1915 (Mexico City, Mexico)
2000 (Mexico City, Mexico)
Ohio / Mexico
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abstract painting, theatre set design
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|Biography from Art Cellar Exchange:|
|Gunther Gerzso - A New Vision|
Gunther Gerzso was born on June
17, 1915 in Mexico City. Gerzso's Hungarian-born father, Oscar,
had migrated to Mexico in the early 1890s along with his wife who was a
singer and pianist. In 1927, Gunther Gerzso was sent to
Switzerland to live with his Uncle, an art collector, dealer, and art
historian. This would be the only formal artistic education that
he would receive.
"He had this house in [Lugano] Switzerland...I
lived with them and I was surrounded by masterpieces. I wasn't
interested but they drilled into me how to look at paintings and what a
painting is, and so forth... I suppose during these five or six years
that I was there I had to learn something."
"...If we traveled
in Italy the first thing was always to go to the museum. You had to
stand in front of the paintings and say what you thought and then they
explained it to you. And all that was special training."*
living at his Uncle's estate, he met Italian stage designer Nando
Tamberlani, who encouraged Gerzso to become a set designer. His stay in
Switzerland ended when his Uncle was forced to sell his estate during
the Great Depression. Subsequently, Gunther returned to Mexico to
complete his schooling.
In 1934, Gerzso was introduced to
another thespian, Fernando Wagner, an actor, producer, and director who
worked on productions by authors including Moliere and Lope de Vega.
Wagner was supportive of Gunther's talent and used his set designs for
these productions. During the same year, Gerzso became acquainted
with Arch Lauterer, a former set designer for the Cleveland Playhouse
and professor of Drama at Bennington College, Vermont. Lauterer
recognized Gunther's budding talent and recommended he study at the
The following year, Gunther moved to
Cleveland and began as the Playhouse's set and costume designer.
He completed designs for more than 50 plays and it was there that he
met two people that would impact his career. The first, was his
wife, Gene Rilla Cady, who was his muse, his support and his lifelong
partner. Gene was an actress at the Playhouse and appeared in
many productions. Gerzso used Gene as a model for several of his early
The second influence was actor/director Thomas
Ireland. Thomas greatly admired young Gunther's talent and
encouraged him to continue to explore and expand his artistic vision.
Thomas Ireland saved and protected over 350 drawings, paintings,
watercolors, set and costume designs made by Gunther throughout his
five years at the playhouse. Today this collection is known as the
Colonel Thomas Ireland Collection. Gerzso acknowledged his friend
Thomas as "My first collector".
Gerzso also was encouraged by
his friend Bernard Pfriem, an art student in Cleveland, who gave him
his first set of oil paints and advised him to dedicate himself
full-time, to painting.
"...I never really considered being a
painter. It was only later that I... became friends with a young man
[the painter, Bernard Pfriem] who made my lunch every day in a
delicatessen in Cleveland, Ohio, and he would say, "you should become a
painter," and I would say "oh no, no, no" and he would say "oh yes."*
he was unable to do this, Gerzso made excellent use of the gift by
painting as often as possible while he designed for the Cleveland
Playhouse. During the summers between the Playhouse's season, Gunther
painted in Mexico and continued to develop his style.
left Cleveland in 1941 and returned to Mexico City to become a
"full-time" artist. He was introduced to Surrealist artists
including Remedios Varo, Leonara Carrington, and Roberto Matta who were
all living and working there at the time. They all shared admiration
for the Paris Surrealist School of Painting, and they frequented each
other's studios, gathering and sharing their ideas and works.
of lack of support, Gerzso had to return to set design and he designed
sets for Mexican, French and American Film companies, completing over
"Well, I'm going to try to be a painter in Mexico,"
and I came here with my wife, and of course it was a disaster, because
nobody was interested in what I was doing. And it was just by chance
that somebody offered me the chance to design a film. So out of
economic necessity I accepted this job in the Mexican motion picture
industry and I stayed for 20 years."*
It wasn't until 1962 that he was able to retire from the film industry and finally devote himself to full-time painting.
vision was incredibly distinct from other Latin American artists. His
European heritage mixed with his love and devotion to Mexico, the
country he called home, set him apart from his contemporaries.
but I live in Mexico and I'm a Mexican citizen, even though I'm not
Mexican by blood, and there should be something that I can interpret
about this country and everything that it offers visually and
aesthetically, in a new way. Not like Diego Rivera, Orozco, or
Siqueiros... There should be something else."*
Gerzso lived in
Mexico City until his death on April 20, 2000. He was survived by his
wife Gene, two sons Michael and Andrew, and a legacy of work that
offered an independent interpretation of Mexico while creating an
entirely new aesthetic vision for each generation to discover.
