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 Frank V. Szasz  (1926 - 1995)

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Lived/Active: Missouri / Hungary      Known for: portrait painter, educator

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Frank V. Szasz
An example of work by Frank V. Szasz
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Frank V. Szasz was a portrait artist who brought his use of old-world or classical  techniques to the study of the “great individual”.  His portraits have been described as more than the physical likeness; they are also a record of his admiration for each person’s creativity and courage.

Szasz lived through violent and tumultuous times and more than once he literally owed his life to his art.  Born in Budapest, Hungary, he worked for the underground making documents during WWII.  Then, as a 19-year old art student, celebrating the end of the war, he was conscripted off the streets by occupying Soviet troops and transported to a forced-labor camp in the Soviet Union. 

Szasz spent the next six years in the camp and would have likely died, as thousands did of hunger and exposure, had the camp commandant not learned of his skill as an artist.  Reassigned to less rigorous duties, he made camp signs such as: “Those who don’t work, don’t eat,” as well as an immense portrait of Joseph Stalin, which would later prove to open the door to America. For extra food rations, he did sketches of the guards.  He learned however, to deliver the portrait unfinished because once done a guard would refuse to complete the trade with the promised bread.  Years later Frank would tell that story to explain his habit of putting in the ears last.

In 1956, after being released from the prison camp, he was forced to flee his homeland in the failed Hungarian Revolution.  It was a hasty caricature of Stalin that verified his story to a skeptical US cultural attaché in Austria that won him entry papers to the United States.  Landing in New York in 1957, unable to speak English, he found work as a book illustrator and within a year had attracted a job offer from Hallmark Cards founder Joyce Hall.  From then on Szasz made his home in the Kansas City metropolitan area where he eventually turned his attention to his first loves of portraiture and teaching.

He painted such notable individuals as US Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon and Ford, Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Mrs. Jahan Sadat, and Queen Noir of Jordan, as well as leaders in the arts such as violinist Issac Stern and pantomimist Marcel Marceau. Other portraits Szasz painted included Elvis Presley, Albert Schweitzer, Eleanor Roosevelt, Pope John XXIII, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Franz Liszt, Johann Strauss, Chief Leon
Shenandoah of the Iroquois, Chief Jake Swamp of the Mohawk, Hopi Messenger Thomas Banyacya and five other Native Americans portraits.

In addition to teaching painting at the Kansas City Art Institute and art history at Rockhurst College, Frank Szasz gave private lessons and lectured around the world.  However his greatest joy came in introducing children to the wonders of art and the collegial relationship he formed with fellow artists who met regularly for many years in his studio to paint together.


Written and submitted by Scott Wilder, Collector of work by the artist




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