The El Paso Museum of Art has around 6,000 pieces of art in its collection, most of which spend most of their time locked away due to space limitations. The museum has begun a program of showing off works which have not been viewed in awhile, and officially opening this Sunday are works by the prolific Swiss artist Hans Erni.
Erni, who at 103! apparently still paints in studio every day, is one of the most prolific artists in Switzerland. He is unfortunately often called “the Swiss Picasso” probably because his work shows a heavy influence, possibly because like Picasso in his later years, Erni has put his images on everything from ceramics to stamps as well as works on paper, and mostly because there is an unfortunate tendency to categorize artists usually to the detriment of all parties concerned, including the viewer, who is thus impeded in actually looking clearly at the art involved.
These lithographs which date mostly from the mid to late 60’s reflect Erni’s interest in Greek mythology combined with an obviously contemporary sensibility.
What this means is that the works, involving nudes both male and female, look as though they could have come from a Grecian urn had the Grecian artist spent time in Paris in the 20th century. The figures, loosely, but realistically drawn, are often bisected by triangular planes or intersected by stars or other symbols. The titles, as well as the figures themselves, reflect their Grecian inspiration: Theseus is invoked in one instance yet the whole is shot through with modern touches, (or what was modern in the late 60’s.).
For those who like to contrast and compare, it is useful to contrast these lithographs with the drawings in the dibujo divino exhibition upstairs. In all cases there was a clear exposure to and taking from contemporary European artists of the time, yet the differences are obvious.
Interestingly, there is also currently a show of 40 posters of Hans Erni’s works at Houston’s Museum of Printing History. This was apparently billed as a retrospective, and left at least one reviewer seriously disappointed, not with the work itself, but with the lack of breadth the term retrospective implies.
At the El Paso museum, there is no intention to present a retrospective, but to simply present some lithographs, too little seen by an artist, well-known in Switzerland for his humanitarian work as well as for his art, but not nearly as well known here.-david Sokolec