For some, growing up and living an adult life in the ‘system’ is absolutely fine. However, certain individuals feel constrained by the ‘system’. Without fail, they will question it and live in its margins.
This brings me to one philosophical notion: the concept of happiness. It has been the subject of discussion for a tremendous amount of years and most philosophers agree that it should be defined as one of these two things: a state of mind or a life that goes well for the person leading it. Problem is: happiness is not measurable, profitable nor is it tradable. It’s intangible and like every other intangible things, us humans, seek to define it.
A few theories about happiness are frequently brought up: hedonism — which identifies happiness as the individual’s balance of pleasant over unpleasant experiences—, life satisfaction — which identifies happiness as having a favourable attitude toward one’s life as a whole—, the emotional state view theory — which identifies happiness as an emotional condition as a whole— and the hybrid theory which identifies happiness as both life satisfaction and pleasure or emotional state.
Because this matter can be so thoroughly discussed, this short introduction can only give a quick overview of these theories. However, looking at the concept from a non-philosophical standpoint, people can be happy if they have something to strive for. Others, if their main goal is to fulfill their own expectations, hereby live freely. However, even the happiest people will see clouds over their heads once in a while. Human nature sees negativity everywhere. Aristotle once said: “happiness depends upon ourselves”. It’s just a matter of putting our minds to it. It’s doing what we want to do, for ourselves.
Daan Botlek is a Dutch artist who doesn’t depend on others to lead a happy life, through his own expectations and without system constraints.
“I do a lot of different things, and sometimes I paint walls. I just do what I like to do in that moment, and don’t really look at what other people do. I don’t try to be up to date with the latest trend. I see it when I see it, that’s all.”
– Daan Botlek
[Fresh Paint Gallery]: Hi Mr. Botlek. For starters, how did you see your future as a kid? Did you expect ending up in the arts?
[Daan Botlek]: I don’t think I had plans for the future. I still don’t. I guess I wanted to be an explorer. Heavily inspired by Indiana Jones and the Goonies, of course! Or become an inventor. But ending up in the arts is something I never expected or aspired to. As a kid, I was good at drawing but art was a weird world for me. I couldn’t understand it.
[FP]: In a past interview for Frank151, you said that you had started different educations but always seemed to be disappointed in them. What was it that disappointed you? What alternatives or piece of advice would you give out to people who like you, feel this way about how education?
[DB]: It’s hard to speak for others as everybody experiences it differently.
Primary school was a lot of fun learning all the basics; the world was one full of possibilities and dreams. But that untamed motivation disappeared in high school. I started to question a lot of things: the underlying structures of everyday life, of situations, of institutions (like school). Existential questions that were left unanswered. You can learn a lot in school, but knowledge isn’t the driving force, it’s proving you can get good grades.
Doing the same thing in every class, every day, every semester, every year was pretty devastating. It was like Groundhog Day. It was even more painful to realize that most people are convinced that working hard [to get a good grade] is a sign of intelligence. If you didn’t live up to other people’s expectations, you were just a lazy dreamer. Answers were much more important than questions. Knowing was more important than understanding.
I became completely apathetic. I didn’t do anything, had no motivation and couldn’t concentrate. School seemed to go nowhere with no apparent goal. Like a big black hole sucking me in. Going to school made me feel stupid. The only motivation came from cheating and finding ways to beat the system. It was the only thing that encouraged real life skills like creativity, ingenuity and people smarts. Paradoxically, you only learn about life after graduation. In school, you are kept away from it [life].
In continuing education, I kept the same mentality. I had a hard time taking anyone seriously, especially teachers. We didn’t share the same views, ambitions and expectations. I was bitter and very skeptic, but it’s okay now. After graduation, you can start pursuing your own dreams and get rid of other people’s expectations. It was a very long detour, but I’m now where I want to be and things are working out fine.
[FP]: What are the main difficulties for an artist living and working in Netherlands? How hard was it for you to stand out in a country with so many artists and such a strong art history?
[DB]: The main difficulty is the general mentality about art. Netherlands is a country of hard working no-nonsense people. Of entrepreneurs. Whereas as being an artist is seen as a hobby and people wonder how you’ll make ends meet. It only counts as a ‘real’ job if you make enough money.
For me, being an artist has never been a job but rather a way of life. To stick out is not important. It’s important that I can live the life I want to live. It is important that I can investigate, wonder, experiment, learn and share. I constantly have to find new ways to get a satisfying conclusion. Money and popularity should never be the goal. It will make the work predictable because it’s living up to other people’s expectations. I don’t mind popularity, but I don’t want it to govern my work and direction in life.
[FP]: The Netherlands has a long history of cultural social tolerance and is now perceived as a liberal country. To what extent do authorities accept street art in the country? Do cities tend to help artists from that discipline?
[DB:] To authorities, street art is graffiti and there is a zero tolerance policy. Also, homeowners are not in a position to give permission to paint their wall; the city government decides of that. It makes it very hard to negotiate projects. Any graffiti you see is ‘hit-and-run’ stuff. In Rotterdam and some other cities, there are some organisations trying to conceive big mural projects, but it takes time to convince the politicians of the benefits for the neighbourhood. Then again, I haven’t been in the Netherlands for almost a year now so I’m not sure what the current situation is.
