Plastered across the Centre Gallery at the Marshall Student Center last week were large, conspicuous signs emblazoned with capitalized letters: “PLEASE TOUCH MY ART.”
It was one of the many unusual aspects of artist Horst Mueller’s artwork, which aims to give blind and physically handicapped individuals a chance to experience something they don’t usually have access to.
Six years ago, Mueller knew little about art. He was an engineering consultant who spent much of his time between Hamburg, Germany and Jensen Beach, Florida.
“I was an engineer but not an artist,” Mueller said. “My wife liked art and she always came to galleries, but I would never go with her.”
Mueller, 71 years old, said he finally found his muse when he received an invitation six years ago to partake in a small exhibition called “A Stand for Peace,” organized by Florida-based Vietnamese-American artist, Huong.
He continued to experiment with art for the next two years, attempting to develop a style that he could call his own, until he stumbled upon a painting that caught his eye.
“It had a certain thickness that stood out to me, and that influenced me to transfer from water colors to acrylics and eventually to my style,” Mueller said.
Mueller said he then found acrylic paints to be too expensive, so he developed a technique that utilized gypsum, a widely used mineral dissolved in water, which can easily be molded into any shape.
“I mixed it up (and) put it on plywood,” he said. “It looked pretty good from the beginning, but the next morning, I wasn’t satisfied.”
Employing his engineering experience, Mueller contacted an industrial chemist in Germany who advised him to use a certain kind of gypsum that would be more appropriate for molding.
From that point on, Mueller said his hobby evolved into a passion and much of his artwork found its way to the walls of his household. At that time, a friend who owned a small gallery in Stuart, Florida, invited him to put his artwork on display.
“When I started to prepare for the show, I thought to myself ‘I have to do something, I want to be different,’” he said.
Muller started by painting his own business cards, but eventually found a solution in his own work.
“I felt the paintings and thought, it’s so thick and tactile,” he said. “And the idea came just like that.”
Seeing, he said, was something that could be done through the hands.
Though initially hesitant about how his work would be received, Mueller said he received reaffirmation when a woman once approached him about feeling his art.
“She was completely blind and then she told me she had a favorite painting,” he said. “It brought tears to my eyes.”
The next day, a local newspaper headlined Mueller’s exhibit and he eventually launched his philanthropy as an artist. His showcase, “Even Hands Can See,” was sponsored by the German government after the director of barrier-free tourism, responsible for providing handicapped accessibility to all parts of the country, contacted him.
Mueller set off, touring Germany, displaying his artwork and hosting workshops for the visually impaired and mentally handicapped while accepting invitations to tour Russia, England and parts of the U.S., where he made an appearance at the 96th annual Lions Clubs International Convention, a global organization that focuses on charitable work for the visually impaired.
“If you consider the thousands that are affected by visual impairment in cities like Tampa or even Hamburg, you have an entire group of perfectly capable people that also want a chance to experience art as we do, they deserve that chance,” Mueller said. “They feel the wall and create their own depiction of the painting.”