Harry Bertschmann is an artist of dualities – in a career spanning over seventy years, his paintings have hung in exhibitions alongside titans of American post-war art, including Rothko, Kline, and Motherwell. His commitment to abstraction, to seeking fundamental values and expressing them through paint, was driven by pure purpose. Remarkably, these paintings were produced in stolen moments on evenings and weekends, when the artist had breaks from his day job as a graphic designer for major corporate entities like Newport and Nestlé. His design work was distributed nationally and incredibly well-known, but Bertschmann’s true passion lay in the production of fine art.
The Magnolia Series was inspired by Bertschmann’s fascination with Native American pictographs first glimpsed carved upon sandstone cliffs in rural Iowa. The language of these paintings is complex, interweaving cosmology with semiotics, to grapple with notions of the universal.
Shortly after The Magnolia Series was completed, Bertschmann was drafted into the U.S Army and stationed in Stuttgart, Germany. From there he produced his second
major body of work, The Stuttgart Series. These paintings depart from the artist’s ruminations on pictographic imagery and propel him into complex negotiations of color theory and pure abstraction; the works seek to strike balance between the dynamic and the static, as complex shapes are interwoven in earth tones. The use of powdered casein softens the pigments with a matte texture, enabling these compositions to evoke the vocabulary of the expressionist landscape.
Born in Basel, Switzerland in 1931, Harry Bertschmann studied at the prestigious Basel School of Design (Kunstgewerbeschule). He emigrated to the United States upon graduation in 1951, first to Cleveland and later to New York, where he still lives and works. He was the youngest exhibitor at the prestigious Carnegie International in 1958, after winning first prize from the Cleveland Museum of Art that year. More recently, he was honored with a retrospective exhibition at the Gewerbeverband Basel-Stadt in Basel, Switzerland in 1997.
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