Frantz Gertsch was born in 1930, in Möringen, Switzerland. From 1947 to 1950, he was a student at the school of Max von Mühlenen, painter and glass-painter in Bern. From 1950 to 1952, Gertsch continued his education in Bern as a student of Hans Schwarzenbach. In the late 1960s, he became known for his large-format, realist paintings and met with international recognition at the Documenta 5, in 1972. He received several stipends, among them a stipend in Switzerland, in 1967, and in Berlin, in 1974/75. In 1976, Gertsch moved to Rüschegg, Switzerland. Based on the initiative of the artist, the Museum Franz Gertsch opened in Burgdorf, northeast of Bern, in 2002.
Since 1969, Gertsch has created large-format hyperrealist paintings, done in traditional technique, sometimes with paints and brushes he made himself. Points of orientation and models for his involvement with painting are taken from photography as medium, from specific photographs as templates, and from slides. This is also the context in which Gertsch’s works attracted attention at the Documenta 5, a legendary exhibition curated by Harald Szeemann. It was also devoted to photo- and hyperrealist tendencies, especially in North American contemporary art, and was entitled: »Befragung der Realität – Bildwelten heute« (»Interrogation of Reality – Pictorial Worlds Today«). At the Documenta, Gertsch presented his painting Medici (today: Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen) – a larger-than-life group portrait (400 × 600 cm) that is today considered an icon of the 1970s.
Defining aspects of Gertzsch’s motifs are situational family and group constellations, but also landscapes. And he became especially known as a chronicler of an anti-bourgeois youth movement (Medici, 1972; Patti Smith, 1978 — 89). Yet his large-format paintings cannot be reduced to their trendy or life-style oriented objects. Rather, they emerge as basic, conceptual reflections that try to give back to the painted picture the »credibility it had lost since the 19th century because of photography. (…) Photorealists may actually ›top‹ photographers through the suspension of focal length (…), through materialization and enlargement (Gertsch, Hucleux, Sarkisian). (…) These paintings are done with an enormous amount of craftsmanship, virtuosity, and time« (W. Becker, in: Ludwig Collection 1977, I).
In 1986, Gertsch termporarily gave up painting and focused on the genre of graphic arts. As a student at the Bern school of painting, he had already pursued this with linocuts of heads and faces, and, in 1972, with a portfolio (e. g. the lithography Jean-Frederic Schnyder). In the mid-1980s, the formats of his graphical works changed. Gertzsch started to capture portraits in monumental woodcut formats, sometimes more than two meters in height, thereby testing the boundaries of paper and print technology also in the field of graphics (Natascha, 1987/88; Doris, 1989). Moreover, Gertsch created numerous landscapes, for example, variations ofSchwarzwasser (Blackwater 1990ff.), done in different colors, or Cima del Mar (1990), works in which the artist devoted himself to basic questions of the pictorial. Through linking the monochrome field of color and the exact photographic image, he kindles »the dialogue between different concepts of figuration and image« (Friedel, in: Ausst.-Kat. Gertsch Holzschnitte, 1991).
After 1994, Gertsch again produced paintings (Gräser I-IV (Grasses I-IV), 1995 — 99; Silvia, 1997 — 98), reconnecting with his earlier focus on portrait, landscapes, and »facial landscapes.« The graphical techniques Gertsch had developed earlier were put to use again, yet they were now much more defined through historical references. Traditional techniques as well as art historical and stylistic points of orientation, such as portrait painting and graphical representations of landscapes from the Renaissance, became sources of inspiration. The fact that variations of his works were now sometimes done in both genres, painting and graphical arts (Silvia, 2001/02) shows that Gertzsch tried to emphasize and work with the formal specificities of the respective techniques.
Since the early 1970s, Gertsch’s works have been shown at numerous international exhibitions, for example, at the Museum of Art, Lucerne (1972), at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (1974), at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1980), and at the biannuals in Venice (1978, 1999, 2003) and Lyon (1997). A large retrospective took place in 2005, at the Museum Franz Gertsch (opened 2002 in Burgdorf, Switzerland) and at the Art Museum Bern.
Franz Gertsch lives and works in Rüschegg, Switzerland.
Franz Gertsch – Naturporträts. Holzschnitte und Gemälde 1986 — 2006: Ausst.-Kat. Albertina, Wien 2006
Franz Gertsch – Die Retrospektive: Ausst.-Kat. Kunsthalle Tübingen, Burgdorf/Bern u.a. 2005
Affentranger-Kirchrat, A.: Franz Gertsch. Die Magie des Realen, Zürich 2004
Franz Gertsch: Ausst.-Kat. Städt. Galerie im Lehnbachhaus, hg. v. H. Friedel, München 1991
Franz Gertsch: Ausst.-Kat. Kunsthaus Zürich, Zürich 1980