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Franz Herberth
Hans Hartung

and other abstract prints after 1945

Opening: Monday, 29 April, 7 p.m.

See catalogue Franz Herberth

from 29 April 2019

Writing about Hans Hartung’s printed work is like carrying coals to Newcastle. In 1973, Hartung created a series of lithographs, woodcuts and linocuts for the legendary Erker‑Presse (Hartung 1974). The current exhibition at Galerie Hochdruck places some woodcuts from that series side by side with Franz Herberth’s linocuts, which—unlike Hartung—have never received the attention they deserve. This exhibition therefore marks a further attempt, following the exhibitions in 1990 at Galerie Lang in Vienna and in 2003 at the University of Applied Arts (each with their own catalogues), to show his works in public.

Franz Herberth was born in Vienna in 1907 and studied from 1924 at the School of Applied Arts in Vienna under Franz Cižek, Erich Mallina, Anton Kenner, Rudolf Larisch and Berthold Löffler. After completing his studies, he remained at the School, working  from 1930 as a teacher in the print workshop. In 1939 he was dismissed because of his marriage to the non-Aryan Bettina Freund, after having been expelled a year earlier from the Bund Österreichischer Gebrauchsgrafik (Austrian Society of Commercial Art). In 1940 he was ultimately prohibited from working altogether. After the war, he became head of the print workshop at the University of Applied Arts, as it had become, and was made a professor after working there for twenty years. He died in Pulkau, Lower Austria, in 1973.

Whereas the works of Viennese Kineticists of the 1920s in Franz Cižek’s class (according to Oswald Oberhuber “the only existing Futurism school”), such as Erika Giovanna Klien, Otto Erich Wagner, L. W. Rochowansky, Friederike Nechansky, Elisabeth Karlinsky or Marianne Ullmann, were widely published and shown in exhibitions, in the book Wiener Kinetismus—Eine bewegte Moderne, for example,Herberth is not even mentioned. This could be explained by the fact that as a student (for some of the time alongside Erika Giovanna Klien) and in subsequent years he felt more attached to German Expressionism than to abstract art. It was not until the early 1950s that he turned to abstract art, but then with a rage for experimentation unparalleled in post-war Austrian art.

Herbert confined himself to coloured linocuts and, from the early 1960s, wood engravings (with a marked change in style because of the medium), but in doing so exploited all printing refinements to their limits. Unlike the artists of the Grosvenor School in London, who from the mid-1920s gave an initial (figurative) stimulus to coloured linocuts, borrowing heavily from the Italian Futurist movement, Herberth returned rather to the abstract vocabulary of Viennese Kineticism. Unlike Futurism (which had also been an inspiration for Kineticism), there is no attempt at communication of a message or agitation in Herberth’s work, highlighting even more clearly the break with Socialist Realism, which he turned his back on in the early 1950s when he renounced his membership of the Communist Party. The effect of his quiescent “kinetic” rather than “Kineticist” abstract compositions is due not only to their experimental quality but above all to the careful planning, the expert knowledge and the intelligent exploitation of the technical possibilities.

“The spatial effect in Herberth’s compositions, created not just by the lines, but also particularly by the overprinting of the plate, slightly offset, with a second translucent colour, becomes a quasi-characteristic element of his work. Apart from parallel shifts, there are also sheets in which the translucent overprint is slightly rotated. His compositions become even more complex through the overprinting of a plate turned through 180 degrees. Herberth went on to mix and vary these possibilities” (Schneider 2003, p.10).

Another notable feature is the systematic use of rainbow printing based on the Japanese “bokashi”, the gradation of a colour from light to dark or to another colour: “Herberth creates colour gradations not on the plate but on the roller. By rolling the ink on the stone to the desired effect it can then be taken up by the roller.” (Schneider 2003, p.11). To create different gradations on a single plate, Herberth simply divides up the plates, rolls them out separately and then recombines them for printing. These prints cannot be produced in large runs, and prints with identical colour combinations are rare. Instead, there are several colour variants of one and the same motive, also with different formats—portrait or landscape. The prints are never titled but, as with Hartung’s lithographs and woodcuts, are numbered in the form “year—motive serial number—motive variant”.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Herberth’s colour linocuts is the fact that they resemble a much more recent phenomenon. Using analogue techniques, he was able to produce the Photoshop effects created by graphic designers today.

Hartung 1974: Hans Hartung, Grafik aus der Erker-Presse 1973 (St. Gallen, 1974).

Schneider 2003: Michael Schneider, "Vom Gegenstand zum Material—Zur Entwicklung der Technik des Hochdrucks im druckgrafischen Werk von Franz Herberth", in Erika Patka, ed., Franz Herberth—Neue Dimensionen der Druckgrafik um 1950 (Vienna, 2003).