INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT ROEST
A conversation with the creator of the "Evil Dogs" on exploration and style
THE INTERVIEW WAS DONE ON
9TH AUGUST 2020
"I grew up far away from the contemporary art world, in a small village of about 2000 people in the Netherlands. I almost knew everyone, there was a school, a church, a soccer field, surrounded by a lot of farmers and agricultural land."
"I think so, they are not specifically from the place where I grew up though, but the Netherlands in general is known for their love of cheese. The paintings are not very much about the Netherlands or Dutch culture itself. It is the background for which that idea could emerge. I made the cheese paintings after I moved to the United States."
"After my study at the art academy, I was asking myself what kind of artist I wanted to be. I felt closest to paintings. So painting it was, but painting what? I was overwhelmed by the whole history of painting, and I asked myself what I could add that make sense, something that is not a repetition of what’s already done. I knew what kind of artist I didn’t want to be or what kind of direction I didn’t want to go. To arrive at something that suited me artistically, I had to experiment a lot and let many things go.
I took the time to make every idea that came across my mind over the last two years. Whether it was abstract or figurative or conceptual, you name it. I wanted to take the time to find a foundation in which I could build my work upon. And only after I find that I am going to try to show my work. I found it after two years of experimentation.
I discovered the work of Sigmar Polke which is an artist who is very rich and diverse in ideas, mediums, and styles. And I accidentally came across a Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who writes in different pseudonyms in a range of styles. Both men are very different in spirit, but the diversity in their work was a good fit for me and became a big influence. Later Nietzsche became a influence too. I also wanted to approach my works with a range of ideas. By that time, the pressure of the entire art history faded away and became a stylistic and conceptual toolbox. Like a map or a layout for my work. Like how an actor works. An actor plays different roles, but it’s always the same actor. A kind of an anti-dogmatic playful approach"
"The unthinkable can be thought, not grasped."
"I think style is very important because it’s the embodiment of an idea. Without mastering the style, the idea crumbles. Like a mind or spirit. It might have ideas, but it needs a body, a mouth to communicate those ideas. The other way around a body or a mouth without a mind couldn’t speak. Merely style is shallow, merely content is not transferable. I am happy that I am an artist in the 21st century, after all those artistic style periods where invented. I don’t have to invent new styles. I have ideas and I can pick a style that is the best embodiment of my ideas, and make that style my own. Sometimes an abstract expressionist style is best to express an idea, for another idea a minimalist approach, or an almost classical figurative one etcetera.
I hope my oeuvre can be like a forest, different trees, plants in all kinds of styles, fighting together to survive, influencing each other, and working together like an ecosystem."
"I never really showed the work I made in those 2 years after art academy, it lacked consistency and context. But I learned and explored quite a lot. I broadened my horizon and played with different techniques and stylistic approaches. But that’s not the main thing I guess. I think the most important thing from that period is that I found a certain attitude, I found what an artist can be and what kind of artist ideal I wanted to work on. I found my personal ideal and since I’ve been working to further develop that and to make that into reality. Back in the day, I tend to look at myself from the perspective as if I was already 80 and imagined looking back at what I did as an artist. I tried to imagine what I wanted to look back at. I have an ideal of what an artist should be, personally speaking; One who has knowledge about concepts in the art and culture (history), and is able to play with both ideas. A ‘multi-instrumentalist’ who can play, critique, make fun of, explore a range of (conflicting) ideas and media."
"The future must give birth to the past. But the future is not coming. The future has been postponed again."
"I was researching, wandering around on Instagram images, memes and dog video’s on Youtube. I saw one meme with this terrible looking dog, it intrigued me immediately. I began a whole search on the internet for angry or evil-looking dogs. There's something about those dog photos that correspond with my interests and my work. It reminded me of the Cerberus, the mythological dog from the underworld. But they're not in an imaginary underworld, but in our own homes, on our carpets, very close. Maybe even in our hearts.
