Fine art

Spirit and magic

In the process for years, Reto Messmer debuts painting series at Envision


Envision Gallery owner Jimmy Murray says he has been proud to show Reto Messmer’s unique bone and metal sculptures for more than six years. The artist recently completed a series of sepia oil paintings that he has been working on for years. These paintings will be shown for the first time as a group in his premiere solo show of the year.

That show is planned to open with a reception Saturday (Sept. 9), 5-7 p.m., at Envision Gallery, 1405 Paseo del Pueblo Norte in the Overland Compound in El Prado.

In a prepared statement, Messmer says of this collection: “Some time ago I came across a tiny photo in New Yorker Magazine, shot by a Magnum photographer in 1941 with the title ‘Hausa Chieftains Demonstrate Their Superb Horsemanship in a Fantasia.’ I saw it and just needed to paint it, in oil and on a big scale — not merely trying to copy it, but to try to capture its spirit and magic. It took me three years, and it turned out to be the first in the series of sepia paintings that I’m still working on with many more in my head. Their source of inspiration could be old photographs from the ‘30s or scenes I come across, from an old machine shop somewhere in Louisiana or a corn silo somewhere in Texas.”

Envision typically shows contemporary-abstract works, Murray said, “but after seeing these realist pieces felt the need to exhibit them, as they are a perfect fit with Messmer’s sculptures and exemplify his range as an artist.”

A native of Zurich, Switzerland, Messmer grew up in an artistic household, where he was mentored by his sculptor father. He holds a degree in art history and linguistics from the University of Zurich.

He emigrated to the United States in 1994 and has lived and made art ever since in El Rito. He is known for his bold sculptures made of metal, animal skulls and bones.

“I describe my work as surrealism: ‘to combine inside the same frame, elements not normally found together to produce illogical and startling effects,’ or, to quote Andre Breton (who stole the quote from somebody else for his 1924 manifesto), ‘The more the relationship between the two juxtaposed realities is distant and true, the stronger the image will be, the greater [its] power and poetic reality!’ In my work,” Messmer says in his artist statement, “the juxtaposition can be of different materials (steel and bone), often of different realities (the object’s purpose is clearly to be able to fly, yet it is obviously physically absurdly impossible for it to be able to do so), or the juxtaposition of the object trying to look alive with its expressions that we associate with human emotions, and the materials used that are, by definition, lifeless (skulls, bones, steel). Ultimately, I try to carry this concept a step further by creating new beings and therefore a reality entirely its own.”

Messmer is also a highly sought-after muralist and decorative painter trained in fine European restoration techniques. He teaches kung fu and tai chi in Arroyo Seco, having trained in kung fu for more than 30 years in the legendary Ching Wu lineage, according to Murray.

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