Interview in AIAPZINE
Interview through email in the web-zine of Associazone Italiana Progettazione per la Comunicazione Visiva (AIAP), February 2011.
Most of your work is about collecting and assembling, would you define your graphic process a sort of collage?
Collage is the right word. I spend a lot of time collecting visual building blocks and I am constantly looking for ingredients that fit a storyline or an idea I have in my mind. The most important thing is that all those ingredients from different sources should kind of talk each other and create something new. I often work with photocopies from books or I find shapes that I need in Google images, but the quality of images is usually really bad. If I need them in a larger size, I just make an A4 laserprint, glue it to black paper and then I cut out silhouettes to improve the shapes so they fit my method of production. Often, when I redraw and improve images like that, or more likely, in Illustrator, I feel I’m doing something useful. Creating elements, I’m often wasting away lots of time as well, thinking about possible combinations while working. I tend to forget about what I did, but when I rediscover particular elements much later, I’m happy. I’ve got piles of stuff in my studio that I browse through once in a while. It’s the total opposite of when I was an art student: back then I had a lack of ideas, and was sometimes desperate to come up with something good. Now I have an abundance of ideas, plans and things I would like to achieve, but often there’s a lack of time, or money, or just an opportunity to focus in order to get new work done. I believe there’s a strong sense of order in the way I execute the individual graphic elements and the general composition, but I’ve never been very interested in creating a clear message or straight communication. A certain openness or indirectness is more important to me. Much of the work was created through a free flowing process of associations, and it should leave space for you, the viewer to interpret as well.
What do you think is the role of serigraphy in contemporary graphics?
Screenprinting is a great tool for designers, not only for the fine arts’ people. I don’t think it is redundant or old-fashioned at all. In addition to printing my own work, I’m co-running the print workshop at my old school (Gerrit Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam) as well. Most students don’t have experience at all. Many of them are only interested to have their poster done, but I’ll help them doing it, naturally. After the job is done you often won’t see them in months. Only a handful of people is interested in learning more about the technique and learn how print themselves. For most students screenprinting ends when they leave art school, although there are possibilities here and there to do your own productions. I was able to develop myself as a printer because my teacher Kees Maas gave me the keys of his own workshop, which has proved a rare situation. In Europe, there are only small pockets of screenprinting minded people. In North America there’s a fairly large group of people that are connected to the world of the ‘gig poster’. They design and print posters for their favourite bands when performing in their local venues. It’s a lively scene of people who exchange work, despite the often ‘ghetto’ like working environment, often beautifully crafted prints. Sometimes bands are so enthusiastic about the results that it leads to having these ‘amateurs’ design record slip design and promotional material. To me this is very inspiring.
Do you believe in contamination between the fields of graphic design, illustration, and fine arts?
For me being a graphic designer seems to be the best title, because it enables me to connect to various areas. If other people would like to call me “artist”, “visual artist” or “printing artist”, or whatever, that’s perfectly fine. If I would present myself as an artist though, I feel a new set of rules and different types of discussion would apply. I don’t feel part of the world of galleries, curators and the art market too much, you know. In the past I’ve collaborated with artists in museum shows, which was fun, but there I also realized that I didn’t really speak their lingo. Nor do I feel at the right place in the realm of fine art printing like lithography or etching, although I do take an interest. People there often are strongly focused on numbering and signing every precious little thing they do… Despite the craft, small scale and limited editions that are part of my own little setup, I’d rather perceive printmaking as an industrial process. It’s about output and production. The prints should be used and go out into the world, not being sat on. I’m not an illustrator either, although the work has plenty of illustrative components. I guess I’m somewhere in between those areas. My major points of reference are within the world of common public graphic design, like signage, logos, packaging and advertising. For me it’s all popular, material culture… As a graphic designer I do both self-initiated projects and commercial assignments, I need to earn a living too. Page layout design, or stationary is something I’m not striving for anymore. In the self-initiated projects, I’m usually the author of all elements. Often I’m using specific occasions, for example if I’m invited to do a lecture, to do a print. In that way, there’s still a specific message or announcement involved that links the work to graphic design. Much of the work is thus inspired by the things I do I and the places I go or will be going.
Your work overlaps different techniques. Which is your point of view about analogue and digital tools?
Technique doesn’t really matter that much. It’s about your ideas. Any tool that you think fits those ideas should be used. I believe in a mixture of techniques. All the work I do is based on the computer. I would be a fool not to use Illustrator to organize those complicated colour separations! Also the digital tools allow me to make small adjustments until the very last moment. But when I go to the screenprinting shop, I can always change my mind about colours, the following order of layers, and others things… In a way the work opens up again. I’m interested in the translation from the digital to the analogue. More and more I use images from the Internet as well, which are usually of crappy, low-res quality. I have to find ways to translate these images into halftones that look good enough in silkscreen printing. So I’m constantly switching from one ‘realm’ to the other, anticipating the fact that the design will be executed in ink and paper. Nothing can beat looking at the original physical print of course. Later on, the print is photographed and digitized for reproduction in offset or cyberspace. Usually the result is disappointing, but I’ve learned to accept those differences in quality. Like many others I live with digital tools. I use email of course, a smart phone, a digital camera, but I don’t do social media like Twitter and FaceBook. I think sometimes is good to refrain from the immediate responses that the digital technology often requires. A good example: a few weeks ago I met a really nice lady in Los Angeles. We tried to keep in touch, but I soon discovered that I’m totally not into chatting. Just doesn’t work for me. If you hardly know each other, even when you’re emailing it’s hard to find the right tone to communicate, to explore each other’s life and personality. Altough email is much slower than chatting, you’re always waiting for the answer, and feel the urge to reply immediately. That’s how a lot of awful and stupid things are being said. After a few weeks we decided to quit emailing and said: ok, let’s go back to regular mail. Now we are writing letters and cards. Sometimes is good to give each other a bit of a rest, and besides, it’s much more rewarding to get something great through snailmail that you can actually touch and feel!
Your lectures and presentations usually focus on the process behind the visual results. Why do you choose to show and tell your own graphic ‘backstage’?
When I was an art student, my teachers always said that I was too much focused on the final result, that I didn’t give the process enough space. I never really understood what they were talking about, until I came back from an internship in New York working for digital media. I realize I missed getting my hands dirty, and just started playing in the silkscreen printing shop, working every week with whatever I had available. I started to understand that what they meant is that you should let the process take over, and be open for anything that will come out of it. Being receptive for the things that emerge from working, playing with materials and different elements. Now it’s everything to me. I think the process is much more rewarding to talk about than final results. That’s why I do the lectures the way I do, trying to be open about all aspects. A lot of designers do lectures using the obvious “this project for that client” method, you know, one slide after the other… but who cares? A lot of students are afraid to get stuck or reveal something personal. Often they never really get to the core of things. This is why I think I have a task to stimulate people by being transparent about my own perception of the world. It’s important to show how you get from A to B to C, how you can create something out of nothing. But most of all, I like to show that design and art is not per se a heavy intellectual activity which needs lots of explanation. That you might as well be inspired by regular things that are literally lying in front of your feet.