To begin, could you tell me a little about yourself and your background?
Gysbert: I am Gysbert Zijlstra, I was born in a small village in Fryslân, a province in the north of the Netherlands. My parents traveled a lot through Europe, so I picked up some youth culture along the way. My interest began in skateboarding and moved on to graffiti and listening to music. Funny to bring these urban interests into a setting of a rural town.
Erris: I am Erris Huigens. I was born in a small village in the middle of this tiny country (the Netherlands). So I was living close to cities like Utrecht and Amsterdam. My father was a landscape architect and collector of over ten thousand books on architecture, design and art. He triggered my interest in becoming an artist and creating things from nothing. At the age of 18 I spent a year in the USA. After that, I went to art school and starting work as a designer and artist.
Describe your journey to becoming, (or identifying as) an artist. Has it been easy? Natural? What has been difficult?
Gysbert: I never really knew what to become, but I knew I liked drawing, painting and photography. So going to art and design school was a natural step, what else could I do? At the academy I met Erris, and besides school projects we also started working together for fun, and did some street art projects in our student city. That went all pretty natural, from then on we we’re asked to participate in our first art exhibitions and projects. Later came the internet and we started exhibiting internationally. The difficult part for us was to be part of a movement related to graffiti and street art. This label is not as accepted in the art world of the Netherlands as it is elsewhere.
Erris: My parents never pushed me into a certain direction. They simply told me to follow my passion and do what feels right. It has not always felt right to be honest but I know this is the direction I had to take. We did not take the direct and carefully planned route from art school to galleries and exhibiting (I see many artists doing that and using Instagram for this). But it has been a very honest route. During art school we already (in the nineties) started doing interventions in public space. What people now call and pin point as street art. Via this scene we were invited for truly underground projects and exhibitions. I dislike many aspects of this so called street art scene nowadays. Working in public space is simply one facet of what we like to do. By continuing to make wall paintings, interventions in public space and also producing studio work we more recently gained more recognition in the contemporary art world. We do not like to be put in boxes so we still work multi disciplinary and take part in exhibitions when we feel our work contributes and it feels honest and right.
How would you describe your work to someone?
Gysbert: Black and white abstract constructivist art.
Erris: Abstract work
What is important for viewers to note when viewing your work?
Gysbert: No idea really, maybe the fact that we are two artists working together, but that should’’t really matter.
Erris: Nothing, please. They either like it or not. I can write about it, explain it, speak hours about it with interested viewers, but there is no specific need for that when people are viewing the work.
What is your process like? How important is process in understanding your work?
Gysbert: The process has been evolving through years of experimenting with all kinds of materials and techniques. Process is important for us as artists, but I’m not sure if it makes our work understandable.
Erris: Everything is process. From nothing to something. We learn from the process. We build new work from the process. A work can be finished but the process continues, you leave the work behind. It is an ongoing process.
I'm interested to know how you arrived at your choice of process, materials, and 'style?' How did this develop?
Gysbert: From observing and documenting urban and industrial landscapes, toward reproducing those pictures into graphics. By photocopying and cutting them up, and putting them together in a collage. Turning them into wheat pastes on the street. And screen printing them onto canvas. More and more came the focus of our work on the structures of constructions and cranes. This became our main source for geometric linear work, and eventually by working on big murals we started using rulers, spirit levels and masking tape to ‘build’ our work literally with paint. After years of strictly painting and using graphic techniques we also started to construct sculptures in space as well. Plus when we we’re mainly painting we we’re always very much into layers and depth. So now to work with actual layers of depth is a natural progression.
Erris: As Gysbert describes, it is a natural process of making choices and taking everything step by step. This way, there is logic in reaching these choices. What I find very important is to always feel freedom within restrictions and rules. But what is important is to evolve, surprise within set boundaries and restrictions.
What does your work aim to say?
Gysbert: The suggestion of movement.
Erris: It speaks to the space surrounding it.
Can you highlight some of your influences and discuss how they have impacted your work?
Gysbert: De Stijl, Dutch Design, Russian Constructivism, Bauhaus, Experimental electronic Music, 60’s art
E: Music, art and design. But the past few years I have been mostly influenced by other things.
Where do you find inspiration?
Gysbert: In abandoned factories, and surrounded by nature.
Erris: Everywhere. I find most inspiration in the darkest and happiest moments in life. It is all about contrasts for me. I recently moved away from Amsterdam to the small city of Wageningen. I miss the city, though it is still within 1 hour away, but I experienced it is also great to be more of an outsider, observing everything form another perspective.
In your experience, what is the best thing about being an artist? What is the hardest thing about being an artist?
Gysbert: The freedom & The uncertainty.
Erris: Bringing ideas to life. Combining it with life.
If you were not an artist, what would you be?
Gysbert: Design teacher, or perhaps a musician.
Erris: I have no idea, though I do some (art) teaching and I do some work in the care home where my father lives nowadays.
What piece of advice would you give to a young artist?
Gysbert: Go for it! Take it serious and keep testing and experimenting with passion.
Erris: Think twice