Some words with Zsófia Döme, Hungarian Treehugger and Illustrator

A young illustrator talks about her life, art, and inspiration.

Some words with Zsófia Döme, Hungarian Treehugger and Illustrator

Zsófia Döme (http://zsofiadome.tumblr.com/) likes to get lost in the woods and draw the things she didn’t see, those things that imagination can’t help but see while surrounded by wild greenery teeming with hidden creatures. She is a Hungarian illustrator and a current student at the Hungarian School of Fine Arts. Rooted in a kind of grotesque and spooky fantasy aesthetic, her work exudes moodiness and mythology. She works in everything from playful creature studies to scenes lush with atmospheric tension, while incorporating just enough surreal quietness to make each image more than your average fantasy art.

I sent her a message on DeviantArt, because I had to find out more about her and what was behind the pictures. I began with the thing that stood out most for me: Zsófia’s use of surrealism, fantasy, and good old fashioned creepiness to make a visual statement about nature and what we call civilization. For the sake of completeness I’ll let you know that Zsófia’s English is in it’s “intermediate” phase, and I have taken the liberty of editing her answers for clarity’s sake, hopefully not so much that you forget she’s Hungarian.

The way you portray nature is kind of magical and foreboding at the same time. Where did your love of nature come from, and what goes through your mind drawing such lush scenes?

I had grown up in a small town in Hungary, and the love for nature comes from there. In my childhood we played in the tall grass, discovered the forest and sometimes we got lost, but we didn’t mind.
Nature can have a thousand faces. It could be the Garden of Eden where you can retire and meditate, but it could also be a place full of darkness, decadence and sickening things. For me it’s a mystical hideout where you can find interesting creatures in every corner. [….] It’s a kind of shelter for me. In my artworks every component has its own meaning on a deep, personal level.

Zsófia, who describes herself as a “tree-hugger,” on her DeviantArt, has a special connection with that natural world she liked getting lost in as a child. Whether she depicts nature as massive or miniscule, it’s always the uncontrollable and invasive, and at times violent and grotesque aspects of nature that shine through and give her work a little edge.

Most recently, Zsófia created a series of studies that pair drawings of (mostly) real life flowers and roots with those same plants sprouting eyes and little mouths and horrible little mutant limbs. It’s a study in giving a face to the plant world, a world that most forget is filled with living, breathing things— with life that grows, eats, moves and feels in its own way, but generally doesn’t have the facial structures necessary to show us how pissed off or ecstatic it might be about it all.

Birds I & II, Silent Lake, and No Way Out all seem to be done in the same style, and I was wondering if they were connected somehow, or were part of the same story, and if so what the project was. Am I just imagining it?

To be honest, the other half of my Birds series is still waiting in a forgotten corner of my laptop to be colored (Birds III, IV). Months have been passed after I finished the line art, but the coloring progress is stopped. I also wanted to upload some new works, but school deadlines kept me away. Maybe I can share some stuff later. The illustrations you mentioned all are separate pieces, except ‘Birds’. The style is the same of course, but I can’t explain why. I just felt this style fit to this kind of dark world, and I also found that is close to myself, as well. One of my friends said some time ago, once she discovers an interesting subject she draws until she exhausts the whole theme. In my case it’s almost similar, but it’s not about interests, rather about style. It’s very meditative and calming, when you are making dotwork or just draw leaves for hours.

These illustrations are begging to tell a story, but as of yet Döme is letting them stand alone. Her experiments in storytelling thus far are few, but promising. My favorites are her illustrations for a violently satisfying story called Anyagyilkossag (“Matricide”), by little known Hungarian author, psychiatrist, and certified murderous psychopath Géza Csáth. Döme was inspired after watching the movie The Whitman Boys, based on the Csáth story, to illustrate scenes from the story. After learning the story of Mr. Csáth life I had trouble reconciling the terms “tree-hugger” and “psychopath,” but Döme does a great job in her illustrations of capturing the story’s pathologically sardonic tone. (If you want, give the story a read here.)

I saw on your tumblr that you were working on a series of illustrations for a story by Geza Csath — “Anyagyilkossag” after you saw The Whitman Boys, which was based on the story. Is that project finished?
My illustrations represent a mood rather than events, as you can see in my works about Csáth’s stories. Yes, this project is finished and I still have others in progress. I really like Csáth’s works and I also regret that he didn’t write more stories during his short lifetime. As for the illustrations it was a short-lived project which was made for my own pleasure. It wasn’t published, but it would be a real honor to illustrate a whole volume.
Do you have any other illustrative projects in the works. What have you been working on lately?
My current project is called “My Wardrobe”. Nowadays I live in an old student hostel and the idea came there. The base of the project is a wardrobe which is used by my roommate and me. Imagine an ugly, old, dusty wardrobe with unclosable doors and a big mess inside. [It’s an interactive illustration where] you can click on the doors and have a look inside, but the small places hide more than only clothes, boxes, or shoes. There are tiny surreal words in every part of it.
These days I’m more and more interested about connection of body and soul. With this current project I speculate about where is the soul within our body or how it can manifest through our environment and our personal things?
Could you name some artists or writers who’ve inspired you?
In my teenage years I was obsessed with anime and manga, cartoons and my early dream was to be a comic artist or an animator. After the high school I got into a fine arts university which was a huge twist for me. I got new perspectives about how to approach art, how to enjoy even the abstract pieces, which are the least understandable for the most people. [In school] my taste turned another way. I don’t mean that I completely gave up my early interests, just got new perspectives, new doors opened before me. In the future I’d like to find a balance between popular art and fine art. To be honest, it’s a bit hard, and I’m still growing and developing.
I’m inspired in many ways, with almost everything melancholic, lyric images mixed with a little bit of grotesque horror. As for art, I love pre-raphaelites, art nouveau, and surrealist works. Just a few names from my favorite artists: Max Ernst, George Grosz, Harry Clarke, John Bauer, Alan Lee, Arthur Rackham, Eyvind Earle, Theodor Kittelsen, Csaba Rékassy.
I often listen neofolk while drawing, sometimes a little bit of darkwave, but mainly folk metal, death metal, movie and game soundtracks. Medieval and Nordic sounds are the closest to my heart.

Here’s hoping to hear more from the Hungarian tree-hugger, the talented young Zsófia Döme. If you’d like a print, I encourage all money-havers to click to her Society6 page and buy one.

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