Story by Joseph Ford Cotto
People can be very difficult – some more than others.For certain individuals, however, hustling, lonesomeness, and habitual aversion to truth are anything other than values of unguided choice. Rather, these are adopted as survival strategies in an unforgiving world. Quite often, the folks susceptible to a lifestyle rooted in such things are not bad men and women at all. They are, above all else, survivors who not only how – but what it means – to get by.Elmyr de Hory was one of these people.His life was one of boundless talent whose naturally-forged path to glory was met with roadblock after roadblock. Said complications were not the stuff of conventional society – de Hory was forced into a concentration camp during World War II, made to live as a displaced person after escaping the clutches of Nazism, faced with widespread aversion because of his homosexuality, and met with coolness by artistic authorities of his time because they believed his painting style was no longer en vogue.Could that man ever paint! The son of a commonplace Hungarian merchant, he was so skilled with a brush and canvas that his works eventually fooled many of the same ‘authorities’ who never would have thought his creations worthy of purchase – it was believed that Picassos, Matisses, and the like stood in front of them.Little did they know that Elmyr had since begun to emulate the style of masters and perfected his craft so well that some of those very artists believed his paintings to be their own.The story of intrigue, passion, and uneasy glamor which unravels from there is best told by Mark Forgy.“As a young American Midwesterner, I fell under [Elmyr’s] spell …. in 1969 on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza, becoming his personal assistant while he became my mentor and closest friend,” Forgy tells on his website. “[Elmyr’s] hilltop villa was my university where, beyond the glamour of the rich and famous, the people I met seemed to spring from the mind of Lewis Carroll. Elmyr also had deeper secrets than anyone knew.”Forgy wrote The Forger’s Apprentice, an aptly titled book which is both an autobiography and a biography of de Hory. He shared his memories of Elmyr with me, and some of these are included below.
Joseph Ford Cotto: After gaining some stature as an artist, de Hory told many false stories about his background. Was this done out of shame or necessity?
Mark Forgy: Elmyr was a raconteur par excellence and thought a good story could withstand improvement and whatever made himself look better was preferable to a harsher, less flattering reality. But that's not an isolated impulse. What made my quest challenging to segregate fact from fiction when I was researching my memoir, was the hard-to-believe-but-true life I witnessed in his company. It was the proverbial stuff you can't make up.
Cotto: Of all de Hory's work, which painting was he the most proud of?
Forgy: I can't say there was a particular work he was most proud of, though, I can say with certainty that he felt most impassioned in portraiture. His love for people was where his heart, soul, and humanity were. I could never reconcile the disconnect between his inability to read people in real life but capture their essence in front of an easel.
Cotto: How was the quest for love central to Elmyr’s life -- for better or worse?
Forgy: People bond for various reasons. Despite the flurry of activity around Elmyr, he was basically a lonely man, one who didn't distinguish between solitude and loneliness. His need for companionship was the portal that allowed me into his life. As an artist I expected his art would be his spiritual fuel, his raison d'être. It wasn't. It was friendship and the love of others that was his life's blood. He had old world values, an almost-Victorian sense of social decorum, right and wrong.
All this oddly housed in a man with a dubious past, it illustrated how contradictory he was; appearances were illusory beyond what I could discern. But I soon became the perfect acolyte, convinced of mythology he carefully constructed, and wholly dedicated to him. I wasn't gay but I loved him dearly and I know he loved me. He was more of a father to me than my own father - my mentor and greatest friend. So, I think his quest for love, emotional and physical stability that had long eluded him, were what he saw in me and our relationship. He also needed to share his knowledge.
I was fortunate to be the beneficiary and blessed to know him. But, most who knew him felt this way.