Something Old, Something New in Artist Emil Nagy’s Studio

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I first encountered Kelowna artist Emil Nagy’s (pronounced Nahj) home studio a couple of years ago, when I interviewed him for a story in the local newspaper. If I were an artist, I decided, I would want exactly this studio. Despite being quite talentless in the fine art department, I would certainly find the impulse to paint if only I had such a space to inspire me.

It was around that time that I conceived of the Artist Studio Tours idea. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, I thought, to feature the work space – the place so many creative ideas are born and nurtured – of some talented Okanagan artists? For indeed, some have designed their work areas to be a work of art in and of themselves. So, starting now and throughout the coming year, The Pear Tree will feature one artist studio a month. We hope you find inspiration for yourself in the design and atmosphere they evoke.

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Emil’s love for the past, and its influence on his work, are obvious upon stepping into his open, two-level studio. Housed in a spacious corner of his 1922 heritage home, the studio continues the theme of his artwork – bringing the past into the future.

Adorning the walls, and stacked vertically on the floor, are paintings of old buildings, often in modern settings, vintage cars, old trains, treasured possessions and people from Emil’s past.

Setting them off is an enviable collection of old things – many with an interesting sentiment or story behind them.

“I like the idea of something from the past coming into the present.” Emil said. “I connect to the past because that’s where we came from. I always bring in something old and something new. That kind of defines me.”

Nagy 02While his collection of old and antique furniture and accessories add charm to the room from a design point of view, they’re not just a collection of attractive-but-useless things. Most of the furnishings have appeared, or are destined to appear, in his paintings – which makes them that much more treasured to Emil.

The early primary school desk (left) came from Emil’s wife, Phyllis Nagy’s, old school near Battleford, Saskatchewan. While Nagy can’t say whether or not his wife once sat in this desk, he says there’s a pretty good chance she may have. Certainly one just like it. They acquired the desk about 30 years ago after the school did a big clean-up.

Behind the desk stands an old wine cabinet that Emil got on a trade in 1970. Just in his second year as a high school art teacher at the time, Emil made an exchange with the school custodian: one of his original paintings for the period cabinet. The trade saved the cabinet its legs, which would likely have been cut off.

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(Above left) An old metal jug finds a new purpose as a receptacle for brushes. “I’m always recreating,” Emil said.

(Above right) A hint of colonial charm is added to the mix with these potted plants in the window, and an old, model truck.

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The studio’s upstairs loft.

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Emil made this collection of clay cars and trucks to use as 3-D models to paint from. “I think my forte is on canvas,” he said. “To me, sculpture is like child’s play – like Plasticine.”

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A shelf over the studio door sports more clay sculptures, including a lantern, a trolly and a lady called “Drawers,” Emil’s interpretation of a Salvador Dali figure.

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This ornately carved cabinet is actually a sewing machine, once belonging to Emil’s Aunt Pearl. Dating back to 1906, Emil says it’s his favourite piece. “I gave her a couple hundred dollars for it, and she thought it couldn’t be worth that much.”

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Some tools of the trade.

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A license plate, found on Emil’s dad’s farm, found its way into this 3-D painting.

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Emil found this c. 1940s desk at a lumber store, destined for the scrap heap. It now houses his paints and equipment.

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The artist at work. Behind him hangs a portrait of his father at the age of 97. His dad was close to 100 years old when he passed away, and Emil is sentimental about the likeness. “I think I got my dad’s expression just the way he was,” he said.

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Emil stands in front of a vaguely Baroque-influenced painting he created, featuring members of his family. In the centre, in blue, is the artist himself.

– Story and photos by Lori-Anne Poirier

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2 Comments

  1. Sid Marianne Munkholm

    Did Emil Nagy teach at Quamichan Junior High School back in the 70’s? He looks very familiar. And if so, he is a former teacher of mine. I’d love to say Hey! to him. At any rate, I like your blog, and this story is very informative. The Emil Nagy I knew was a very talented artist and teacher, and the hours I spent in his class were a pure joy.

  2. Great pics!! Haven’t seen those before.

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