Press release

FRANZ GERTSCH
7 November - 21 December 2002

We are pleased to present the first solo show in Italy by the great Swiss painter Franz Gertsch. The exhibition will feature his most recent works: a new series of monumental wood-cuts, including the new portrait Silvia and new landscapes.

Born in Möringen, near Berne in 1930, Gertsch lives in Rüschegg, in the Bernese countryside. Right from the beginning he has sought a contemporary form of pictorial realism. In 1969, he found his own personal style when he decided to start with pre-existing images, photographs taken from newspapers and magazines, which he reproduced in paint on large canvases. Later, he preferred to choose his subjects from the world that surrounded him at close range and he himself took the photographs of friends and relatives that would serve as the basis for paintings. Thus he portrayed the hippy art scene of the early seventies in paintings of epic style and dimensions.

In 1971 Jean-Christoph Amman invited him to show his paintings in a personal exhibition at the Luzern museum and in 1972 Harald Szeeman invited him to Documenta V in Kassel. That same year, Gertsch spent some time in New York, where he came in contact with the New York art scene, came to know the American photo-realist painters and in 1973 exhibited his works at the Nancy Hoffman gallery. Franz Gertsch's hyper-realist style differs from that of his American colleagues: it is more personal, more human, warmer.

In 1975 his works were exhibited at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf and at Kunsthalle Basel. In 1978, Gertsch changed his approach and created a series of five large paintings of Patty Smith. Whereas in the early seventies he had sought to render the private public, the theme for this later period was that of contemporary pathos. The balance between psychological tension and pictorial rendition was experimented on a subject that was better known and more topical. The colours are less bright and Gertsch focuses on the phsychological portrayal of the subject. The last painting in the series on Patty Smith was to be a portrait, but this project was never realised and Gertsch decided to paint a self-portrait. From this first portrait there followed a series of large female portraits: Irene, Tabea, Cristina. The series culminated in two monumental portraits Johanna I e Johanna II in 1986. Gradually the narrative and temporal element looses importance in favour of a timeless icon-like image.

The desire for a greater stylisation, abstraction and distance led Gertsch to develop a new artistic technique. Starting in 1986 he made female portraits in the form of monumental wood-cuts. He cuts the image onto a wooden base which is then covered with monochrome colour and transferred onto a sheet of handmade Japanese paper. The faces of Natascha I-V, Dominique and Doris appear to be made up of an infinite number of dots that seem to form a coloured veil in front of the face, creating an effect of distance and estrangement. However, the sense of the presence of the subject is not lost, nor is the accuracy of the reproduction. Thus Gertsch subsequently drew closer to the cancellation of the barrier between representation and abstraction. Seen up close, the portraits seem like landscapes: if you look at a small part of the surface, the points seem to compose other images. Thus, it seemed a natural process that in the nineties Gertsch moved from portraiture to the theme of the landscape: the forests, the river, the sea.

The monumental wood-cuts of Franz Gertsch were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1990; at Lembachhaus in Munich, Baviera in 1991; at the Kunstmuseum of Berne in 1994; at the Museum of Contemporary Art Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin in 1997 and at the Kunsthalle of Kiel in 1999. On 26 October 2002, the Franz Gertsch Museum will be inaugurated in Burgdorf, near Berne and it will accommodate a permanent exhibition of the artist's paintings and monumental wood-cuts (www.Museum-FranzGertsch.ch).

Texts

Franz Gertsch