Exhibition Silvia Gertsch (b. 1963) & Xerxes Ach (b.1957) – Kunstmuseum Bern

Exhibition “Embracing Sensation” , Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland (23.10.2015 – 21.02.2016).

I went to this exhibition attracted by the subject “Embracing Sensation”. The swiss Silvia Gertsch and the swiss Xerxes Ach are an artist couple since 1992. Both have quite different painting styles and approaches. Gertsch paints realistically in oil – a reverse glass painting technique. Reverse painting means the image will be seen from the other side. Ach works in a color technique as an interrogation of color, light, and texture focusing on the sensory perception of color. From monochrome color panels to quite shiny and reflective surface structures. Nevertheless they have something in common: ‘..their fascination for the ephemerality of life, the fleeting evanescence of phenomenological occurrences, as well as exploring intuitive, sensory perception.’ (Bühler, 2015). Both are working based on photographs taken on location – capturing their ‘visual sensations‘. And both prepare their own materials and paints, a quite bodily and sensual approach to understand medium very closely.

Both artists do have a quite intimate and sensual approach to their subjects. I think that they absorb the essence from the locations they visit, and to works from these experiences plus taken photographs in the studio to create something new with a personal touch.

The works of both artists do have a stimulating effect on the viewer through light effects and surface reflections and gloomy images.

I took some sketchbook notes and annotated my visual notes and some printed images. In this blog post I put both (sketchbook pages and online images) together, as to show the difference of images and printed images. At the exhibition the visual effect (brightness) was even stronger.


One of the earlier works of Gertsch is a series of 27 self portraits

  • Silvia Gertsch: ‘27ICH (27ME)‘, 1990
    Acrylic on glass (27 parts each 30 x 24 cm)
    Property of the artist and private collection



=>  This rather sketchy series is based on a polaroid snapshots. One self-portrait was painted every day. Gertsch used revered glass painting as a kind of conceptual thought similar to video images: behind a screen/glass. And she continued to work in this technique till today. This series let me think about my personal project and what a series can offer differently than just one or two pictures.

  • Silvia Gertsch: ‘Summer‘, 2008
    Oil on glass (92 x 160 cm)
    Private collection



    Silvia Gertsch - 'Summer', 2008. Online image. Courtesy the artists and Galerie Monica de Cardenas

    Silvia Gertsch – ‘Summer’, 2008. Online image. Courtesy the artists and Galerie Monica de Cardenas

=> Gertsch captures the light in various scenes (night scenes, summer scenes, or ordinary scenes from downtown Bern) in high contrasting approach. The glossy surface of the glass supports even more the glaring light around the figures – a blurry effect. At times this reminds of a light aura around the figures, quite a spiritual appeal (as in: ‘St Stephen’s cathedral, Vienna III’, 2012, oil on glass, 86 x 145 cm).

  • Xerxes Ach: ‘Transformed‘, 1998
    Polyurethane, pigment on aluminium (58 x 46 cm)



Xeres Ach_Transformed_1998

Xerxes Ach – ‘Transformed’, 1998. Online image. Courtesy the artists and Galerie Monica de Cardenas

=> Ach experimented with materials and he transformed surfaces (as ‘Transformed‘, 1998, distorted) producing relief-like structures. He began with crumpling wrapping paper and moved on to aluminum. Light is reflected in various directions, changing color effect through the depressions in the surface.

All together I found this exhibition quite different related to the highly sensual approach of the artists and the high and low key images. It was a discovery around the surfaces of the works on display.

An interesting thought was articulated by Ach in an audio-video at the exhibition where both explained their approaches:

You can depict, form, adjust, torn apart the whole thing – till it looks like as at the beginning. What is the difference?  It has a part of myself in it, something new.
(Ach, Gertsch, audio-video, 2015)

Further sketchbook notes:

trying to capture the essence of the light and gloom
Reference to:
– Silvia Gertsch ‘St Stephens’ cathedral, Vienna III’, 2012, oil on glass (86 x 145 cm)
– Silvia Gertsch ‘Secret Garden I‘, 2013, oil on glass (86 x 130 cm)


  • For me the phenomenological approach, looking at the subject from a sensual perspective and to translate this feeling into something new is a fascinating idea that I would like to see how I can incorporate this in my own works in a different way.
  • Experimenting with surfaces to support the overlaying ideas of light and color (as Ach elaborates it) is an idea that I need to think about how and when this might be beneficial for my own works and purposes.
  • Bold contrasting elements of light and shadow conveys a highly visual effect, at times quite spiritual. The side-by-side effect of more blurred and sharp contour is what makes it for me so fascinating.


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