An artist’s uniqueness lies not only in his inner vision but also in his reaction to the outer stimuli of place and personality. John Stermer’s art reflects his feeling for a special environment, the American Southwest, particularly a part of New Mexico whose circumference encloses the Gila Wilderness, the Black Range, the Mimbres and Mesilla, the lower Rio Grande and Las Cruces, and Silver City as the center.
This collection of paintings and etchings is a legacy of love to southwestern New Mexico and its people. Panoramic views of the Kneeling Nun Mountain and Cook’s Peak and the Big Sky paintings create the area’s massive spaces just as the mountain juniper traces the violence of rocky, windswept landscapes. In 1959, Stermer moved to New Mexico after twenty years of study in New York, Paris, and Barcelona, Spain. By then, his work had been exhibited in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington as well as Paris and Barcelona. He had attended and taught at the Art Student’s League in New York. And he had studied at the Academie de la Grande Chumiere in Paris.
Since he established his home in New Mexico, he has exhibited widely in New Mexico and Arizona and traveled throughout the western United States as head of the Silver City Arts Council, which he founded, and as a state arts commissioner. As a sponsor of the arts and an innovator of projects in music, dance, sculpture, painting, and theatre, he found himself a mentor of other artists and a teacher in his Silver City studio.
His work is included in the permanent collections of the Art Student’s League, the U.S. State Department, The Arnot Art Museum, The State Capitol of New Mexico, the Albuquerque Museum, the Museum of New Mexico (Santa Fe), Kennecott Copper Corporation, and other institutional and private collections.
The works of John Stermer evince a heritage born of Cezanne and Picasso, but without suggesting imitation. One is tempted to place Stermer’s work in the general genus of painters whom we call Modernist, but this would be about as appropriate as calling Picasso a Cubist. Like the works of all ardent artists, Stermer’s oeuvre evolved within itself.
Among Stermer’s interests were printmaking and line and aquatint etchings. His paintings of individuals and groups are done in many styles and reveal a sense of humor honed during naval service in World War II, when he was selected as artist to depict life in the service. His involvement with the subjects of his art is best expressed by his words, “The subject is an excuse to paint. I find excuses everywhere, in the desert and the ocean, in a mountain or a geranium, an adobe hut or the human figure.”
The man was a generous dispenser of his talent, a giver and an innovator. The door to his studio was open to everyone, but he especially encouraged artists of every medium. Most of all, he influenced his town and his state to seek beauty in a humble adobe hut as well as the grandeur of a New Mexico sky.