Ashburn Artist-Neuroscientist Seeks the Best of Both Worlds
Abstract stone carver Bertalan Andrásfalvy balances medical research, eye for the aesthetically pleasing.
Not every senior postdoctoral research specialist working for a world-class biomedical research center decides to carve a 7-foot granite butterfly for the research campus. Then again, there is very little about Hungarian artist-neuroscientist Bert Andrásfalvy that follows the norm.
Andrásfalvy has spent the past five years working in Ashburn for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus. In January 2010, he began working part-time for Janelia as a contractor and consultant. In May, he finished “Butterfly,” which took him a year-and-a-half to create.
“There’s cutting-edge science at Janelia, so I thought, ‘Why not create cutting-edge art?’” said Andrásfalvy of his tour de force.
“Butterfly” opened the doors into the promising world of commissioned art for Andrásfalvy.
“It all started with the butterfly,” he said. “Before, people thought, ‘Yeah, okay, we know you.’ But now I think the butterfly has become a representation of what I can do.”
Andrásfalvy said his ultimate goal is to find the essence of an abstract sculpture and convey it to the blind eye.
“Everything I create is abstract but you can always see what’s in it,” he said. “I don’t want to copy nature and make it realistic. I always try to simplify.”
Soon after “Butterfly” was erected, Andrásfalvy received two requests for stonework sculptures from coworkers at Janelia. Neurobiological Instrument and Systems Designer Jason Osborne commissioned an abstract stone sculpture called “Fish/Hook.”
“Bert’s work is extraordinary and it tends to pull you into the piece,” Osborne said. “Every angle of the sculpture he made for me has new details that make the 3D sculpture come alive.”
Andrásfalvy is currently working on the second commissioned piece, a two-foot-long snail carved from stone for a friend’s office. He’s created a model out of silver wire, but is still wrestling with how to carve the center out of the actual sculpture.
“I’m still thinking about how I should proceed because it’s not obvious,” said Andrásfalvy, who works on smaller pieces from his home studio and larger pieces at friend and professional stone carver Malcolm Harlow’s studio in Berryville. “It’s a challenge.”
Personal projects for friends and family add fuel to his creative fire. The artist is currently carving a white marble sculpture of a shell for a friend who is smitten with one of his favorite pieces, “Shell with Pearl.” The 2008 piece is made from a malleable white marble with large crystals, scraps leftover from the Washington Monument’s renovation nearly four decades ago.
Andrásfalvy has also dabbled in the art of jewelry making. This Christmas, he gave his wife Judit Makara a necklace inspired by one of his sculptures. In 2003, one of their friends commissioned a sculpture to give as a gift at her sister’s wedding.
“I tried to think, ‘What does a wedding mean? What does marriage mean?’” he explained. “The stonework is of two pieces – one male and one female, holding a ball. They became one body while they were holding the ball. The ball is like the heart, the middle of the body. If one of them steps away, the ball will fall. Judit loved that idea.”
Andrásfalvy and his wife live in Ashburn with their two young children, Soma and Marcell. The family is moving back to Hungary this spring because Judit, who also holds a doctorate in neuroscience, won a grant to build a lab in Budapest. Andrásfalvy plans to work with his wife in the lab but also to continue his stonework.
He said he plans to spend the next few months working on proposals for possible future commissions. The models are almost ready to be sent out the door. Then he’ll just be waiting for the big ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’
“I want to keep the doors open so I can come back to Ashburn anytime to finish my work,” he said. “As far as I know, the art situation in Hungary is not great. You won’t find people who want to buy. Here it is much better and people are more willing to pay money for art. Back in Europe it’s very different. It’s a dream of mine to come back here.”