[FP]: You tend to work hand in hand with the architectural elements of the building you’re painting on, which in the end creates a impressive pieces of art. Other than that technique, what is your approach to painting a huge scale drawing or painting?
[DB]: These are two different things requiring each a different approach. Indeed I make use of architectural and natural elements in such way that all of the surroundings become part of the painting. I just have to put some characters in the ‘scene’ and it will influence the complete environment. People have asked me to make canvas paintings of these characters but so far I have never seen a reason to do so. To put these characters on a canvas felt like putting them in a box, a prison. This idea actually became the concept for a new series of drawings and eventually some canvas paintings. I start with drawing a box. In this box, I put some basic elements to create an environment: a construction of stones, ropes, transparent geometric shapes, etc. In this environment, I put some characters involved in some activity or interaction; it’s not really clear what’s going on. For me, this is a new way of conceiving an image and a new playground to explore.
[FP]: You’ve been said to try to get people out of their comfort zone by using small provocative, disturbing and minimalistic anonymous naked human bodies on huge scales. Dutch artists such as Joep van Lieshout, Aernout Mik or De Rijk and De Rooij, all in different art disciplines have also used disturbing and provocative themes for their work. What can we make of this? Is the use of these recurrent themes part of a continuation in condemning something somehow? What do you like about those themes?
[DB]: Ha, okay, put like this it’s a bit out of context, but yes, I like to get people out of their comfort zone. I try to do so by creating images that are not clear. You will recognize everything you see in the image, but you still won’t have any clue of what’s going on. That is, unless you come up with your own story. But a lot of people demand an explanation. People need answers, but I don’t give answers, I give questions. The image is a formula, not the outcome. The audience has to participate to come up with a satisfying conclusion.
A question will make you reconsider reality. That is what art has been doing for the past 150 years or so: questioning our concepts of reality. Art is a way of peeking through the fabric of illusions we tend to create for ourselves, and that can be pretty confronting.
[FP]: Tell me if I’m wrong, but neither your paintings nor murals ever have titles. Why is that?
[DB]: Yes, for a long time I refused to give titles because I had the idea that it would define the work. After a while, I realized people made their own stories anyway, no matter the title. So a year ago, I abandoned the ‘no title strategy’. In fact, coming up with a title is one of my favourite parts of making art. It’s an extra game to play.
[FP]: What has been the most inspiring spot to paint at and what’s one place in the world you would like to hit up? Why?
[DB]: That would be all the beautiful abandoned buildings and factories in Leipzig, Germany. A massive playground for exploring and experimenting. I go there every year to do a project with some other artists, culminating in an exhibition in one of those abandoned buildings. I’d love to paint in a big cave, one with cathedral like proportions. The result should be a mix of paintings, sculptures and installations. Cave paintings have always been a source of great inspiration. The mysteries surrounding them and their creators make my imagination run wild.
[FP]: Nowadays, many issues come along with the explosion of Internet. With everything being more accessible, art is being commercialized more and more. Other issues can include suing for breach of property rights and so on. What’s one issue or problematic you feel close to when looking at today’s urban art scene? Why?
[DB]: Well, I don’t know much about the urban art scene. I have more of an interest for art in general. Of course, a lot is focused on fairs and sales. That results in a lot of very good work but also very predictable art. I don’t know if that’s good, bad, or even a new issue. I don’t care much about it; I just focus on my work and life.
[FP]: Over email, you told me you had been travelling since April… What will you be working on in the next few months? Are you planning on heading back to Holland for a while?
[DB]: At the moment, I’m still in Bangkok where I just finished my first solo exhibition in Asia. I’ll stay in the area for a while to finish some other work. Then, I have to get back to Holland. I’ve got some exhibitions and projects coming up in Vlissingen, Rotterdam, Berlin and Leipzig. I’m very much tempted to go back to Bangkok soon. It’s a very inspiring place with an energetic art scene.
Considered by many as a black sheep in the field of art, Daan Botlek enjoys bridging paradoxes. The Dutch artist is famous for his wide murals and paintings throughout the world. Associating him solely to this unique type of work though, wouldn’t be an accurate description. From miniature designs to huge wall paintings, every single piece he delivers seems to raise questions as he plays with architecture, perspective and impossible spaces giving the notion of entrapment to his art.
Daan Botlek’s latest work was showcased in the “Inhabitated Hypercube” solo exhibition held in Bangkok. A few of the artist’s past exhibitions and events include “St+Art Mumbai” (Mumbai, India), “Graffiti and Street Art festival Styria” (Fürstenfeld, Austria), “Le M.U.R.” (Mulhouse, France), “Ampelhaus” (Oranienbaum, Germany), “Neurotitan” (Berlin, Germany), “Gallery Frank Taal” (Rotterdam, The Netherlands) and “If Paradise Is Half As Nice” (Leipzig, Germany).
© Pictures courtesy of Daan Botlek. All rights reserved.