The stigmata

The project


Monograph 1970


The Preview Showings



Those circumstances decided by fate

(dma) - Although I am by no means a fatalist, I can find no explanation for the fact that my virtual relationship with the Maestro has been marked by a succession of fortunate circumstances as if through serendipity - the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. As if certain events had been determined by chance, the conjunction of the stars or by fate. In truth I could well have found out about Christian Hess four years before I actually made the discovery; but clearly I did not yet possess the experience necessary to promote the rediscovery of his work. When I did find out I immediately realised that Hess' forgotten art must be made to live again - in all of Europe and for all of Europe. Starting in the heart of Europe Hess' art developed first in the north of the continent and then in the south as he moved between Scandinavia and Sicily. It was on the mediterranean island that his work was illuminated by the intense southern light, precisely when Nazi hostility sought to plunge it into darkness. It was therefore logical to pay tribute to the artist by developing an initiative that would follow his artistic journey and involve representatives of European cultural life as well as European institutions and organisations. An invisible guide led me from place to place as I developed the project which was to become the Travelling Exhibition celebrating the rediscovery of Louis Christian Hess' art. It was inaugurated on 26 November 1974 - 30 years to the day after the Maestro's death. No one had specifically chosen that date, it simply coincided with the first day of availability for the exhibition rooms at the Palazzo del Turismo.

The 1956 Retrospective

The invitation card for the first retrospective exhibition of works by Christian Hess. The event, first proposed by the artist's sister Emma, was held at the "Verona Trento" Technical-Industrial Institute in Messina. It opened on 26 July 1956 with an introductory lecture by Professor Salvatore Castagna, the director of the Messina Art Institute. For the exhibition a special pamphlet was produced including a biography of the artist and a list of all the works on display. Unfortunately this first retrospective had only a limited effect. 18 years were to pass before Hess' work would be rediscovered on a European level.

Although since 1946 I had worked as a journalist in and around Messina, I must admit that until 1960 I knew nothing about this extraordinary artist and his intense relationship with Sicily. And to think that in the summer of 1956 at the "Verona Trento" Institute in Messina itself a retrospective of some of Hess' work was organised by the director of the Art Institute of Messina Professor Salvatore Castagna. Inexplicably I paid it no attention. Thinking back I can but imagine that the Maestro wished to postpone our meeting to a more propitious moment. I should add that my involvement with art exhibitions had begun in 1954 when together with two friends Giuseppe Arbusi and Venero Dominici, two of Sicily's best-known photo-journalists, I organised the “Messina Tourism Exhibition for Europe". Despite the most modest of means, the event continued for eight straight years and visited Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. In those years I gained priceless experience in relations with artistic and public institutions in various countries, in producing catalogues in different languages and in working with foreign press organisations. At the same time as I continued with the established routines of print journalism I also new undertook new activities such as writing for the new "Newsreel Sicily", making short films on post-war reconstruction, working as press attaché for various organisations and as correspondent for Italian state broadcaster RAI. I also developed another activity in the 1950's which was to prove useful in planning the rediscovery project for Hess' work: the production of a series of albums of photo-reportage on culture, tourism and sport. It is highly unlikely my meeting with Christian Hess would ever have taken place if I had not met in February 1960 the artist's niece Luisa - who the following year became my wife. For several years she has been overseeing a major project which will serve to make the life of the artist far better known: the cataloguing and translation from German to Italian of all Uncle Luigi's (as he was known in the family) letters.

Christian Hess
in two catalogues from the
"Messina Tourism" exhibition

Click on each catalogue to open

When during our engagement Luisa introduced me to her family her mother Emma Hess lost no time in explaining her sense of anguish at the death of her brother and the oblivion which threatened his name and work. The hopes initially sparked by the 1956 retrospective in Messina had been dashed by ahistorical provincialism. Emma turned to my professional experience and spoke with such fervour it was as if she were seeking to hand on the torch to me and entrust me with a mission.
She showed me one of her brother's last letters which included the poignant and concise appeal:

 "Are my paintings in a safe place?"

It was clear Emma felt a heavy burden of responsibility, but the task of bringing Hess' art back to life was by no means simple. It would clearly be a long arduous project and - above all - with Emma's financial resources practically non-existent, one involving essentially a voluntary commitment. Money may have been lacking but Emma was endowed with such a fierce sense of determination that I took her appeal as a challenge suitable to my temperament and accepted.
As early as 1960, as a sign to Emma of my willingness to get involved, I included four water-colours by Hess inspired by Sicilian themes in the catalogue for that year's “Messina Tourism Exhibition" in Zurich. Futhermore on the cover of the catalogue I placed a delightful sottovetro featuring two women walking with their burdens on their heads in traditional baskets. In the 1961 edition of the exhibition, held in Milan and Biella, four more of Hess' water-colours were displayed as part of celebrations marking the centenary of Italian unification organised together with the painter Michele Spadaro, a long-time admirer of the Maestro's work.
However, it was obvious to me that for a meaningful rediscovery of Hess' work a clearly planned long-term project backed up by painstakingly accumulated documentation was essential.