Thomi Wolfensberger

Video: Marc Asekhame, Zurich
Cut: Max Wuchner
Interview: Mirjam Fischer, Zurich
Assistant Wolfensberger AG: Adem Dërmaku
Artist: Shirana Shabazi, Zurich

Thomi Wolfensberger

Lithographer and publisher

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Thomi Wolfensberger is a master in the field of lithography. A passion for his craft, unremittingly high standards, a love of experimentation, and an open mind have made him one of the most highly appreciated print partners in contemporary art for over 30 years, both at home and abroad. For a few years now he has also been issuing original prints and books at his own publishing house, Wolfsberg Verlag. In 2014, Thomi Wolfensberger was awarded the Peter Kneubühler Graphic Arts Prize. In 2019 he has now been awarded the Swiss Grand Award for Design for his artisanal expertise, his exceptional knowledge of materials, his mastery of color, and the innovative development and extension of planographic printing techniques.

The lithographic print shop, with printing machines named, for example, Emma Stone or Gertrude Stein, represents a slice of Swiss printing history. Since their founding in 1902, the graphic printers J.E. Wolfensberger AG in Zurich have devoted themselves to combining art with state-of-the-art printing. When Thomi Wolfensberger took over the lithography section of the family business in the late 1980s, the heyday of classical lithography had already come to an end. From the start, he found a means of investing the craft with renewed vibrancy through fruitful collaboration with art and artists. He brilliantly exploits and expands the potential of lithography to implement artistic visions. Time and again he has found new means of solving specific problems: technical developments to print oversized work, outdoors, or directly on walls, experiments in the fields of monotype printing and photography, in dealing with color, or the invention of an unprecedented procedure to make the lithograph of an animal. His collaborations with artists are based on subscribing to risk and mutual trust. The development of the lithographic press into a pure artists' print workshop is indebted to long-term and repeated collaborations with such artists as Fischli/Weiss, Samuel Buri, Shirana Shahbazi, Huber/Huber, Zilla Leutenegger, Dominique Lämmli, Michael Günzburger, Dominik Stauch, Adrian Schiess, and such international artists as John Baldessari, Wade Guyton, Wolfgang Laib, and Douglas Gordon.
Despite or actually because of his great knowledge of materials and technical know-how, Thomi Wolfensberger welcomes challenges: "I'm gratified if he frowns," says Michael Günzburger, who much appreciates candid, open dialogue. "We question each other as artist or printer, which is extremely productive, a mutual respect that means focusing on content. We influence each other." Two principles underpin his work: listening and taking time. Only by slowing down can you explore something in depth and arrive at surprising solutions. And there is a third principle: Wolfensberger's passion for color. Artists who work with him must have a decided, elaborated attitude toward color, an attitude toward handling color that does not make do with conventional color systems. This principle has also earned him the moniker "Anti-Pantone." It is important to him to question conventional assumptions about color and encourage a new awareness in conversation. So much so, that he has developed specific, personalized color charts with some of the artists. Thanks to his chromatic expertise, Maximage's graphic designers David Keshavjee and Julien Tavelli invited him to conduct a very unusual color workshop at ECAL in Lausanne in 2017.
Since the fall of 2018, the Swiss National Science Foundation has been funding "Hands-on," a research project at the Zurich University of the Arts, which focuses on the dialogue between the lithographer Thomi Wolfensberger and art practitioners in order to document manual skills and, at the same time, address questions from other fields of knowledge. In this way, the renowned photographer is making his knowledge accessible to the larger community of scholars and scientists.
This gives Wolfensberger an additional setting in which to be "a curious printer," as he so often describes himself.
Mirjam Fischer