Camille Graeser was born on February 27, 1892 in Carouge, canton of Geneva. His father was a manufacturer of stationery. After his father’s death, the mother moved to Stuttgart, where Graeser went to school, did an apprenticeship, and embarked on his studies. Graeser had been apprenticed as a cabinetmaker and, starting in 1911, he studied at the Royal Academy Stuttgart and enrolled in special classes for cabinetry and interior architecture. In 1913 Graeser became a »Meisterschüler« (»Master Student«) of Bernhard Pankok. Next to his studies, he painted, his points of orientation being Cubism and Fauvism.
Graeser spent the winter of 1915/16 in Berlin where he drew public attention, together with gallery owner Herwarth Walden and the artist group Der Sturm. Back in Stuttgart in 1917, Graeser started his own studio for interior architecture, commercial graphic design, and product design. In 1918 he showed his works for the first time at the Kunsthaus Schaller in Stuttgart under the title: »modernistische Wohnideen und ungegenständliche Zeichnungen« / Modernist Ideas of Living and Non-Figral Drawings. By that time he had also become a member of the Deutscher Werkbund (German Work Federation). During the same year Graeser was a student in the painting class taught by Adolf Hölzel at the Stuttgart Academy. Under Hölzel’s influence, Graeser became involved with abstraction and with theories of color and turned towards abstract Expressionism which he developed into his specific »Kubofuturismus.«
In 1924 Graeser participated in the Werkbund exhibition »Form ohne Ornament« / »Form Without Ornament« and settled for a two-dimensional purism and a strict, constructivist design that avoided any hint of a signature brush stroke. Very consistently, he used several layers of paint in order to render the paint application anonymous. This technique of paint application had a significant impact on all of Graeser’s paintings, which turned him into a perfect candidate for a cooperation with Mies van der Rohe. In van der Rohe’s Weißenhof housing development in Stuttgart, interior architect Graeser designed one of the model apartments. By then Graeser had become a well-established entrepreneur in southern Germany and was also a financially successful representative of the »Neues Bauen« (»New Construction«) and »Neues Wohnen« (»New Living«).
After Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, Graser left Stuttgart and settled in Zurich. Yet in Zurich he was not able to procure projects or commissions as a designer. Supported by Emmy Rauch, whom he married in 1936, he entirely devoted himself to free, abstract painting. In 1937 he joined the Swiss artist association »allianz,« and from that time on regularly participated in their exhibitions. Starting in 1938, Graeser developed a style of painting that was shaped by mathematical and geometrical forms and observed the basic rules of color theory. He preferred ponderations of the complementary colors, and even his mixed colors were mathematically balanced. Next to Max Bill and Richard Paul Lohse, Graeser was therefore one of the most important representatives of Concrete Art in Switzerland. At the same time, his work has come to be considered a predecessor of Op Art, Minimal Art, and Hard Edge painting. From 1938 on, Graeser was a member of the group »Zürcher Konkrete.« After that, themes and motives of his pictures were »Loxodomien«, geometrical constructions of surface areas, the reduction of angles, rhythmical additions of shape and color, mathematical relations, dislocations, and ‘moving’ elements. In 1944, Graeser defined his artistic aims in his publication ›abstrakt + konkret‹ as follows: ›concrete means the strictly logical creating and fashioning of art works that have their own inherent order. concrete means the play with mass and value of color, shape, and line.‹ Rarely do an artist’s self-reflexive statements and his pictures correspond to such a degree as with Camille Graeser. He also kept emphasizing the closeness of his compositions to musical sound concepts. This peaked in 1951 in the Zurich exhibition ›Optische Musik‹ / ›Optical Music,‹ which was also Graeser’s first solo exhibition at the Galerie 16. In 1964 he had a large retrospective at the Kunsthaus Zürich together with Johannes Itten. In 1977 he participated in the Documenta VI in Kassel. The 1970s were the decade when his approach to painting was taken up in European commercial graphic design as well as in Op Art. In 1979 Graeser’s œuvre was honored with a retrospective shown at several institutions.
Camille Graeser died on February 21, 1980 in Wald, near Zurich. In 1981 the Camille Graeser Foundation was set up in Zurich that has been active until today.
Gassen, R., Hausdorff, V.: Camille Graeser. Vom Entwurf zum Bild. Entwurfszeichnungen und Ideenskizzen 1938 bis 1978, hg. v. d. Camille Graeser-Stiftung, Zürich 2009
3 x konkret. Max Bill, Camille Graeser, Richard Paul Lohse: Ausst.-Kat. hg. v. J. Knubben, Rottweil 2005
(Hg.): Camille Graeser. Design: Ausst.-Kat. hg. v. R. Koella, Köln/ Hannover u.a. 2002 — 03
Koella, R.: Werkverzeichnis Camille Graeser, 3 Bde., Zürich 1995
Camille Graeser 1892 — 1980: Ausst.-Kat. Winterthur u.a. 1992 — 93, Zürich 1992
Camille Graeser: abstrakt + konkret, Zürich 1944