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Leander Locher’s Artistry: Imagination in Abundance

While by profession, Leander Locher has been a social worker for many years; he had already begun painting − watercolor, acrylic, and mixed technique − as early as in the 1970s. Looking to achieve a more animated surface, he chose to “leave the second dimension,” and began adding more and more material to his paper and canvas surfaces: sand, chips, and small found objects. It was just that, the pursuit of the three-dimensional experience, that led him naturally to the figurative and three-dimensional expression of sculptural form. As he explains, “sculpture offers you multiple point perspective if you want more than one constant visual”. In other words, if you shift any sculpture even slightly to another angle, you can enjoy a greater number of visual experiences.

It would seem simplistic, but given the materials Locher works in today, he is entirely right. In addition to his small works in soapstone, he has been crafting life-sized sculptures in wood and metal. Since the greater part of his material comes from nature, his primary platforms to date have been Land Art exhibitions like the one held here in the Binn Valley annually. From the resonance he had there, he’s been asked to show father afield, and will be participating in two Land Art shows in the French-speaking part of Switzerland within the next few months, one in Biel/Bienne, and the other in Neuchâtel.

By the same token, his inventive, seemingly inexhaustible palette of works in and near the garden of his own house in Mühlebach is on permanent display. Since Locher’s wife Erika (Jentsch) was native to that part of Ernen, the couple moved back from Brig-Glis to her childhood home when her parents passed away. The Jentsches had been farmers, and their home had a large kitchen garden filled with flowers and vegetables that the Lochers still maintain immaculately today. The property also had a hay-stall whose square storage space − as customary in this region − was equally divided among three to five other farmers. Additionally, an auxiliary building that served as a kind of tool shed/garage is still just opposite, separated from the house and stall by a narrow, public walking path.

As such, anybody wanting to get from the lower village to higher areas might pass among the Locher buildings. And what a series of interesting encounters they would have! Turned over today to studio/workshop space and work-in-progress project storage, the one-time stall is witness to an extraordinary imagination. In the form of hand and power tools, bark, wire, stone, nails, axes, brushes, tacks, varnish, and paint cans, labels, and parts of used furniture, the place is just teeming with visual impulses. In the hay-loft, you might come across a whole host of half-human, half-beast figures whose beady eyes are fashioned from parts of scrap metal, who have pierced holes for ears, and then sheep’s horns. Likewise, you might notice an elegant single 8-foot stick that hangs in the garage like the backbone of a tiny whale, a miniature version of those we see suspended in natural history museums. Yet here, this is simply the elegant curve of a long wooden branch, one fashioned with hefty thorns rather than lateral bones, and its tiny hand-knit wire rings “will shine in the sunlight,” says Locher, when the piece is hung outside.

There might be a face made of old cake pan, slapped onto a stick-neck like a death mask with its two crude poked through for eyes. Or over there, an obese, polyurethane, red-haired lady in a moss swim suit is batting a small jewelry box in one hand with the floor brush she holds in the other. The lady aludes to Niki de St. Phalle’s luscious Nanas, as well as red hair of the witches − even of Ernen – who, well into the 18th century, when suspect of concourse with the Devil, were tortured into a confession, and ultimately burnt at the stake.

Locher’s work is not without its mystery, nor its occasional splash of obvious humor. The use of mixed media, particularly the metal, sometimes produces an effect that looks super-galactic. Yet the call of underbrush being transformed into a 6-foot wide bird’s nest and fitted with great white boulders as “eggs,” is well deserving of a smile. The most poetic of pieces, perhaps, is an installation of underbrush and rubble worked into a wooded area last autumn, where Locher and his wife fashioned a simple stone-lined path. It led to a magical bed made of wooden staves and moss, its four bedposts even finished with elegant little finials. Snow White herself couldn’t have asked for anything more inviting.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016, by Sarah Batschelet

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The garden and outbuildings around Leander and Erika Locher’s house in Mühlebach are open to visitors. To schedule an appointment, ring +41 79 230 76 82 or contact the artist directly by e-mail.

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