The relation between painting and photography was interesting. How we use our pets to project our humor, emotions, and ideas on. But what is more interesting to me was the deception of the images. The dogs all look evil, nasty, angry, and violent, but they might be very nice fine pets. It's all coming from the bad photography techniques, the blurry-ness made the teeth longer, and the flash made the eyes glowing red or white...and that’s why they look so evil. They aren’t evil, they only look evil.
I almost felt guilty to paint these innocent animals in such a terrible way. But ultimately the paintings are not about the dogs. They are about human phenomena. I think it’s also kind of projecting human emotions and feelings, especially in these “locked-up-in-the-house times”, and times of polarization and fake news. What I also liked was to make paintings that are beautiful, photo-realistic, but what is depicted as something ugly. I like that friction..."
"The dog pictures put you on the wrong track as far as the real-life and character of those dogs are concerned. I am generally interested in how photography can be deceptive. A photograph is merely a fragment of reality and most of this reality I'm talking about is not in the frame. I saw two newspapers writing about the same thing: people on beaches with sunny weather during the COVID-19 crisis. One photo in a newspaper was made with a wide-angle lens, therefore it seemed that the beaches were not that full and there was a lot of space between the beach guests. Another newspaper showed a photo of the same beach guests, made with a long zoom lens. A long zoom lens has the effect of squeezing things together, so it seemed on that photo that it was very, very busy at the beach. The difference in the message of the two photos is obvious. And here we're talking about photos without the manipulation you can do with photoshop. Just the difference in lenses. Fake news and misinformation can be very subtle.
You don’t need photoshop to manipulate. In a way fake news is unavoidable, we all have our personal views on reality and when we make pictures, statements, opinions, it’s always to some degree fake. Expanding this, we humans perceive the world very differently from animals, some animals see more colors, or perceive certain vibrations we don’t. What we see most of the time works, it’s a model, and the model works, but it’s not THE reality. Our eyes kind of work like a camera lens, the light gets in and makes a picture upside down. It's not reality itself, it's a model of it, but our brain can work with the model.
Fake news is very interesting, it has so many sides to it. Very bad ones, or even almost good ones. You can as a government try to let people follow your rules for COVID-19 to protect the people, but if you are 100% transparent about what’s going on, people wouldn’t listen. Because the reality is too nuanced and because it has too many sides to it, too complex to comprehend. So you consciously make something out of the reality and avoid certain things to try to get it the way you personally want. I’m in favor of as much transparency as possible, but I also see that it doesn’t mean that 100% honesty of reality has always the best outcomes in human behavior.
No one can comprehend the full reality. That’s why we make a reduction and that results in a lot of different views on the world in people. It results for example in left progressive or right, or alt-right and what have you. They are all reduced visions of the world. They all have their points and reasonable concerns and their blind spots. That results in polarization. Instead of trying to listen curiously how interesting or even weird someone else’s view on the world is, we tend to demonize so easily today. We are so afraid of what is different from us! It separates the world from extremes and common sense and willingness in danger.
In talking about these things, I’ve realized that the tragic and funny thing is that of course, my observation is also a reduction of reality. I partake in it like everyone else. It also makes life interesting, what would the world be much more boring if everyone saw reality the same way?
I want to be a watcher of my times, and to deepen these themes in a new body of work. Different than the dogs, but the same themes. I have the images vaguely in my head."
"One cannot make ideas, one can only receive them."
"I don’t think art or artists have to play a specific articulated role. They have to find their own voice, they need to be free, to put it spiritually; they have to find their own path. I like that art has the potentiality to be really diverse.
I do think however that art institutes and museums can play a more exciting, more free role. I often see that museums and curators make the arts less free. What they show fits perfectly into their moral-political agenda. I think they are too much (maybe wholeheartedly) captivated in a correct safe political role.
But please, the world is much broader! Is there a place for a jester figure? Someone free who can make fun of whatever is sensitive and taboo or forbidden? A jester is very helpful for a society to be resilient and vital. But I am afraid there is hardly a place for a figure like that in the art world. I feel that they should show artworks that really changes the status quo, art that does not fit the political or moral vision. Make it more exciting and a bit more dangerous. Make it more critical, playful, and open-minded.
