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In conversation with Rutger de Vries

Our Activist of Optimism

In collaboration with Zalando, Glamcult continues it’s exploration into artists who are ringing the bells of positivity; wholeheartedly embodying the spirit of an Activist of Optimism and consciously spreading colour and light through art. As part of this studio trilogy, our final stop took us to Rutger de Vries, where we went to talk with the artist about how he engages with the fluidity and activity of creation.

Blending the boundaries of preconceived creation and organic actualisation, Rutger de Vries is an artist whose work can be described as dynamic and experimental. Investigating both his own practice as well as the scenes around him, we spoke to the artist about his methods, journey and what it means to spread positivity.

Hi Rutger! How are you? Enjoying today’s sunny weather?
Hey Glamcult! I’m all good! I’m trapped inside though, working!

How would you describe your work and how this all led you to your journey?
As someone who makes paintings and installations, I think the foundation of my purpose is that I always use something in between me and the canvas or the room. I am always outsourcing the artistic gestures with the machines and tools that I develop myself.

What led you to develop these tools?
Do you remember those spirographs from back in the days? I was really fascinated with these as a young kid. This was the starting point for a lot of my purpose; trying to use free-hand tools in a pragmatic way and combine this with self-developed tools or by building printers.

Painting: Glitch #1, 2020 – Rutger de Vries

So in many ways, it was a journey of curiosity.
Yes! It’s an ongoing thing in my life. I respond to how the tools work in a certain way. It always happens organically.

With this journey, it almost becomes autobiographical to what you’re going through in different phases of your life. You started with graffiti, which is now described as post-graffiti art. How does this new description resonate with you?
For me, having had a lot of discussion about the general question of graffiti, I feel it is different from street-art. It’s more of a collective attitude! Before, I used to take a piece of public space and claim it as mine. Nowadays, creating in my own studio, I’m claiming it as my space with every piece I make. That’s what post-graffiti means to me.
I’m also still using materials from the graffiti scene! As a graffiti writer, you are unknown as an artist. By using those tools, I kind of turn this around, taking the handwriting out of the art by outsourcing the creation of the works with the machines that I built and the tools that I use.

Even though the tools somewhat separate yourself from the art, it also provides some spontaneity! A level of freedom which you’re not entirely in control of, just like leaving your graffiti in a space that you don’t have control of anymore. There’s also a strong duality at play with the work you create. A strategy against restraint, or a brashness against calmness. Is this a conscious balance?
I always try to look for something that surprises myself as well. I try to look for this balance by starting off with a very rigid thing, everything outlined and clear, until I let go of the control at a certain point. The paintings flow the way the room is built.

"It’s nice to be surprised. I like coming up with something in my head, when in the end, it will always be different."

I can imagine it’s hard to let go sometimes?
I like it! It’s nice to be surprised. I like coming up with something in my head, when in the end, it will always be different. The same even goes for this whole pandemic, it’s almost like a metaphor to art!

You hand over your work one stage before other artists do! Usually, once artists share their work, it becomes their audience’s interpretation, whereas this happens during the creative process for you. Does your intention develop as you create your work?
Mmm… I usually have a clear intention from the beginning to be honest!

Art engages with the world around us, and vice versa. In what ways has this world, in this time period, impacted your art?
Because I had so few shows, I’ve been constantly in my studio, producing and producing. It was nice to take a step back to see what direction I really want to go. So I actually really enjoyed this!

Without this pressure of having to share everything, there has been more felt freedom for artists during this period! You’re currently based in Berlin, but you have previously resided in Amsterdam. In what ways have these environments impacted the work you create?
I come from a small town in The Netherlands, but I went to Amsterdam to study there after high school. I get inspired by biking around in the city, exploring parts I don’t know. I also love going to hardware stores to look at all the materials! I’m a very visual person, I always need to see and experience. In Amsterdam, I had this feeling I knew the whole city at one point. In Berlin, I can spend days looking at all kinds of materials. This really triggers my creativity!

Do you think you can get to the same point you know Berlin the same way you knew Amsterdam?
Ouf! Maybe… but Berlin is very big! I have a feeling that I have hardly seen only ten percent.

Amsterdam is basically a little village: you can’t get lost and everyone knows everyone! This project is all about optimism and colour. Your work connects to this for obvious reasons. Do you have your own little actions or mantra that never fails to put you in a good mood?
I think it’s very important to do something physical, experimental! I always need to do a little material test or something. Sometimes you spend these draining days only writing proposals, but little things like trying out new paint always put me in a good mood.

T-Shirt: Carhartt WIP – Zalando
Pants: Carhartt WIP – Zalando
Shoes: NIKE – Zalando

Painting: Color Rain l, 2019 – Rutger de Vries

How do you hope to share positivity through your work?
When I make these room installations, I want to create a wow-effect! A colour explosion when you walk into the room, something where you become part of the work when you step inside the space. Just like graffiti in a train station! This is what gives us energy.

It creates a whole environment, not just a piece!

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

In collaboration with Zalando