*Excerpts from a radio interview by Lotte Mendelsohn, Mexico
City, January 1981, Transcribed and edited by Mary-Anne Martin, New
York City, September 2000, and published by Mary-Ann Martin Fine Art
for the exhibition "Gunther Gerzso: In His Memory".
Written by Gretchen Van Camp
|Biography from RoGallery.com:|
|Although relatively unknown outside the art cognocenti, Gunther Gerzso
is viewed by some critics as comparable to Pablo Picasso and Joaquin
Torres-Garcia. He is “one of the great Latin American painters,”
according to Octavio Paz, the Nobel Prize-winning Mexican author.|
in Mexico City in 1915, Gerzso's father was a watchmaker from Hungary;
his mother, a singer and a pianist from Berlin. Six months after he was
born, his father died. His mother then married another expatriate, the
German owner of a popular jewelry store. He lost his business during
the Mexican Revolution, and in 1922 the family moved to Europe.
1924 they returned to Mexico. After his mother divorced her second
husband, during her subsequent economic uncertainty she decided to send
Gunther, then 12, to live with her brother, Hans Wendland, an
influential art historian and dealer in Lugano, Switzerland. Wendland
sold works by Rembrandt, Cézanne, and Titian, and Gerzso recalls
paintings by Bonnard and Delacroix on the walls of his bedroom. Among
the important guests of the Wendland's was Nando Tamberlani, an Italian
stage set designer who became friends with Gerszo while living on the
estate for a summer.
As the impact of the Great Depression hit
Europe, Gerzso's uncle sold his estate and art collection. Gerzso
returned to live with his mother and sister in Mexico, where he
enrolled in a German school. During the next three years Gerzso
sketched set designs and wrote plays as he dreamed of a life in the
theater. On graduation in 1934, through a family friend he began
designing sets for a local theatrical producer.
A year later, he
was offered a work-study position at the Cleveland Play House, where he
soon became staff set designer. Over the next four years he designed
sets for some five dozen productions. A number of those designs are
being shown publicly for the first time in the ArtSpace/Virginia Miller
Galleries' exhibition, “Gunther Gerzso: Defining Mexican
While working in the theater, Gerzso began to
draw and paint subjects that interested him: attractive young women and
other individuals he met and saw in his daily life. These early
paintings, many of which are included in this exhibition, clearly
reflect his education and exposure to works by artists from Europe,
such as Matisse and Picasso, as well as those of Mexico, like Diego
Rivera and José Clemente Orozco.
Urged by his friends to enter
an annual juried exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art, the
self-taught painter was so encouraged when two of his works were
selected for the show that he began to concentrate on painting. During
the 1939-1940 period his paintings began to explore his Mexican roots.
1941 Gerzso and his newly acquired wife moved to Mexico City. Although
he continued to design costumes and sets for the theater and for 250
films, he considered himself a painter. During the 1940s he associated
with a Mexican-based group of European Surrealists: Remedios Varo,
Leonora Carrington, Benjamin P éret, Alice Rahón, and Wolfgang Paalen,
whose influences, along with his anti-war views, were reflected in his
paintings during that period.
The ArtSpace/Virginia Miller
Galleries' exhibition includes works from each of these periods in the
evolution of Gerszo's paintings, including a number of drawings and
paintings that refer to his Mexican origin and others in the surrealist
style, along with anti-war statements. Eventually, he distilled the
essence of Mexico's pre-Columbian history into the textures and colors
of the abstract works that made him one of that nation's most
influential artists. Several magnificent examples of the artist's
mature abstractions are included in the ArtSpace/Virginia Miller
Along with being awarded a Guggenheim
Fellowship in 1973, in 1978 Gerzso was presented with Mexico's highest
artistic honor, its National Award for Arts and Sciences. He died in
1915 Born Mexico City
1927-1931 Attended various Swiss schools in Lugano, Switzerland
1934 Graduated from the German School in Mexico
1936-1939 Staff Set Designer at the Cleveland Playhouse Cleveland, Ohio
1940 Started his avocation as a self-taught painter Cleveland, Ohio
1942-1962 Designed sets for 250 films
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