I would love it if art and the world can really embrace diversity. Sometimes you see people who call themselves tolerant and people who love diversity, but actually what you see is boring egalitarianism: Everyone should have the same values that I have. Everyone should protest for the things I protest. I understand the passion to convert other people if you genuinely think that your view of the world is the only just one. But it has a dangerous side which exclude and demonize to some extent."
"The speechless wants that what cannot be said, say with that which can be said."
"I wish they could be more independent. Often shareholders have a big influence. Do big blockbusters for the big audience. But at least reserve a few rooms or halls where things can get really exciting, and where boundaries can be pushed. Almost every major museum in the world has more or less the same collection. The difference is that one has that Rothko and another that Rothko. You see the same names so often. I get it from the point of view of the museum, but I personally like to see something new, something unknown. I understand that there are also many people who like to see what they know."
"My experience wasn’t that bad. I could still do the thing I love to do most, making artworks. As far as the art is concerned it was not that bad. If you are making work in a studio you are a bit separated from the world anyway. With much interest, I followed the ways different media reported about Covid-19. Of course, I have my concerns about the crisis and empathy with everyone who’s suffering from it. At the same time, it’s inspiring. It’s very interesting how people and governments cope with it. How attitudes change over time towards the crisis. It can teach you about society and the human species, and yourself. Which I think will find its way to my paintings one way or the other. "
"That’s such a huge question, people could write many books about it, from many perspectives. It’s hard to answer what I learned but to speak for myself I think it’s good to realize people can be very different, and at the same time we all have common emotions like fear, happiness, the wish to be an individual as well as to be rooted in something. To belong to something bigger than your individuality. I realize that I can have my concerns about the world but that most of the problems in the world are outside of my control and are too complicated. I try to be not too idealistic in terms of making the world a paradise that fits everyone’s needs. My influence is small. I can only try to make my little world a little bit better, being good to the people I meet in daily life, and to be as genuine as I can in the world I meet.
We can have the most beautiful ideas about how the world should be and at the same time we find it difficult to make peace with their own family, neighbor, or partner, while this should be our first concern, responsibility, and influence.
One of the colleagues of my at my side job is a Trump fan. Some people might have certain prejudices towards this person. But at the same time, he is very close and friendly with another black colleague who hates Trump. They can get along very well, while they have very different experiences and backgrounds in life.
I had the opportunity to be in a lot of different worlds, a progressive art world, a side job in construction, and raised in a conservative Christian family. I like throwing parties at my house and invite people with different ideas and backgrounds. What I always see is when people meet each others, their differences are all put aside. People can just get along as...people. Black white, old young, female or male, hetero, gay, progressive, conservative. Altogether, we're all a part of the human kind!"
"That happens quite instinctively. Partly simply because that’s the medium I have most skills in and liked the most. I feel that I can express my favorite themes like perception, projection, illusion, and representation best in painting. Painting has a long history in those themes, which is very useful to build upon and to play with. I also care about the viewer and painting is a language a lot of people can understand. Even though painting is considered to be dead so many times, it’s a very strong medium. It always rises like a phoenix out of ashes. People who say painting is dead are very narrow-minded. Artists can be dead, or ideas can be boring to death, but a medium is never dead. It has certain limitations and possibilities and for certain results, you can use it, for another result you can’t. It’s like saying the hammer is dead because it existed for so many years."
"The universal embrace of cultures and diversity ultimately results in the death of authentic culture and diversity."
"I have an idea for a sculpture series for about 5 years now, but I don’t know if it’s technically possible to make it into reality. I need a lot of financial back up and maybe people in engineering or something like that to develop this idea. If it’s not technically impossible it would push the boundaries of what a sculpture can be...maybe once I have the finances and people, I'll make an attempt to make it happen. I also have a videography concept that revolves around the same idea as the sculpture."
"Dare to make failures in your studio. Try things out, make mistakes, be open to accidents because it will have something to offer. But be very stern to yourself in what you want to present to people. Be a perfectionist and critical in the final phase of the working process, and not at the start because it will kill your resourcefulness."