by Sandra Marshall
Sculptor Béla Simó’s journey began in Transylvania, Romania where he studied industrial millwright and fine instrument making and repair. From a young age, Béla was strongly influenced by his father. Disillusioned by communism, his father inspired his children to make their own decisions and not rely on dogmas. “His rigour, his quiet strength and his integrity had a major impact on me,” recalls Simó. However, at the age of 25 he left the country on a visitor’s visa intending to illegally cross into Austria. “I tried to pass five times before I was able to cross. The border was guarded by armed Russian soldiers. Many people did not have my good fortune and were shot or beaten to death’’ he explained.
In Austria, he carved. Seeing the work of master sculptor Josef Elter’s monumental wood and stone works changed Béla Simó’s life direction. Elter took Simó under his wing and taught him the art and passion of carving and sculpting wood and stones. Simó’s year as apprentice began his 36 years of sculptural experience in materials like plaster, wood, marble and resin.
He immigrated to Canada in 1987 touching down in Toronto, then Yukon, Newfoundland and finally in Val des Monts, Quebec in 2013. He started his first art bronze casting foundry in Yukon. Simó moved to Val-des-Mont where he built a studio and started working in aluminum for a commission from the Yukon Workers Compensation Board to commemorate worker deaths. After the six metre tall monument was completed, Simó used the leftover scrap aluminum to create simple sculptures. That’s when he fell in love with the material. It’s malleability was like butter to him.
He was fascinated by the possibilities of this lightweight, solid and contemporary material that allowed him to convey his vision with stylized, refined lines, shapes and energy. His works in aluminum demonstrate his fine technical skill. The intense brightness of the metal complements his creative vision. He found aluminum to be the perfect medium for combining his simple forms with the chaotic forces of the modern world. He stylizes his unique human subjects, striving to bring them life and movement. The more he worked in that medium, the more complex the sculptures became. He added textures to bring them more life. He is always seeking to improve the form and composition, most important to him. Two symbols recur in Béla’s practice: Closed eyes which represent inner thoughts and feelings and Hands which represent action and achievement, expression and creativity. They are symbols of humanity and the quality of our inter-relationships. Hands and faces reveal how we relate to the world and to others.
To achieve large-scale aluminum sculpture in no simple task. Béla cuts sections from sheet aluminum and bends them to need. He then combines strips and pieces together to construct smooth surfaces with invisible welds. For example, a small face would incorporate over 23 pieces seamlessly welded together. He grinds the welding marks, then chisels them with a pneumatic or manual chisel/hammer. The process continues with more grinding, deburring, brazing, hammering or polishing until the piece achieves the desired effect. Texture may be added by hammering, scratching, brushing and rotary tool. He may also add welding marks without using gas. Layers of welding help create volume or render details such as a nose, lips or eyebrows once sculpted. Sometimes he uses welding impasto to create textures. Finally the piece is cleaned with acetone and waxed.
He loves to see the form change as concepts evolve and he gives physical presence to an idea. When Béla imagines a new creation, he challenges himself to enliven it. Sometimes finding new ways to meet that challenge. When creating, he enters a creative funnel toward his goal. Thus, his least favourite part of his sculpting process is the end when he returns to the reality of daily life.
Simó’s desire is that viewers establish a personal relationship with his sculpture through the stories of their own experience. Even if aluminum is a rigid and cold metal, Simó wants the observer to feel fluidity and warmth emanating from his piece.
Béla Simó sees his art as ‘’imprints of humanist spirituality, tinged with the sacred, a way of defining his relationship to a space, real or imagined, and to time, to what precedes and follows us’’. He uses a lot of upward spirals, ubiquitous in the structures of the universe, from the infinitely small to the infinitely large. For Béla, they are the best symbols of life and remind us that they are found both in motion and in completion. The egg and seed are other oviod motifs, spaces in which life circulates. They represent birth, oneness and centre.
He has no plans for the future, only wanting to speak the truth in his artistic expression. His work needs to be meaningful to himself, not following in others’ footsteps, even though he is following his mentor’s desire and mission to fill the world with beauty and humanism.
He advises those who are first drawn to sculpture to choose art if it is their passion. ‘’Believe in yourself and don’t underestimate the expression of your imagination. When you are learning to make sculpture, find the appropriate teacher or mentor to deepen your understanding of the metier.’’ What sets Béla Simó’s pieces apart is the combination of his understanding of sculptural form, his artistry and mastery acquired during his technical training.
Béla Simó’s work can be found in many permanent and private collections and he has shown his work in countless exhibitions and public art in Canada and abroad.
Pourquoi (2018) welcomes the visitors at the entrance of Béla’s studio and sculpture garden.
3,10 x 2,20 x 0,60 cm. The address is 1375, route du Carrefour, Val-des-Monts, Qc, J8N 5C5
phone: (819) 328-3380
Gossypium (2021) was recently exhibited at Centre d’art de La Sarre (La Sarre), Espace Pierre-Debain (Gatineau), Centre Materia (Quebec City) and Quebec Fine Crafts Fair (Montreal) as part of the Triennial of Fine Crafts. 2,45 x 6,60 x 6,60 m
The Watchers – triptych (2019) were exhibited in Bela’s solo show at the Espace Pierre-Debain,museum gallery (Gatineau). 2,43 x 1,10 x 0,60 m each.
Dance with me (2022) Béla’s most recent creation. 2,54 x 1,27 x 1,27 m