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Gunther Gerzso

 (1915 - 2000)
Gunther Gerzso was active/lived in Ohio / Mexico.  Gunther Gerzso is known for abstract painting, theatre set design.

Gunther Gerzso

Biography from Art Cellar Exchange

Biography photo for Gunther Gerzso
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."*

While 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 Cleveland Playhouse.

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 figure studies.

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."*

While 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.

Gerzso 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.

Because of lack of support, Gerzso had to return to set design and he designed sets for Mexican, French and American Film companies, completing over 250 films.

"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.

Gerzso's 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.

"Yes, 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
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.

Born 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.

In 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 Abstractionism."

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.

In 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 Galleries exhibition.

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 2000.

Brief Chronology

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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About  Gunther Gerzso

Born:  1915 - Mexico City, Mexico
Died:   2000 - Mexico City, Mexico
Known for:  abstract painting, theatre set design