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In conversation with Bob Sizoo

Our Activist of Optimism

In collaboration with Zalando, Glamcult went on the hunt for expressive artists that wholeheartedly embody the spirit of an Activist of Optimism, consciously spreading a joyful activism through their art. In this trilogy of studio visits, we went over to talk with the multimedia artist, Bob Sizoo on about how he spreads positivity and turns this mentality into action.

There are multi-disciplinary artists, and then there’s Bob Sizoo. The filmmaker, painter, photographer and all-around thinker has been reflecting the world around him through a creative lens since childhood. Using inspiration from the past, present and future, Sizoo has invigorated an avid fanbase; democratizing the intake of art by placing it within the people’s lens. In talking to the creative, one thing was clear – his tranquil nature transgresses into the work he creates, enamouring the viewer with the same meditative qualities. When it comes to serenity and colour – Sizoo is your guy.

Hi Bob! So nice to get to chat, how is your day shaping up?
BS: Hey, good thank you. Well, this afternoon I’m going to swim someplace in the north. Not too much work, just a chill day!

This heat – I’m envious! Could we begin by you talking me through your creative journey?
BS: I’m originally a photographer. I started sharing and taking photos on Instagram when I was around 12 (in 2012); it introduced me to the visual arts while sharing instantly on Instagram with a worldwide audience…painting came naturally to me later on, as it was a form of expression that eventually grew into a passion and which I now practice daily.


Walled Garden, 2019 – Bob Sizoo

Taking us to today!
BS: Yes, that’s what I’ve been doing for over three years now, of which one year I have spent in the studio. For me, painting has been the most valuable, because it’s the most individual. You don’t rely on anyone else to start the process. It allows me to distil certain concepts for a longer time than a photo or video project would, and it also allows me full creative control over the images and stories I tell…

It can be pure enjoyment!
It’s also a form of therapy, I think. Not that I intended it to be, but it grounds me and makes me feel in tune.

All these mediums interact with one another however. Do you see them as almost interconnecting inspirationally, or rather as completely separate forms of creation?
These separate forms of expression can tell the same story. I could easily replicate a painting of a video or photo that have the same emphasis on a subject. But I feel like I learn something unique from all mediums. When I’m on a video project, I use my experience with photography and painting to develop and move around, see where there’s an overlap. I think they can be very supportive of each other, but each has its own individual power, attention span, and viewer. So, I just like to explore all these differences. For now, it’s photos, videos and paintings, but in the future, these might even extend to other forms like performance, sculpture, music!

"I believe that myths and religion all reflect the same stories"

It’s interesting that you talk about the attention span with the audience having such a large presence on Instagram. You give quite a clear explanation in the captions of your works, often talking about your inspiration and the narratives behind your work. Is this a conscious choice to make your art more accessible for a wider audience?
Something I’m contemplating at the moment is that I’m in control of what to share. Yes, I’ve been sharing and explaining, but still, I feel like sharing something on social media is never going to do justice due to the short attention span of the medium affecting the viewer’s experience.

When I see the pictures of your studio, it’s like they create a whole environment. I guess Instagram doesn’t allow for the same, but rather, a more rounded point of view.
Yes. However,  I am trying to replicate that environment online with thoughts inspirations and references that are away from the average and perhaps out of people’s comfort, making them question and broaden their perspective/experience of reality. I’m looking into methods to get the people to experience it in a way that’s soothing for the work. Because most of my paintings are a puzzle, they could hang in the studio for three months and friends would be like “wait, I haven’t seen that yet!”. These are works that really need to be digested over a longer period of time.

Social media is a really powerful tool in democratizing art and moving away from the hierarchies of traditional art. With your work, you also engage with this traditional canonization of art by using pieces like The Birth of Venus or the Vitruvian Man and putting them within your modernistic narrative.

My large scale paintings are pictures that are already imprinted into the collective consciousness; by using these images while adding new layers of paint and meaning I can still recollect some sense of familiarity with my audience –  making it really approachable. This also allows me to connect Low culture (people not familiar with the current state of art) to something that would otherwise only be appreciated by High culture (people familiar with the current state of art).

It’s almost repurposing the popularity?
Yeah, in a way! In a sense, it’s meme culture.

You use a lot of mythical references within your work, like Lion Hunt and of course, The Birth of Venus. What is it about classical antiquity which inspires you?
I believe that myths and religion all reflect the same stories. Whether it’s Christianity, Judaism, or any other religion, I believe there’s an overlapping story: the human story, which is an eternal tale of emotions and growth. Because I’ve been raised in Malawi and had the chance/privilege to travel and see many parts of the world in my youth I’ve got this global view on what’s happening and the correlations between different cultures and places. I try to integrate all this into something everyone can relate to, reflecting back at the person who is looking at them.

There’s a collective experience by simply living the human experience, beyond locational divides or boundaries?
I believe we all go through the same cycles of emotions and that’s what makes us believable. Now, it might be hard to feel that way because we are all put into groups and we all live in bubbles, but we have all these similarities in actuality! It’s amazing to find out about all these. When I work on a piece, I’m actually learning about it. It’s also research. I don’t necessarily see the connections while I work on them, but after a while, they all fall into place. I also think this is a great analogy to life itself.

This is meant to be seen, 2017 – Bob Sizoo

Classical paintings have such tumultuous backgrounds in histories or provenance, it’s interesting to reflect how these histories of human experience are still so relational to the human experiences of today.
The capital being stormed is a histological story playing out right in front of our eyes, but it’s a different time, with different symbolism. It’s the same stories being provoked all the time, that we have seen played out before, however, the setting and characters have been disguised a little differently. I see a repetition of cycles.

"Create your own happiness. It shouldn’t depend on anyone else"

For sure. It’s a familiar concept, particularly in this period that we’ve all have been living in. It’s like the seven plagues but with politicians and pharmaceuticals.
2020 was a perfect year for me to work on that. I took up all this information, the state of the world, events and chaos and channelled it into work.

How important is it to keep up with the current world around you?
I have to because I go outside, ha-ha. I engage with it, but I try and learn not to be too dependent and attached to it. Because, if you’re looking from such a helicopter view, you are not too stressed about it. I’m not going against this wave of change, but I have to learn how to not be too certain about certain things. It was an eye-opening year!

A lot of artists found 2020 really refreshing. They were able to work without outside noises and voices, no critics or reviews, did you also feel this way?
I moved into my current (and first) studio at the beginning of 2020; I’ve been practically locking myself up inside the studio all year, getting to discover and evolve my craft to a point where I can’t imagine doing otherwise,  it’s been very refreshing! Good times for sure!

This project is all about optimism and colour. Obviously, your work engages with that directly, but besides art, what makes you happy?
My friends, my family, good food and being in nature make me really happy. Being able to do what you want to do is a very big contributor to my happiness and peace of mind. You create your own happiness. It shouldn’t depend on anyone else.

Photography: Lobke Leijser 
Creative direction & Styling: Rogier Vlaming
Words: Grace Powell
Production: Pieta Thuring

In collaboration with Zalando