Amid a creative crossroads in 2020, artist Zsofi Szasz found solace in an unexpected experiment. Having never delved into the intricate stitching of embroidery, Zsofi decided to transform a dissatisfying acrylic artwork into a canvas punctured with threads. This proved to be a creative turning point.
Rooted in a little village in the south of Hungary, the artist’s upbringing plays a pivotal role in her work and aesthetic. Her grandmother embodied the essence of a classical peasant woman. Zsofi initially tried to distance herself from that rural heritage upon moving to a bigger city. The pandemic brought about a realization that these roots were an essential part of her identity.
Love Letters No. 3; 2023; thread, dry Sycamore leaf; cross-stitch embroidery; 27 x 25 cm.
Love Letters No. 6; 2022; thread, dry Sycamore leaf; cross-stitch embroidery; 21 x 23 cm.
With a newfound passion, the artist plunged into an uncharted territory of embroidery. Driven by the powerful connection that Zsofi felt during this creative process. Her medium of choice became cross-stitch on dry leaves. She found Sycamore leaves to be a resilient canvas and connected with her ability to endure yet acknowledge the limits of the holes the leaves could bear.
Initially, cross-stitching felt like a compulsion, but it soon evolved into a source of joy. In her current project, Love Letters, “the leaves represent the fragile yet timeless material of love. Every stitch in every hole enhances their wholeness. (In Hungarian, the word “letter” means both the letter you write and the leaf of a tree). Through these works, I am to explore various forms of love, the most fundamental feeling in people’s lives.”
Dry Sycamore leaves take center stage in the Zsofi’s Love Letters Series, while experimental projects at the Ozora Festival, a summer event that takes place in Hungary. Exploring the use of dark tulle and UV reactive yarn, that will glow under black light, she is creating an illusion of floating artwork. From thin threads on paper to a collaboration with a graphic artist each project introduced new elements and challenges.
Zsofi is currently collaborating with the artists and scientists at the Barabasi Lab. (a research-focused group of scientists at Northwestern University Boston, led by Albert-László Barabási, a world-famous physicist from Transylvania and Hungary) Zsofi creates one or two 7 x 10 ft pieces per year. These artworks are based on data visualization from phone calls during emergencies. You can see her work at the Barabasi Lab Exhibition here: barabasilab.com/art/exhibition/alarm-chain
Barabasilab Emergencies; 2022; thread, canvas; satin stitch embroidery; 220 x 220 cm.
Photo credit: Tóth Dávid
Zsofi has many more projects in the works.
Zsofi’s main goal is to close the gap between folk art and fine art. Although she uses classical motifs, she believes there is no need to differentiate them.
“For at least 40 years, Hungary has lacked a living folk art tradition, only preserving old customs. Without the peasant layer in society, her culture should merge into contemporary art. It shouldn’t be confined to museums, treated as something that has ended or become extinct.” Zsofi aims to find ways to merge these cultural expressions, so they find their places in fine art while remaining accessible to everyone.
Check out more of Zsofi Szasz’ work on her website or Instagram, linked below.
The Griffon; 2021; acrylic painting, tailoring pattern from it in the background; embroidery, beading; 100 cm dia.
Cami Smith is the Fiber Art Now media manager, a contributing editor, and a mixed-media artist.