Sam Messer was born in New York City. He completed undergraduate work at Cooper Union in New York and graduate study at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut.
The figurative expressionist paintings of Sam Messer first appeared in the East Village in the early 80's and although the stylistic climate has changed since then, Messer remains a practitioner of that now-underprivileged style. He continues to work in that style because he makes it interesting and complex. What goes on in the work is not a despairing kind of thing. It’s tricky because the images might be grisly or dark but they're hitting this psychological insight that's obviously successful.
"I think that part of the joy of living is the struggle. No one likes to struggle but there's joy and a power in the struggle of trying to do things.”
His work is in public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Art Institute of Chicago and Yale University Art Gallery.
Messer has exhibited throughout the nation in one-man shows as well as group shows. He is in major collections including the Art Institute of Chicago, BankAmerica Corporation, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University and Museum of Fine Arts of Boston. He was awarded the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant, the Englehard Award, a Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant in 1993 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1996. He has recently collaborated with Paul Auster on The Story of My Typewriter
and with Denis Johnson on Cloud of Chalk
. He is represented by Nielsen Gallery in Boston and Shoshana Wayne Gallery in Los Angeles.
Monoprints created in February 1992 at STUDIO-f by Messer display a luridly grotesque figuration full of political and personal content. Color defines moods, such as rich color contrast in the Gorilla with symbols of sign language. Somber moods were expressed in a serene blue cloud like space behind figure carrying a boulder that was inscribed with numbers indicating HIV victims of 1992. The same blue cloud ground was used with X-Ray versions of figures: individual figures male and females showing internal organs. The struggle that is foremost in Messer’s work is exemplified in the variety of subjects and styles of his STUDIO-f monoprints.
Messer was appointed senior critic at Yale in 1994 and in 2005 was appointed associate dean. He also serves as director of the art division of the Yale Summer School of Music and Art in Norfolk.