What's In A Name?: A Conversation With Arjen
Yes, just Arjen. Without last name, appearing on our radar from the most remote alleys of Instagram, we got instantly enchanted by these simple yet masterfully done oil renderings from the Dutch artist.
Clearly inspired and influenced by the likes of Picasso and Condo, Arjen had started his painterly practice fairly late. Or at least later than usual. And the reason for that is as impressive as the result of his process through which he manipulates the oil pigments to create a sensation of voluminous, brightly illuminated forms. It's through these forms that he is creating a highly abstracted representation of the human body, reducing it to a few recognizable features, such as eyelashes, hair, or waist. Rendered with utmost attention, constructing crispy clean, and sharp images which evoke the perfection of 3d modeling software, the artist is taking bold steps while deconstructing the body and hopefully writing new pages in the ongoing exploration of the human condition.
Upon discovering Arjen's work and after following it for a while we were genuinely curious who is hiding behind such an unassuming name, so we got in touch with him and talked a bit about his past, present, and plans, and hopes for the future. It turns out that the global pandemic had its upsides...
Sasha Bogojev: When did you start painting these types of works and how did that happen?
Arjen: About a year ago I started painting in my current style. A few years before that I made hundreds of sketches while babysitting my newborn son. Before he was born I also loved to make sketches but mainly I made style copies. As a child, I started making copies of the Dutchmasters of the 17th Century, and later I’ve made a lot of other style copies. I kind of worked my way through art history. I’ve tried impressionism, cubism, fauvism, surrealism. It all gave me a lot of insight into the way the painters of the past worked, but none of them felt like my own style. During covid, I decided to make paintings from the sketches I made in the last couple of years. Directly from the start, it felt great. I found my own style.
What is your background like in terms of art education or how did you end up in the position where you’re at currently?
As a child, I had two passions: painting and violin playing. It’s been by chance that I studied the violin and not the art. As for art, I learned the skills myself by looking, copying, and analyzing the artworks that fascinated me. My bookcase is filled with art books. I really like to philosophize about the fundamentals of esthetics. I try to apply everything I discovered to my artworks.
What informed your affinity towards cubism and who are your biggest influences?
I wanted to find out about the basic principles of composition. Cubism was for me a logical first step. Playing with horizontals, verticals, diagonals, straight and curved lines, etc. gave me a good grip on how things could work. I’m fascinated by a lot of artists, e.g. Magritte, Dali, Picasso, Miro, Wesselman, Moore, Leger, Condo. To achieve an impact with such deformed images as made by for instance Picasso and Condo are fascinating to me, yet I try to take a different step. I try to get a visual quip in my subjects so that the observer is a bit confused about what he thinks to see. So instead of playing with different perspectives as in the cubism of Picasso, or the multiple mental states as in the psychological cubism of Condo, I try to evoke shifts in the mind of the observer. My goal is that one can see multiple things in a single element of a painting.
How do you approach the physical attributes, the atmosphere, or the way you deconstruct your subjects, and what might inspire these elements?
Sometimes the physical attributes place the figure in a specific situation. This makes them more like real-life figures in a real-life situation, but often I don’t use any physical attributes. I always try to achieve a contrast of a simple and balanced composition with bright colors and clear plasticity, but with a subject that is totally irrational and surreal. The atmosphere of color and light in the painting reinforce the character of the image. Sometimes this results in surrealistic portraits, sometimes in surrealistic figures. My inspiration comes from daily life, and from nature. Everything I saw can be an inspiration later on.
Concerning the deconstruction and construction of my images. I always felt that geometrics, simplifications, and exaggerations play a big role in how we visually experience the world around us. A lot of art, e.g. that of Cezanne, Picasso, and not in the last place the ethnographic art, shows not only that but also that deformation is not something to avoid but just something to embrace. For me, deformation is the element that makes art intriguing. I try to combine deformation along with a kind of organic elegancy so that there will be a kind of naturalness that makes it pleasant to look at. I also don’t avoid humor.
Is there a certain narrative or a bigger theme that this body of work is about?
