• Eigenleben der Farbe. Farbproben zur Druckgraphik von Franz Gertsch
    Foto: Alistair Overbruck

The Autonomous Existence of Colors | Color Proofs for the Prints of Franz Gertsch

The wonderful, often large colored prints by Franz Gertsch are the result of long preparations. These include the thoughtful selection and skillful mixing of the printing inks which first make the image encoded on the printing plate visible on the paper.

This procedure demands inspiration, imaginative power, and technical abilities from the artist. The selection of the colors and color values is not the result of a pretentious display of self-will, for example. Franz Gertsch, on the contrary, weighs the significance of each individual hue of color and follows either the color wheel or other chromatic intentions.

The artist prepares his paint from pure powdered pigments that he acquires in Kyoto or from Dr. Georg Kremer in Aichstätten (Allgäu) and sets up in rows of glasses arranged according to color hues on a shelf in his print workshop, whereby lapis lazuli outshines everything else. He makes use of a transparent oil varnish-based white binding-agent to mix the colors.

Before Nik Hausmann, the printer and lithographer from Séprais in the Jura mountain range north of the Alps who has been entrusted for years with Franz Gertsch’s woodcuts, begins with the long slow process of inking or rolling the surface of the wood panel that lays horizontally on the trestle table in the middle of his expansive studio in Bern, color tests are made on the same type of Japan paper to be used for the printing of the picture. Despite the smaller format, these tests enable one to assess what the prints will look like in their final state.

Maria, the artist’s wife, often makes notes or other inscriptions on the edges of the small sheets of paper such as "2 – most similar – blue is not – correct". Somewhat later, these entries concerning the printing procedure made by Maria Gertsch in the “work booklet,” which contains much useful information, for example about the composition of the colors, are taken into consideration.

The prints exhibited on the wall here belong to four suites. They are firstly the 17 prints from an unengraved plate with 1994 pigments purchased in Kyoto that explore the color wheel—with Kuro black at the point of inflection—and which very simply intones the hymn of an extremely sensitive, abstract and autonomous monochrome. The three other suites of color tests belong to the complex of works entitled Rehau • Ausblick Franz Gertsch [Outlook Franz Gertsch] consisting of Pestwurz [Butterbur] (2004–2005), Waldweg [Forest Path] (2005–2006) und Gräser [Grasses] (2006–2007). These concern detail prints from the already cut monumental woodcuts and the viewer can easily recognize the graphic property of the respective pictorial motifs.

But these color tests particularly enable an initial opportunity to see the “realistic” picture as an abstract support of color and space which is so central to Franz Gertsch’s woodcuts. In the case of this unsurpassed color mixer, one experiences that colors have a true life of their own which surpasses everything else in its “abstractness.” The succession of test prints of one and the same motif in various “keys” has a decisive influence on the viewer’s perception of the work: it is possible to comprehend here in this microcosm what one man might overlook for example from the green impression to the nocturnal blue version of Gräser.

Franz Gertsch explains: "From the very beginning, the intention of the woodcuts was the fulfillment of an old dream—the one on a realistic monochromatic picture… The picture is “made” from colors that are rubbed from the unworked surface. My color atmospherics are by no means meant naturalistically or atmospherically and are not the expression of a certain time of day… The picture results from the clear balance between the one color and the paper. Dominique was of great importance for me because the notion of portraiture as landscape, the pure idea of the woodcut, and embedding the whole in a monochromatic color space came together for the first time."


The Autonomous Existence of Colors | Color Proofs for the Prints of Franz Gertsch