The Kunsthaus Zürich is staging a retrospective featuring large-format paintings and woodcuts by Franz Gertsch - one of Switzerland’s leading contemporary artists.
The exhibition, entitled ‘Seasons’, brings together in the large exhibition gallery his works from the period between 1983 and 2011, culminating in the recently finished ‘Four Seasons Cycle’. Gertsch rose to international fame in the 1970s with his hyper-realist paintings, yet his outstanding reputation stems equally from his woodcuts, unique both technically and in format. The opening of the current exhibition coincides with the completion of his masterful ‘Four Seasons Cycle’, which runs like a thread through the presentation. The show, however, goes far beyond Gertsch’s latest work to offer a complete retrospective of his production since 1983.
‘The 27 pieces, selected in consultation with Gertsch, are displayed to full effect in the spacious surroundings of the large exhibition gallery at the Kunsthaus: a prologue is followed by ‘Autumn’, ‘Winter’, ‘Spring’ and ‘Summer’, each shown in a separate room with its own atmospheric ambiance. The four ‘Seasons’ images are juxtaposed with all the paintings and woodcuts created since 1983.
Born in Berne in 1930, Franz Gertsch has been producing paintings and woodcuts for five decades, with little time for the fashions of salons and biennales. From time to time, his path has briefly coincided with those of the trendsetters (documenta V, 1972), but thereafter he has seemed to go his own way once again. As far as his art is concerned, such encounters are of no importance. Whether he is in the spotlight and receiving plaudits or working away in isolation in his studio in the Alpine foothills, Gertsch’s painting is self-generating. Unlike his celebrated German counterparts he has never flirted with metapainting. His pictures do not speak of their relationship to other pictures; they do not lament the passing of real painting or consign it to the distant future.
‘For Gertsch, the painterly challenge is invariably also a conceptual one. The photographs on which his works are based are nothing more than springboards, catalysts for a process that follows its own internal logic and aims at the absolute concord of all elements. The strict discipline of his creation disappoints romantic expectations. There is nothing wild and impulsive here. Like a house painter perched high on a scaffolding, Gertsch works away hour by hour completing his allotted daily workload - sometimes no more than a few square centimetres - brushstroke by brushstroke, calmly and patiently. His watchword is purity of material: from the paints themselves, often comprised of minerals such as lapis lazuli, azurite and malachite, to bonding agents, canvas and handmade Japanese paper, all is carefully selected with an eye to the project in question. ‘Autumn’, ‘Summer’ and ‘Winter’ are painted using colours Gertsch made himself (powder pigments bound with acrylic emulsion) on unprimed cotton duck, while for ‘Spring’ he used egg tempera.
‘For their part, Gertsch’s woodcuts may fairly be called one of a kind. With heretofore unknown precision of execution - in both engraving and printing - and in monumental formats that push the edge of the envelope (literally) when it comes to papermaking, Gertsch has lent a traditional medium new dimensions.