Art - Peter Messer

Before interviewing the Lewes artist Peter Messer I pop into the Star Gallery to see his latest exhibition being hung. I love it. The paintings are mostly set in Lewes: there are flint walls and silhouettes of the castle. But there’s nothing twee about them: Messer is not looking for picture-postcard prettiness, he’s depicting something much darker, much more internal. There’s usually something furtive or slightly supernatural going on. Blurry figures sneak over a wall; snowdrops form in the shape of a man pushing a bicycle; somebody incongruously swims in a stream under a bridge. A girl with webbed hands crawls around the Brooks with her terrier. In my favourite picture a man in an old-fashioned suit walks along Station Street. He is clearly unhappy. The paintings are difficult to define, completely unique. There is a lot of realism to them, but everything’s seen through a filter of slightly stylised surreality, too.

I meet Messer in the Lewes Arms and buy him a pint of Harvey’s. I ask him where the paintings come from. “I get them for free and I sell them to you,” he says. Then he turns more sincere. “I work a small compass. I live in Market Street and work in the Paddock Studios and I have a share of an allotment opposite Castle Cottage and another allotment in the Paddock, where the shed is.” (His garden shed features prominently in his work). “I don’t travel well, as I get confused easily. I’m a bit like the kid with Asperger’s in the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, who doesn’t understand the desire to go on holiday because there’s too much still to learn about home. I see things in a different light every day, so I don’t need to go anywhere.”

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Peter Messer:
“When I paint a vase of flowers I’m every fucking flower in the vase”