I think the images all could be representatives of characters or beings of a surrealistic reality. We face big crises nowadays. We experience what a pandemic can be, we are in a climate change emergency and caused a biodiversity crisis. We face dark times. These don’t feel like carefree times to me. Besides serious action on these problems, we need to keep up hope, stay positive, and mustn’t forget what makes life worthwhile. For me, art is very important. I hope my art makes people wonder and smile.
The fantasy figures most of the time arise by improvisation. When I start drawing I often don’t know how they will come out. Sometimes I get an almost complete image in my mind and put it quickly on paper. After a time there perhaps might show up a general idea behind all the works I have made. Maybe it is about the mysterious subconscious world, where normally invisible creatures are exposed by a sudden strong light.
A lot of your imagery is relying on smooth gradients that depict volumes. How difficult was it to develop the skills to paint in such way?
The most difficult thing was to find out which materials worked best for that. Also, to find out which colors gave the best display for the light. But the experience I have got with the
several styles in which I have been painting made it easier for me to paint in the way I currently do.
Do you have any idea why you prefer such a minimal, almost geo-abstract aesthetic?
I like the power and impact of simple compositions. I once saw a beautiful small landscape with very few elements. However, all the essential elements were there, so it felt totally complete and alive. This image haunted me for years and it triggered my desire to understand what one minimally needs to see in an image to feel completeness. I analyzed what was minimally needed to achieve the impact that I wanted within my work. These insights helped me in forming my own style. But anyhow, I think every painting I make is somehow an experiment in minimalism.
Does technology/computers have a big role in your process, since they look so meticulously rendered?
I have a classical approach in the way of making my painting: drawing, underpainting, finishing layer. I carefully work on the precise composition and the details. That’s what I feel comfortable with. To make art for me is to see, to view upon what isn’t there yet, and materialize that. Concerning technology/computers, I only use the computer to order my canvases. Perhaps that’s due to my personality. Not only are my paintings minimalistic, I think I’m quite a minimalistic person. I don’t use more than I really need.
What type of restrictions or requirements do you set for yourself when sketching your subjects?
A couple of years ago, after making a lot of drawings in the style of Picasso, I wondered what would happen if you go from there and minimalize the amount of lines and harmonize the different shapes without losing the impact of the image. My goal is always to find something new that is simple and strong but strange and intriguing at the same time. I want a result that surprises me.
What are some of the most frustrating or satisfying aspects of your practice?
Sometimes I am really insecure about whether I will be able to make a new and original figure again, for it happens most of the time by coincidence. But then I imagine that there
must still be an infinite number of figures to be discovered, which gives me at that moment the hope and inspiration to go on. Just not being in control is maybe the essence of my creativity. Otherwise only predictable figures will come out. The most satisfying moments are those when I made a new sketch, and luckily, I’ve made hundreds up to now.
You went from sharing work on IG to having shows lined up quite quickly.How did that happen and how do you cope with the sudden demand/interest?
Well, I think it’s being lucky to be seen by people who really like my work, and who have the right contacts. I really started from scratch, having no connections in the art world whatsoever. I just started painting and sharing my works on IG. Not much happened for almost a year but then in a few weeks’ time, I got a lot of interest in my work. At the moment it is quite busy with commissions and contacts with galleries and curators, but I try to build it up steadily. Unfortunately, it meant that I had to say no to a number of requests for solo shows at international orientated galleries, (I never dreamed that could happen) because I feel it’s too soon for me, and it would limit my options for a broader exposure at different galleries. For me showing my work is far more important than selling my work. I love it when people see my work and when it moves them. That’s the biggest reward from sharing them with others.
What are some of the shows you have planned for the future and do you have any goals set for your work?
All my works are designated at the moment. For instance, some of my works were included in the misa.art market of König Gallery. In fall/winter some of my works will also be displayed at the Eternity Galleries in Paris and Miami. After that works will go to the Middle East, Amsterdam, and Los Angeles and I have to decide about what will be next. I just have one goal: to paint an unforgettable picture and hope the people will enjoy looking at them.