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In conversation with Toto Blaauw

Giving balance to the beauty of the visuals and the harsh realities of the world

Amsterdam-based artist and designer, Toto Blaauw is known for his exquisite works influenced by the human feelings of love, growth, and healing alongside his cultural background and admiration for Japanese art. Born in 1991 to a Dutch father and Indonesian mother, Blaauw began his artistic career studying at the Willem de Kooning Academy, and — like many great artists — didn’t complete his education, however, he has since built an impressive portfolio and global body of work. Embracing a forward-thinking, head-on approach to both human nature and society, Blaauw has gained significant recognition through his exhibitions, seen in major cities such as Amsterdam, London, Tokyo, and Kyoto. Coming off the successes of his solo exhibition at Pre-Reserved, we spoke with the artist about this triumph, alongside his identity as an artist and work. 

Hey Toto, how are you today?
Blessed. I had some interesting meetings and I just finished writing for new projects. Today I’m in the studio cutting out a lot of old images and trying out new colour schemes with paint. I’m playing some great Jazz music, no vocals, so my brain can flow.

Thank you for speaking with me coming off the back of your exhibition at Pre-Reserved. Can you tell me about the project?
The project Hello New World was created over a three-year period. It’s my reaction to the paradigm shift the world has taken in 2020. We went through dark times coping with fear, isolation, and separation which created a lot of internal struggles. I felt the necessity as an artist to confront these issues and create healing works for myself and the public. After completing the work, Pre-Reserved allowed me to be the first artist to fill up their entire new 770m² space. The show consists of 25 works, mainly big paintings, prints, drawings, and a sculpture. Each piece tells a story individually and takes you on a journey inside my Utopia. Where everything is less mechanical and more magical.

This was your 5th solo exhibition to date, what has this journey felt like; from your very first show to now, entering such a big space?
It feels good to zoom out a bit and appreciate the journey and the work I’ve created. Every solo exhibition has been a reflection of a different chapter in my life. It has been a crazy ride with a lot of ups and downs, mental push-ups, and learning experiences. This last exhibition feels like a big VICTORY! I’m grateful for the people that stayed with me from my first exhibition till now. They saw the vision and that motivates me to keep going!

Hello New World as mentioned is the result of a period of healing and growth. Can you tell me about this growth, and some significant moments that made you realize this was occurring?
I was working in my studio every day for a long period on different shows. And it was very hard at moments to stay patient, persistent, and keep a clear vision. So this time around I tried to focus more on the process. This felt way more freeing and painting became like therapy to me. When I finally was able to share the finished work with the world. I noticed that it had impacted the public in a whole new way. First with the sculpture instalment in Westerpark and shortly after with two solo shows in Japan. Coming back to Amsterdam to open Hello New World felt like a full circle moment, that elevated me on a personal, creative, and business level. 

… And how is this present physically within the work?
Every work is multi-layered and made with a certain purpose. The colour schemes played a very important role in this exhibition. In the early stages, I learned new things about colour pigments and what type of feeling they can arise. With every work, there was so much I wanted to express. I stripped down each work to minimal lines, and shapes and let the core energy remain. Each work requires some time in front to really understand it.

Your work is globally recognised, however, has particularly connected in Tokyo, and Kyoto; why do you think your aesthetic fits with the Japanese market?
Japan has this great combination of Western influence combined with an Eastern perspective. They have great imagination and pay a lot of attention to detail. I believe the visual language we speak is the same. Having Eastern and Western ancestry myself, I believe there are strong parallels in the values and ways of thinking. So this automatically goes in my aesthetic when making art. I definitely draw inspiration from great creators like; Katsuhiro Otomo, Hayao Miyazaki, Yayoi Yakasuma, Rei Kawakubo, and Takashi Murakami. For example, if you look at some Ghibli movies by Miyazaki that are made for children there are deeper layers in the story that only adults can understand. This gives balance to the beauty of the visuals and the harsh realities of the world. I believe my approach to making art is the same and connects with the Japanese market.

Your work also has an inherently political, and social focus. Particularly the piece that states, “What are you doing to make things better”. Can you tell me about this work specifically?
The painting is a play on the term photosynthesis. The younger generations, referred to as seeds, need sunlight and water to grow and bloom into flowers. These flowers will give us oxygen. A breath of fresh air that we need to grow a healthy cycle and break outdated constructions within society.

You are based in Amsterdam; how do you feel your work connects to the city? Inspirations etc?
I feel like Amsterdam offers a bridge between subcultures, communities, and generations in the city. My work also speaks to a younger generation now and I love this exchange of energy. I live and work in Amsterdam-Noord and have a great creative community around me. I’ll just let the work speak for itself and keep it moving. The right people will notice.

You have already done some amazing things this year — are there any other creative projects on the horizon?
Thank you. I really look forward to what I’m about to do next. A few new projects are pending right now and I’m currently just creating in the studio. Everything is timing, but with the right terms, the last quarter of this year is going to be fire!


Words by Grace Powell

See more from Toto Blaauw here!