Name: Willi Müller-Brittnau
Date of Birth: August 3, 1938
Date of Death: July 8, 2003
Country of Origin: CH
Willy Müller was a Swiss artist best-known for his geometric paintings and silk-screen prints. He attended the Zurich University of the Arts in 1954-55, then, like many Swiss artists at the time, began working as a retoucher and graphic designer in Zofingen. Around 1960, inspired by Henri Matisse and Ellsworth Kelly, he began to produce collages arranged out of torn colored paper in a tachist style, and then gradually to develop flat compositions featuring contrasting colors and geometric forms. By 1965, he had quit his job and moved to the town of Brittnau, from which he would adopt the name by which he is now known.
In his early career, Müller moved away from tachisme towards a style influenced by action painting and gestural abstraction, especially the New York School of abstract expressionism. He combined this influence with his preference for geometric compositions, resulting in explorations of color in large expanses, characteristic of his paintings and silk-screen prints. In his practice of geometric abstraction, he explored the optical effects produced by contrast and diffusion of color. Müller can be called a disciple of American hard-edge painting. His most well-known work was produced in the period from 1965 to 1976, which he called his “concrete” phase. His pieces from this period feature a symmetrical structure and an emphasis on the center, with a dynamic motion of composition along a vertical axis and out toward the edges of the frame. He uses bright colors, thickly applied and intensifed by contrasts, which create the illusion of vibration and a juxtaposition of figure and ground. His series of tilted squares, painted in the late 1960s, recall Josef Albers‘ compositions.
Around 1980, Müller took a break from painting, after which he began to create more violent, gestural images, which then condensed back into geometric compositions. In addition to painting, drawing and printmaking, he also produced numerous sculptural works.
Franz Meyer, the former director of the Kunstmuseum Basel, referred to Müller by his name and town of residence in the 1960s, nicknaming him Müller-Brittnau. The name stuck, and eventually, Müller began to sign his works with it. In 1983, he also changed the spelling of his first name from Willy to Willi, and shortened his signature to wmb.
Müller died in 2003. His works have been exhibited internationally in numerous solo and group shows.