Gfeller + Hellsgård



Artist duo GFELLER + HELLSGÅRD began their joint practice in the underground scene in France. Before meeting Christian Gfeller, Anna Hellsgård was studying photography. It was the darkroom that inspired her the most, working with the different shapes and forms, focusing on where the light comes from. When she met Gfeller, this element shifted to the laboratories of screen printing. Gfeller, who had a background in graphic design, was already active in the scene dominated by progressive, avant-garde zine making. With both of their practices combined they started to develop new works that would challenge the expectations of the scene and the limits of the medium. Today, they are known as masters of screen printing and abstract art, always looking to challenge the boundaries. In our conversation with the duo, we talked about the different scenes in the screen printing world worldwide and how to escape the confines of boxes and expectations.

LAGE EGAL: Your collaborative practice started in the underground scene of France, what was so unique about this scene?

GFELLER + HELLSGÅRD: The energy and DIY attitude, that you don’t have to analyse every step, it is very action based. It also plays with the boundary of bad taste. We often worked with neon colours, or very bright things, you could see it as playing between the border of good and bad taste, but it is also about humour, about self-diversion, to not take ourselves too seriously.

LE: Was the scene also allowing you to evolve together or was it more about competition?

G+H: The underground scene is the most competitive. That was really a 90s thing. It was a small niche, everyone knew each other but didn’t like each other per se. The scene was very focused on making something to shock. Sometimes they got too much into that, creating zines with dicks or swastika’s, it was at some point not so subversive anymore. But competition was also good in a way, it is challenging, you have to keep up, keep producing. On the other hand not everyone was evolving, some people really stayed there and did not come out of it, they got stuck mentally.

LE: Are there elements of this scene from France that you can find in Berlin as well?

G+H: No, it’s a very unique scene, maybe in the US, but not with this much energy and passion. There is a long tradition with screen printing zines (or art books) in France, people have been doing it since the 70s and 80s, and it never stops, so it really builds a tradition. There are people who have been working with screen printing, who are now over 60 and are still working with medium. They contribute to this heritage. Libraries are also collecting, because they understand it’s important and unique. So it is also starting to have its place in art academies. You don’t have that in Germany. There are a few great German artists who have been influenced by it, or are experts in the medium but the scene is very different. Sometimes we consider whether to add screen printing in the description of a work or write acrylic on wood instead, because it is essentially the same thing. People come with their ideas and expectations of the medium and we are no longer free from it.

For example, in the US, there is a great tradition of printmaking and screen printing with artists like Christopher Wool, Rauschenberg or Warhol. People there also click immediately when they see our work because they associate it with a tradition. In Germany people associate it with edition, reproduction or posters. In editions, screen printing is the black sheep. People value linography and lithography. Screen printing is to them industrial, it is not art. Many people are still stuck in that thinking.

LE: How do you mean the got stuck mentally?

G+H: It is mostly about the unspoken rules that people believe they have to follow. They think about how a zine should be, it exists in every discipline, it’s the same for music, for drawing etc. They believe that to be accepted in this niche they have to follow certain rules. But for us it is about putting yourself in an unsafe place, putting yourself over a boundary. When we started making abstract works, people saw us as sell-outs. We really pissed people off. It was funny that we were subversive in the underground. We really went out there with hard-core imagery and we came out with an abstract book.

We were the only ones making abstract books. We were thus shaking up the status quo in a place where there should be no status quo. From the beginning, we never wanted to be pigeonholed. We always mixed graphic design, figurative, abstract to avoid being stuck in a box. This is still our motivation today. Whatever we do, we always automatically drift back to screen printing. There is so much to discover, you discover new inks, play with transparency or layers, there is still a large area for us to experiment with. We have plenty ideas about what we can do in the future, what we can explore that hasn’t been done yet.

LE: How did your practice evolve from making books to making large size art works on wood or canvas?

G+H: At one point, we felt we had discovered everything there was to discover in making books. We published over 400 books. We had a feeling of what is left to do now? So we had to get out of that. We started with bigger unique books, which were almost as big as a print, and then we started making bigger and unique works, like prints that evolved in size. Then we worked with canvas, wood panels, and eventually we introduced glass. It evolved gradually, almost like a research.

LE: In these works a reoccurring elements is the play with colour and abstract forms. What is it that you take your inspiration from and how do these forms emerge?

G+H: The forms are adapted from screen printing, so to speak, they are inspired by the screen printing process. We are not trying to make beautiful images, the image is created by the process, through the overprinting, such as working with the different layers. Anyone can make a beautiful image, but we are not interested in that. The significance of what we do is really the printing, the process. That is the core. The main way to do that is simple shapes, it’s the surface of the process. There is an element of chance, an element of discovery that is unique every time.

Some works have as many as 10 layers of ink and we can never reproduce that. It evolves in the process, we wait for the moment it clicks, when there is a wow effect. That’s the fascinating part, it’s the process part, it depends on so many factors, the screen, the pigment, the transparency.

LE: The Stalker series is really showing this process, which seems to be an endless game with shapes and colour.

G+H: The Stalker has exactly this that we play with, every work is unique. We don’t control everything. We start with an idea, a bit of control, and when we print the first color on the wood, we then have to respond to that with the right amount because we always like to have a bit of the wood visible.

The works look very playful and easy, but it’s very easy not to make it work. That’s the art of the stuff, something that looks easy, but it took us 30 years to arrive there. It looks simple, but it is very complicated to do, that is what makes it interesting for us.

(Sarie Nijboer, Feb 2023)


The Swedish-French Berlin-based artist duo GFELLER + HELLSGÅRD have been working with screen printing for more than 20 years. In their work, they test and challenge the boundaries of screen printing while deconstructing the conventions, techniques and formal structures of printmaking. Their practice as an artist duo is primarily based on process; the image provides answers to experimental questions. Here, the limits of the virtuoso mastered creative printing process are constantly being reconsidered, deconstructed and shifted. 

Their abstract works, evoke a range of associations in which small details and subtle aspects of perfection and imperfection play a major role. In their works, the artists use materials such as wood, glass, paper and metal, as well as everyday objects such as furniture and architectural elements. Combined with neutral and bright colours, their works create an ever-changing spatial experience and unusual contrasts that activate spaces, triggering a conversation between material, colour, space and the viewer.