Galerie Fons Welters - Amsterdam

Short Summer Special

With every Short Summer Special we have asked a young writer to do a Q&A with the artist. Here done by Diego Diez. 

The first time I saw Bob Eikelboom’s work was probably in a group show. Or maybe was on an art fair? I do remember I met him at an art fair, but not in the art fair. I remember a party in an apartment in Brussels. The vibe was great and there was some sort of Royal Rumble feeling, and with that in mind, I thought how to approach this interview. If in Royal Rumble different fighters go up to the ring at timed intervals I tried to do something similar with Bob, although, now that I think about it it is maybe a mix with another great format: Last Man Standing. I have been shooting him with tons of questions through the past weeks, some taken from interviews with artists such as Picasso, Duchamp or Albers and some new in relation to the work he has been making in the past years. Bob’s works and answers fight with these and other masters without forgetting the time we live in now.

Have you noticed the double S in the names of Matisse, Poussin, Picasso, and Le Douanier Rousseau? What about the double O in Eikelboom, do you ever think about it? How important is a name for you?

Yes, I have noticed that the double S works beautifully in their signatures. I think a last name says a lot about an artist or person. First of all, it gives away a heritage. I always like to know what the last name means, for instance with your last name, you must have a whole family tree of A+ people like yourself. In my case Eikelboom means oak-tree, but it’s spelled wrongly and ends up meaning something like jerk-tree (where eikel also is the upper part of the phallus). I really like all those three readings, I think it says a lot about my attitude towards and in my work.

It’s a fun game to play, Rauschenberg means noise-mountain, Caravaggio is a small town in Italy and de Kooning is obvious. I guess you are one step ahead when you have got a good last name.

How did you get into painting? How did you come to give up other material means of expression and stick to painting?

I got into painting through my mother, she gave painting workshops in her studio which is in the attic of my parents’ house. Every day when her students left I would finish the leftover paint.

I’ve always stayed with painting as my main medium since a young age, it’s how I got into art. And most of all it’s an obsession, like some people are bookworms, others are filmophile: I happen to love painting. I love to look at it, read about it, and do it. But that doesn’t mean it always loves me back, that keeps it exciting. 

Why do you paint in such a way that your expression is so difficult for the public to understand?

There is a distinction between expression to be made, you have emotional expression and expression of thoughts/ideas. In my work, I try to balance these two. The one exists central in the other and the other way around, it’s like a ying-yang symbol. I think at first I started more closer to my thoughts and ideas, and now I think I’m more able to connect emotion or let feelings play an important part in my work. So I guess that my ways of expression are becoming more clear as I proceed. I would like to be able to make a clear statement about this, but I think that my expression comes about in the contradictions of my personality, there lay the things that need more than words to understand. I would advise you to look at my metaphors through imagery and titles. Sometimes these can lead you to the promised path on the yellow brick road. In general, I think I’m more an artist of intuition than of reason.

There is a great deal of talk especially by hostile art critics that modern art is the equivalent of a fraud, that the artist is trying to put something over on the public. And although the public accepts modern art when incorporated into architecture, advertisements, posters, and even household articles, it still refuses to accept modern painting. What do think can be done to close this gap?

Art is good when there is a balance between a lie and sincerity. Fraud is amazing. It’s like a double artificiality.  

I think the critics are right about that to some extent, fraud being a representation of artificiality. But Pop Art represented the artificiality of its own time and that became the standard in art. Now society raced art to the point that we have fake news or news with an agenda, it’s propaganda and propaganda art is not good and fake news is not good, but lies are interesting. You have to take things apart, deconstruct it to a point that you get the truth. And in art you take things apart to the point you reach metaphysical meaning or beyond, and that’s a truth as well. Take for instance my magnetic paintings, it’s a construction and deconstruction concept, it’s about what happens if you take painting apart and it questions the ideal solution of the composition. I only show or sell the work if I think every element of the work is in its own right perfect, but at the same time I pose that not everybody has to agree.  

Do you use color scientifically? What is your theory of color, especially as regards your conception of perspective?

Colour is very direct, that’s why I love it. I don’t use it scientifically unless you would say finding complementaries is scientific. I print out charts from the internet to hang them in the studio, it gives a good view of the combination possibilities. Regarding perspective, I don’t use it so much. I play with foreground and background, that’s my perspective. I think that comes from my period as an art student where I spent a couple of years redefining the monochrome. I figured out how to make monochromatic paintings that held a whole spectrum of colours through special chameleon car paints, the light bounced off of the work like a rainbow.

What would you say is the relation between form and color?

I really don’t know, I guess that’s one of the things I’m still figuring out on the background. 

But what I can say about form, something that I figured out: it’s very hard to make a landscape shape painting. I’ve been working on vertical shaped frames for a couple of years so obviously I wanted to change things 90 degrees around. So I figured out that if I put two verticals next to each other, I am able to make a successful landscape painting. That might sound weird, but to me, it was quite an eureka moment.  

Would you now apply any theories to your work?

Sometimes I use pataphysics as a conceptual principle. Pataphysics is the precursor to surrealism and absurdism and can be described as something that toys with conventional concepts and interpretations of reality. Another definition is that “pataphysics is a branch of philosophy or science that examines imaginary phenomena that exist in a world beyond metaphysics; it is the science of imaginary solutions”. It sounds complicated but really it is all satire. I like the idea of finding solutions to imaginary problems, it’s what an artist does, I create my own problems and find my own solutions. That’s pretty special because almost every other job mainly consists of finding solutions for other people’s problems. That’s why you always need to say you are great at problem-solving if you are in a job interview.

You focus attention on art history and so on. Were you a reader when you were young?

No, I’ve got a pretty good case of dyslexia. That’s why I liked art history. You can just look at the pictures and the dates, the rest comes automatically.  

Who are the painters that satisfy you, if I may put it like that? Whom do you especially like?

Satisfactory is a complicated feeling, sometimes things are so good, you just get anxious and jealous. But that’s very good, I think of that as one of my drives. If I open the Picasso book 1932 (his year of wonders) accompanied to his exhibition in Tate Modern (2019) I just go crazy, more then 100 masterpieces all made in one year, versatile and extremely diverse. It’s not a matter of especially liking but more of liking in a special way, if you know what I mean. And I have quite a lot of artists that I like in that way, but the ones I would mention today are, Matisse, Kippenberger, de Kooning, Kelley, Caravaggio, Picabia and for sculpture Calder and Tinguely.

Another thing that satisfies me is collecting art because I believe that living with an artwork can teach you a lot about an artist, I’ve got works in my house that I look at every day and it helps me understand not only the piece itself but also in relation to the oeuvre of the artist. Living with art gives a deeper understanding. You reflect between yourself, the artwork and the artist. There is a dialogue going on all the time. Most works in my home are by befriended artists but the communality of my small but proud collection consists of pieces of whom I think are pieces I wish I had made myself. I do this purposely, I like to have art I can contrast myself against, it makes me feel lousy, because I didn’t achieve what is on my wall, the fact it exists judges me. This is wonderful, this makes me get up in the morning and take action! When I get home I can look with satisfaction, and am proud of all the things created by colleagues around me.