Rainer Pretzell

Rainer Pretzell

Born August 20 1939, Berlin

Publisher and printer, in this time was a conspicuous figure in literary and the cultural scene in Berlin. Today he is a phenomenon in the field of fine and artists’ books.
Founder and owner of the publishing house Rainer Verlag, which was, during the years of its existence (1966–1995), one of the most important of all publishers of artists’ books and because of its creative and experimental approach it was sought after by artists such as Dieter Roth, A. R. Penck, Emmett Williams, Marcel Broodthaers, Ann Noël, Endre Tót, Jan Voss, Martin Rosz, Ben Vautier, Damien Hirst and much others.

artist's book, Not in map


Rainer had grown up in Salzburg during the war years, and the exceptional richness and rhythm of the “Austrian” language had had a permanent effect on him. In his youth in the Rhineland, Pretzell, who was very receptive to the subtleties of intonation and accent, absorbed the idioms and conversational style of the Rhineland, reflecting the years spent in the town of Celle, a bastion of the most refined High German. Among his friends it was said that: “Rainer is a fascinating raconteur, richly exploiting the nuances of German pronunciation and intonation, as well as the vocabulary of the various places he has lived in”.


He had already set up the printing and publishing house Rainer Verlag in the loft of an old factory building in the famous Berlin quarter, Kreuzberg. Despite a minimal fundamental capital he managed to completely equip it and began to print on his own letterpress machines. When the Rainer Verlag began, books at every stage of their creation passed through the hands of Rainer Pretzell himself.His closest colleague was his Hungarian wife, Agnes, who also bound selected editions by hand. Over the years the printing works spread, room by room, into the whole loft. Dracula, a Transylvanian Adventure by the Austrian poet, H. C. Artmann, illustrated by Uwe Bremer, was the first book, which the Rainer Verlag published in 1966. The pivotal title, which saw the light of day in Rainer Verlag in 1966, was Ypsilon by Jörn Ebeling. A typographically interesting, daring book of poems and puns, it was printed by hand on transparent paper. It was a recorded attempt to write it and to make the type-setting and printing (by Pretzell, his wife and his companion) in one night and the following day. In fact, however, it ultimately took two days to produce it and three more days to finish it. With this book, Pretzell launched a series of paperback books in a small format. Another title from this series, which should be mentioned, was Ann Noël’sConflux, which followed a different time progression for the creation of a book, an extremely long time. The 180-page book took fifteen years to come out as a consecutive list of all the names noted in the artist’s diary during this time. The result was a handwritten record, in tiny writing, of the people who had passed through the life of the artist in that period. Interleaved semi-transparent pages describe the activities of those named at the time of the diary entries. The small printing house, the Rainer Verlag, became famous in Berlin and beyond and, in the development of the art, literary and music scene, contributed significantly to the excellent post-war reputation of West Berlin. At the recommendation of those he had already published, more and more writers from the same circles came, wanting Rainer Verlag to print their works.


In 1967 Rainer Pretzell became acquainted with Emmett Williams and Dieter Roth, and some years later with Ann Noël. Pretzell’s publishing interest gradually extended to artists from all over Europe and subsequently even to Americans. In the variety of authors and their adherence to various artistic trends or groups it is always difficult to choose the most outstanding works. Judging from hindsight, the choices made by the press, managed by Pretzell with a feeling for quality and emphasis laid on the topical relevance of the appearance of the work, was crucial in the development and importance of the publishing house.


From 1968 the following, among others, became associated with Pretzell’s publishing house: Dieter Roth, A. R. Penck, Ben Vautier, Markus Raetz, Emmett Williams, Dorothy Iannone, Martin Rosz, Eta Bender, Max Neuman, H. C. Artmann, Jan Voss, Gennadij Ajgi and Felix Philipp Ingold. Thanks too to this collaboration, many artists gradually gained high renown in the world of artists’ books and art generally


He received a state grant of 10,000 marks. He bought a Heidelberg offset printing machine, which was good enough to enable him to begin printing albums and illustrated books. (from a conversation of Gina Renotière with Rainer Pretzell and the memoirs of Emmett Williams)



Anyám tyúkja (artist's book)

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