The basic value inherent in every work of art lies in the metaphysical quality of form and not in form per se. Form serves as a vehicle for an immaterial quality which cannot be recognized as such or as a motif. 

— Helmut Federle 

THE ARCHITECTURE OF COLOUR, Fred Sandback & Helmut Federle, Installation view: FOX JENSEN, SYDNEY, 2012

Helmut Federle is without question one of Europe’s most respected painters. Though he paints a relatively modest number of works each year, the cumulative weight of these paintings feels particularly significant.  There is absolutely nothing casual about Federle nor his work.

Helmut Federle’s painting has never not been about portraiture. His paintings carry a poignancy and delicate humanity in their arrangement, their hushed tone and in the weight of ceremony that underpins their structure. I am not speaking to the notion of regime, so often confused with ceremony, rather the reverse. Federle’s painting practice is largely itinerant, its slowness a function of a commitment to reflection and an interior life that sublimates ego in favour of a more illuminating picture of humanity.

Cornerfield XXII banishes self-pride with its modesty and adjustment, denies flourish and autobiography in favour of humility and directness.


At first glance, Federle’s geometry seems straightforward, a simple matrix of verticals and horizontals, with an implicit clarity. The geometry seems to do nothing but state and differentiate a surface. But then, on closer, more careful looking, a certain quirkiness and oddness becomes evident. There is a sense of something amiss or disturbed in the geometry, evocative of a sense of depth. It is ingeniously sublime.

— Donald Kuspit, “Ascent to the Right,” 


Sarah McCrory at 19E. 21st ST., 6 Large Paintings, Helmut Federle, Installation view: Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland, 2019

…In ancient cultures artists sought to make the same things as had the generations before them. Artworks were also existential points of orientation. In this capacity they fulfilled their moral obligation. Meaning and its materialised manifestations, was not called into question. The artwork had the dignity that was due to it – something that I do so dearly miss today.

— Helmut Federle

All Federle’s paintings feel invested with traces of metaphysical DNA that makes the marriage of their physical existence and their discarnate life plausible.

History will place him alongside other figures such as Richter, Knoebel, Kelly and Ryman but perhaps it is the latter whose career seems to have folded its esoteric life with an architectonic candour that most closely mirrors Federle. But for all Ryman’s essential distillation and conception, there is a greater poetry and acclamation to each of Federle’s gestures, albeit that melancholia triumphs over paean. Ryman resisted this platonic territory but that is not Helmut Federle – located midway between belligerence and commitment he has found a way to charge his painting with the emblematic dimension that feels hopelessly rare.

Federle has long maintained an interest in the cultural production and symbolism that is found in cultures such as Pre-Columbian, North American Indian and indeed the ceremonial behaviour, vital to both the making and use in Chinese and Japanese ceramics. These qualities, Federle suggests, are largely lost in contemporary western civilization. These “points of orientation” have been central to so-called “primitive” culture and their absence in Western society is lamentable.

– Andrew Jensen 

To my mind, there is no such thing as absolute non-referential painting. There is no painting that does not arouse some climatic associations with something else.

– Helmut Federle


Helmut Federle (b. 1944 Solothurn, Switzerland) lives in Vienna, Austria and Camaiore, Italy.

Throughout his life he has lived in Tunisia and the US and travelled extensively. He studied at the School of Applied Arts in Basel from 1964-1969. He was the Swiss representative at the 47th Venice Biennale in 1997, and his works are featured in major collections internationally including the Tate Modern, MoMA, Centre Pompidou, Kunstmuseum Basel, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art and the National Gallery of Australia. 

Emma fox at Galerie nächst St. Stephan in Vienna, Austria, 2018

A sense of balance pervades Helmut Federle’s work: masterful push and pull of opposing pictorial means that demands our attention from the outset without ever fully gratifying it.

– David Misteli, Artforum International 

Helmut Federle. Basics on Composition / Informal Multitudes | Parra & Romero