Håvard Gjelseth has been creating graphic design for Olavsfest festival since 2019. Read the interview with the designer about working on the project for Olavsfest 2022.

All pictures: Håvard Gjelseth

Hannah Ryggen’ art is the inspiration and the basis for next year Olavsfest’ visual profile. What does her art mean to you personally?

To me, Hannah is one of the greatest artists we have in Scandinavia. It is an artist I discovered quite late, although I grew up in Fosen, and my grandparents lived in Ørland where Hannah lived and worked – and where we today find “Hannah Ryggen-senteret” (museum of her art). She is one of the artists I didn’t value until I saw her work in real life, in real size, in real texture – and just completely fell in love with her work.

In 2019 all design for Olavsfest was based on works by Håkon Gullvåg. How would you compare that experience with working on the project for 2022?

The core concept I introduced when starting to work with Olavsfest three years ago of “a new artist every year that interprets the festival theme” is the same, yet the approach is different as one artist is very much alive, and Hannah left us in 1970. With Håkon, we spent time together in his studio to plan all the painted typography, while the collage work (the blend of his paintings and photography) he trusted me with. With Hannah, we basically were very uncertain if the idea of recreating her style of tapestry would work – at all. And as the core idea is to honour Hannah Ryggen, the result would have to be, well, something to be proud of – or not do it at all. But Olavsfest went out on a limb and invested in us doing a prototype: in building the 3d system for the weaving – that was done by Martin Brinks in collaboration with textile artist Dorthe Rejkjær – as well as a test illustration by illustrator Oda Sofie Granholt, to recreate Hannah’s illustrative style, crucial to the project. By the end of that prototype, all parties – including the curator of Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum and the legal institution (Bono) – felt sure that this would work out. A relief. And a kick!

Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum was actively involved in this project. Could you tell us about this collaboration?

Solveig Lønmo has been instrumental in guiding us, ensuring that both symbolic meanings are correct (as we are heavily inspired by Hannah’s works in our new creations) and stylistic choices are correct (ie. “No use of perspective in the artwork”). In addition she’s been a positive force, bringing energy to our joint effort that this project can make Hannah’s work available to more people, and perhaps especially a new generation.

Who else contributed to this project? And what were their roles in the working process?

In addition to the ones mentioned earlier, the client, Olavsfest should be acknowledged, first off for coming up with the idea of Hannah Ryggen being the artist for 2022 in the first place. Event manager Joakim Weibull deserves a lot of credit – he truly believes in the power of design for a festival, and takes the risks needed to create something different. And of course director Petter Myhr, a powerful force who has reshaped Olavsfest to what it has become today: one of the most important festivals in Norway.

If we’re speaking about the working process itself, how long did it take to come from the first sketch to the final design? And what was the biggest challenge you faced along the way?

The two main challenges were recreating Hannah’s style in a new work of art — and making the work look as a true tapestry. At this point, as the conceptual designer – I was simply left at the grace of Martin and Oda to do their magic. They both worked hard for a month in total, and by the end we had a prototype we all believed in. That said, we are only now starting the work of creating the 10 posters of the biggest events as they gradually settle for 2022, where each and every artist artwork will have their unique challenges. So Martin and Oda are far from being done yet, although this start has given us great faith in what it can become.

What experience did you, as a designer, get from working on this project?

Last year’s concept for Olavsfest of creating photorealistic statues of all artist events felt pretty crazy at the time. But managing to do that project gave the energy to push it even further this year. Like the record covers I do for Crispin Glover Records, the collaboration with new artists for every project is always a energy boost, it opens up new doors to what is suddenly within range of what can be accomplished. It is one of the biggest reasons I still do graphic design. So it is perhaps not as much a certain experience gained, but definitely a reminder to reach for the rainbow.

Design for Olavsfest 2022, based on Hannah Ryggen’s art
Design for Olavsfest 2022, based on Hannah Ryggen’s art
Design for Olavsfest 2021, in collaboration with Martin Brinks
Design for Olavsfest 2019, in collaboration with Håkon Gullvåg