completely new world to me. In the school I engaged in research and artwork, but outside its walls, everywhere I looked the sense of history was palpable. What does a set designer do? They get a subject; then they research the history, art, and philosophy of its time; then they synthesise it all and present it through their own perspective. In this work I finally found myself, and these four years gave me the strength and assurance to debut my art and though it to present my vision and expression, as soon as I returned home. My first project was a stage design for a play directed by Miklos Szinetar. Perhaps I was too young and this job was too big for me; I did complete it but I was disheartened by the confined world of the theatre stage – confined being the operative word – because I felt that in a way it restricted artistic freedom. That is what led to me standing on my own two feet and starting my own company.
– What is your first memory of encountering the material?
It was a long time ago and, strange as it sounds, I was not particularly impressed. What was more important was me coming back to it and being reunited with it. To continue the previous train of thought, following theatre work I started my own business, By Glass – Glass Design and Manufacturing Ltd., and this was where I was finally able to combine everything I had learnt so far about glass art and set design. Of course, the creative process itself is much more complex than that; we need to find a point where my expertise and the characteristics of glass meet the clients’ wishes and expectations.
In the right form and space, the cold material of glass can be made „warm” by the light that passes through it, illuminating and dynamizing its surroundings.
This is the fundament of my relationship with glass. I have worked on interiors; the workshop has produced glass screens, doors and windows, lamps, ornaments, and figurines. I have always enjoyed the research involved in mapping the expectations of the client and the features of the space and visualising where and how I will place the objects. Yet, no matter how clearly I can picture the final result in the planning stages, when the work is completed and in place, I always find myself gazing in awe at the magical transformation of the material.
– How did the years spent in the home of the arts, the academy, shape you as an artist? Who was your greatest influence? To what extent is the legacy of Italian art and masters still present in your work?
The legacy of Italian masters and what I learned in Italy is always reflected in my work in some ways: aesthetics, classical harmony, the magical effects of colours, or a sense of perspective in creating a composition.
My old professor, Fabio Vergoz, a great expert in sets and spaces, taught me to look at space from a different perspective. When I contemplate a subject, sometimes I examine it from a viewer’s point of view, sometimes a camera’s, or the person’s living there. Creating art requires skill but you cannot do without the kind of research that is commonly done in set design. Glass is sensitive and can be very “loud”. Even a tiny object can dominate the space it is in. One has to be very careful not to let it undermine the harmony of its environment and turn into bright-coloured kitsch.
With sculptures I do not need to consider the environment. The composition itself is a space of its own. The works are inspired by classical Rome, the figures evoking the world of Commedia dell’arte, representing human faces and characters. There is a distinctly Italian feel to their unaffected, impish vivaciousness.
This is never intentional – it just happens. I sit down to draw and figures seem to come alive on the sheet.
– You spent a long time abroad (USA, Italy, Kuwait, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Croatia, etc.) How has this influenced and contributed to your artistic vision?
Usually I spent several years in each country, which is probably the reason why I never really felt at home anywhere. I had plenty of time to become a part of the local community, to get to know the people and their culture, customs, and art, of course. Not only did all this enrich my professional career, but learning about different cultures and ethnicities has also developed my empathy, which greatly enhances brainstorming sessions with clients.
– When did you have your first successes?
Success – the term feels a bit strange to me. This might be because I have never really been interested in it and thus I am not even sure how it is measured. But if we insist on using this word, then all I can say is that success, to me, is seeing my work make someone happy: when they receive the finished product and are rendered speechless by the richness of form and matter. And this happiness is mutual. For what can be more rewarding than getting calls from clients just to tell me how a glass object has transformed their formally bland living space into something much more unique, warm, and pleasant, and how the effect has still not worn off.
That is how I see success, and in my career I have been blessed with such moments in abundance.
– Pinocchio books…
There are low points in everybody’s life, by which I do not mean some kind of creative crisis. And when I was going through a bad phase, I started looking for chances to break out and recharge. This is how I ended up working with children. With children around you, there is no time for bouts of maudlin self-pity. Indeed, when I got my own class of students in the school, I found myself in a bubble of noise, life, and innocence. It took no time to find my footing in this new environment – in a way I am still a child, after all. And so I started teaching. What I teach can only be described in broad terms. I get them to draw but there is no dogmatism regarding technique. I try to elicit from them the imagination that formal school education has suppressed. They can draw a subject the way they see it and not necessarily the way they are expected to draw it. They use their imagination and let it run wild – and their enthusiasm fuels mine. For the past two years I have also been mixing some art history into our drawing lessons, i.e. we draw the visions and innovations of different ages and their great masters. This will give children a better understanding of the world around them.
A few years ago the theme of the year was tales. One of the stories was that of Pinocchio. The children’s artwork on that tale resulted in four enormous, wood-covered, gorgeous-looking volumes of books, which were exhibited at several different events.
The books were eventually donated to be part of the permanent exhibition of Museo di Pinocchio in Collodi, Italy, which is where the story of Pinocchio was born.
– Creative artists tend to measure accomplishment in terms of exhibitions and critical response. What is your perception of how visitors and the art scene received your works?
My first exhibition was a huge step for me and a difficult decision as well – one of the hardest in my life. Up until then, I had “displayed” my art whenever I installed a glass screen, shaping the matter according to my and other people’s dreams and wishes. My clients were the visitors and critics that mattered most because it was their vision that I incorporated into the material.
In the case of an actual exhibition, however, it is I, Yvette Botz, on display for the public to see, exposing my thoughts and feelings, and my own vision. This is a daunting prospect to someone who has always worked with other people’s ideas – even if the technique is my own. An exhibition is all about me. A perceptive spectator will see into my innermost thoughts if they are so inclined. It is exactly for this reason that I had vacillated before my first show, because I did not feel my art was strong enough.
It was in Mateszalka in 2005 that I finally had my first art exhibition; its title, “The Play of Light”, sounds a little clichéd today. The exhibition was well received and was followed by countless further exhibitions both in Hungary and abroad.
– What is on you mind nowadays? Are there any plans that you would like to realise in the near future?
I have worked a lot and hard these past few years. Now is the time to recharge. The environment in which I work now makes this possible – here I find work as well as inspiration. When I create a new work of art, I am responding to the ideas, feelings, and inspirations of the given moment.