Markus Raetz’s Berglandschaft [Mountain landscape] was also donated to the collection by Marianne Baumann-Ingold. Bern artist Raetz, who died in 2020, was one of the most important Swiss artists of his generation. He was extremely versatile, working in a wide variety of media and genres. One of his preferred means of expression was etching. He achieved great proficiency in this demanding gravure printing process (which is rarely used by contemporary artists) as reflected in this work, in which, artistically speaking, he positions himself between Klee’s abstract and Surbek’s representational approach.
Berglandschaft represents an imaginary landscape for which Raetz produced eight state proofs in countless variations. Between the individual proofs, he added more lines and also experimented with different printing inks and paper sizes. These experiments were an integral part of Raetz’s artistic approach. For the colour variants seen here, he used four plates which he processed with sandpaper and coloured with Prussian blue, ochre yellow, turquoise green and sepia yellow.
Simply by changing the orientation of the wave-like lines drawn across the plate and using different colours, Raetz skilfully managed to stagger the mountain and hill chains into the depth of the image, whilst creating an impression of aerial perspective.
In addition to Berglandschaft, the Kunstmuseum Thun has two other works by the artist in its collection: Jim Strong & John Kling (1976), and the poster advertising his solo exhibition at the Kunsthalle Bern (1977). Jim Strong & John Kling is a woodcut, a technique Raetz used very rarely in his oeuvre as he preferred the more flexible etching technique to any other printing technique. Two popular detective figures from pulp-fiction magazines served as the inspiration for this work.
The poster for his 1977 solo exhibition at the Kunsthalle Bern was created using the screen-printing technique, which Raetz also used as his initial idea for the design of the poster. Screen printing works on the basis of a fine, coloured dot-grid structure of magenta, cyan, yellow and black which, in an appropriate combination and with a sufficient viewing distance, generates a coloured image. Raetz enlarged the dot grid to such an extent, however, that the self-portrait breaks down into seemingly disjointed coloured dots, meaning that the artist’s image can barely be perceived. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, he therefore undermined the recognition value of the portrait and the associated advertising effect for himself. The focus of this work is no longer Raetz’s own image, but his creative approach to the screen-printing process, in which he combined technology and themes in a congenial manner.
For his first print-graphic experiments in the late 1950s, Markus Raetz was guided by Ticino artist Peter Travaglini who introduced him to various techniques. Although Raetz initially explored linocut and woodcut in the main, over the years he developed a method of working that opened up a broad field of experimentation. He was constantly testing new technical possibilities and experimenting with unconventional materials such as rubber, celluloid, Sagex and Pavatex. Print graphics thus remained one of his central areas of work for quite some time. Often, as is the case with the poster for the Kunsthalle Bern exhibition, the choice of subject developed out of the respective printing technique
Prints from previous centuries form an important part of the Kunstmuseum’s collection. Among them are works by several artists who devoted themselves to print graphics for many years. In addition to Markus Raetz, two other 20th century artists, Marguerite Saegesser and Ernst Ramseier, dealt intensively with print graphics.
Whilst Raetz worked with various materials, Bern artist Marguerite Saegesser focused on monotype. This technique was long regarded as the lowest form of art, with etching or woodcuts enjoying a much greater reputation among art experts. Monotypes are a special case in print graphics, as they exist only as unique pieces. To produce them, paint is applied to an unprinted plate which is then run through a printing press with damp paper, creating an image.
Saegesser valued this medium as an expression of artistic impulses. She gradually refined her technique and brought her experience as a sculptor to bear. The quality and feel of the paper were therefore essential for Saegesser, as she also saw it as an important means of expression. For Saegesser, producing monotype images was a constant process of experimentation and revision.
Ernst Ramseier, however, preferred woodcut as a means of artistic expression. He first came into contact with this relief-print technique during an early study trip to the south of France with fellow artists Etienne Clare and Knud Jacobsen. He was inspired by the Expressionist woodcuts of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Ignaz Epper and Emil Nolde.
The woodcut technique combines craftsmanship and artistic skills. The individual steps – from the original idea for the picture, through the design and production of the printing block, to the finished print – provided Ramseier with a great deal of creative freedom. The basic method of making woodcuts, which does not involve any chemical processes, also allowed him to focus on the essentials. These were aspects that suited Ramseier – they provided the ideal opportunity for him to express his subjective impressions and associations in his art.