Among the various celebrities publicly grieved in 2016, one name passed without much social media fanfare; Arnold Mesches died on November 5, at the age of 93. Now, however, several of his works have been given new life, detailing the variety of style which marked an illustrious career. A Selection of Master Works, curated by the David & Schweitzer Contemporary Gallery, exhibits the vivid socio-political conscious that defined Mesches’ art.
Born in the Bronx, Mesches’ career was as extensive as his work. In his younger years, he created posters for the civil rights movement as well as for the Rosenberg protests. Although painting is what earned Mesches his fame, his first artistic passion was drawing, a habit he continued through-out life. With painting, he hit his stride later than most, around the age of 58, achieving a following around the East Village in the 80s. Beyond the realm of the brush, Mesches spent years teaching, working at respected institutions such as the city’s own NYU.
The nature of his political leanings brought Mesches under the scrutiny of the FBI. The government was skeptical of his work, particularly in the era of McCarthyism, developing a file that tracked the going-ons of Mesches and his art. One informant, upon noticing his tendency toward paint-splattered pants, noted that Mesches “dressed like a communist.” But despite his personal convictions, Mesches believed himself first and foremost an artist, and all else second. Utilizing the Freedom of Information act, Arnold accessed his FBI file and turned it into art, indicative of his creative mentality.
All of Arnold Mesches work carries a spirit that feels ‘present,’ yet this ability to capture the emotions of a moment is what helps to shape a sense of timelessness around his work. Taking inspiration from the styles of painters such as Goya, Mesches plays with ideas of figurativism and abstraction. In Shock and Awe, a series of paintings reflective of the Iraq War, Mesches accomplishes the difficult task of depicting the burning chaos of flames. In bold strokes, this provocative piece carries a subtle social commentary symbolic of his catalogue.
A Selection of Master Works presents a range of Mesches’ art that spans the gambit of his career in a rich display of range. In Postures 2, Mesches evokes conflicting sentiments; the aggressive restraint of a horse, the shy disposition of a small dog, and the fierce steely gaze of a bird. Eternal Return is a collision of forces, representing car crashes and the collapse of buildings. Study 62, a drawing drawn from Mesches early years in 1962, is a drummer boy dressed in jester attire, beating for a better future. However, among the dynamic scope of Mesches, the two paintings that captivated me most were The Waiters and Lead Soldiers. The Waiters drips with color; washed in red, the painting centers attention around the titular subjects, as they stare back at the viewer. Lead Soldiers renders an image of a boy, lonely among the opulence of wealth, as he gazes upon a clash of toy soldiers. To my mind, this brings up thought of the way in which the rich send others to fight their wars.
The exhibit, while profound in its own right, also bears a heavy personal significance. When the David & Schweitzer Contemporary Gallery opened, in the initial incarnation as Life on Mars, Mesches was the first artist they featured, and they shared a relationship greater than just art, built on mutual respect. The gallery felt it necessary to bring him back into the limelight and gain him the exposure he deserved. Arnold is remembered as a strong and lively personality, who defied expectations. He took his work seriously, and never compromised his integrity, continuing to draw up until the end.
A Selection of Master Works by Arnold Mesches is a collection of art that conveys the broad career of an underappreciated talent, and the memory of a friend. Mesches was a painter who brought a social consciousness to his work without betraying personal ethics for partisanship. The exhibit will be on display at The David & Schweitzer Contemporary Gallery from March 17th to April 9th.