cut Color-aid paper, signed lower center
22 x 30 inches (unframed dimensions)
Acrylic on paper, signed upper left
10 x 5.5 inches (unframed dimensions)
Acrylic on paper, signed upper center and lower right
6 x 9.5 inches (unframed dimensions)
Cut Color-aid paper
14 x 20.5 inches (unframed dimensions)
Acrylic on paper, signed lower left
8.87 x 13.25 inches (unframed dimensions)
Unique cut Color-aid paper collage, signed lower center
23.25 x 29 inches (unframed dimensions)
Harry Bertschmann has led an extraordinary double life. His commercial package designs are icons in American culture — but for 70 years he was privately pushing the boundaries of expressionism.
Art historian Robert C. Morgan has aptly written that “Bertschmann is essentially an art world outsider looking inward. He is a seasoned artist, a highly creative artist, an articulate individual, and a nearly obsessive worker, always willing to stand back and examine what he does before moving ahead. He is also an exemplary draughtsman. This gives him the liberty to work in many styles and visual terrains, whether figurative or abstract, expressionist or hard edge, surrealist or constructivist. All of these mediums are within his reach throughout his career. He is undaunted by art world trends or the prices fetched at auction houses. Rather he sees himself as a kind of renegade or, more discreetly put, an independent artist. Upon arriving in the United States in the early 1950s, where he proceeded to become a high-end product designer, Bertschmann has always painted freely without constraint. He has never directly sought a stamp of approval for what he is doing, nor has he ever tried to classify his work or to give it a category. He denies categories of any sort, particularly when it comes to art.”
Bertschmann was born in Basel, Switzerland, in 1931 and graduated from the Basel School of Design in 1945. He came to America in 1950, kept his studio in Cleveland, and in 1958 he was the youngest artist exhibiting at the prestigious Carnegie International in Pittsburgh among the great AbEx painters. In 1962 he settled in New York’s Greenwich Village where by day he created dozens of commercial package designs — many of which remain iconic in American popular culture. By night he painted incessantly, driven to push the boundaries of abstract expressionist painting. In 2018, the president of the Fashion Institute of Technology honored Bertschmann with the school’s rarely-bestowed Lifetime Achievement Award.
About these collages
Since the late 1950s Bertschmann typically began his day by creating small abstract paintings and collages he called the Haiku Series. He also called these habitual explorations “Triggers” because they seem to have served as daily catalysts to begin discovery in the studio — like a cup of coffee at breakfast. Persistently experimental, he joyfully drew from an unusual depth of flexibility, both creative and technical. Some of his six- and seven-foot canvases often found their genesis in a small Haiku collage. His persistent delight in discovering new dynamics in abstraction continued to bring life and authenticity to his expressions. “Every day was different,” he said. “I never had any advance plan. Inspiration and impatience kept me producing new art and developing different aspects of expression. Paintings, collages, drawings came pouring out.” Bertschmann pursued collage for more than fifty years. The majority are totally abstract, composed only of cut paper shapes of typically primary and secondary colors. Some of the cut pieces, with broader flat polygonal shapes are geometric abstractions clearly acknowledging their roots in his graphic design. In other works, the cut shapes are sharply angular, placed irregularly like pieces from a shattered stained-glass window. Still others belong to the free-wheeling Haiku Series, where brushed paint, penned ink, and crayon are applied, mixed with cut-outs and torn fragments that continue the lively pace. Whatever technique he chose, he carefully placed adjacent or overlapping pieces, and added other mediums, so that the wholes pulse like musical compositions.
– Peter Hastings FalkRead the full backstory about Bertschmann here.