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2022 Artist of the Year Joseph Messer

Joseph Messer is the type of artist who understands how to break away from his own tendency towards perfectionism to create truly unique art.

Standing in turquoise, ankle-deep water at Grayton Beach, the 2022 Walton County Artist of the Year aims his camera down at the sugar-white sand where he’s laid out four photos of the sunset in South Walton. He snaps off shot after shot as saltwater and sand swirl over the printed photos.

After he finishes photographing the sunsets, he tears the photos apart and tapes them to another printed photo from a previous session that he has also digitally manipulated. Messer doesn’t leave a single scrap of paper or tape behind. Depending on the results, he might return to the beach with more photos from the day’s photoshoot to repeat the process.

The final result will be a fragmented collage of sunset colors swirling with other beach scenes and blue painter’s tape.

“It’s a very process-based art,” he says with a chuckle. “I think that if I didn’t have a process that let me give up control to it and just know that I have to go through the steps and keep going and hopefully, something will turn out at the end of that. I think I’d just fiddle with everything to death and it would take the fun and joy out of it.”

The 26-year-old is thrilled to be recognized as the Walton County Artist of the Year. He said that vulnerability is a big part of art and recognition of this magnitude feels like a gift. 

“Over the pandemic, I drew a lot of inspiration from my surroundings,” he says. “Walking the Beach in Seagrove, going to Grayton Beach State Park, being with my community, all of that went into my art. And being named Walton County Artist of the Year makes me feel that some of the wonder I saw in those things was seen and can continue to be seen by my community.”

Hurricane Katrina flooded his childhood home in Mississippi in 2005. Messer remembers using the experience in an art project at his elementary school where he was asked to tell his story from the storm.

“I think it kind of stuck with me to make art in response to things you’re really struggling through in life. And I went back to that in college where I took photos from that time in my life and started collaging them and working them and manipulating them through Photoshop and physical means,” he says. “I kind of made something beautiful out of these records of destruction and rubble. Painful things.”

Messer continues to use his unique process with collaging to work through his feelings and thoughts.

“For me, art is so important. It could make something really beautiful and amazing out of something awful,” he says.

The 26-year-old truly enjoys living and growing in an area that is populated by so many talented artists. 

“There are so many galleries here,” he says. “I think it’s cool that you can walk into them and find people who are very interested in hearing about art and very interested in seeing the different ways we make it here.”

As a way to give back to the community and start a new career, Messer is working to get a teacher’s license so he can eventually teach high school art. He said that he didn’t enjoy art in high school because he didn’t yet understand that art could be anything that he imagined.

“After high school, I found that art could be a lot of things. And it doesn’t always have to do with perfect perspective, form, or lines. I’d love to teach, whether it’s school, workshops, or working with students after school. I’d like to introduce them to art that maybe they hadn’t been introduced to before,” he says.

He hopes to be able to inspire students to create art beyond what they might think is possible.

“I’m really thankful and very excited to get involved with the community,” he said. “I want to keep exploring all of the art possibilities that are here.”

For more information, please visit josephmesser.com.  

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