Five questions to Robert van de Graaf

Five questions to Robert van de Graaf

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Robert van de Graaf was born in The Hague, the Netherlands in 1983. He received a Master of Science (MSc) degree in Architecture (Technical University Delft) and enjoyed a private painting and drawing training at an early age by a Dutch artist. He lives and works in The Hague, the Netherlands.How did you get into art?

Since I was a child I have always been drawing and creating things. It was my English grandmother, who recognised my artistic potential on a more serious level and gave me my first private lessons (1996) in the arts by the Dutch artist Erica Meyster (1949 - 2006). This has led to an intense private painting and drawing training from 1996 to 2001, where I have been able to work in full freedom under supervision of Erica Meyster. This period still remains of great importance to my development as an artist.

After working as an architect for two years I realised I could not continue to work as an architect. I totally missed the freedom and limitless possibilities of creation in painting and drawing. I realised that I have been born as an artist, a painter, and that this would be my path in life. From that moment I decided to switch to the arts and live my initial dream (2012), it was a moment of now or never. In that period I also decided to dedicate my life to the arts, whatever it takes.

How would you describe your style? What makes your work special?

From the moment I started painting seriously at the early age of thirteen I have been doing my own thing. While working I noticed a deep source of inspiration that I can still draw from today. In my current work I continue to be inspired by the themes that have inspired me throughout my youth. I cherish this continuation of inspiration. The inspiration is simply there inside, it truly belongs to me, waiting to be unleashed on the canvas. And I think that is different on a very essential level from choosing an inspiration with the mind. This also enables me to put a lot of feeling into a painting and to give it a certain depth, which is a very difficult thing to do. I like my work to have their own personality and character.

My work has many layers, in terms of content and feeling, but also in the painting methods and styles I use. I hope this leads to highly evocative and powerful artworks, without being loud. I move back and forth through art history, still learning a lot, and use these inspirations as references in my artwork,while also connecting to contemporary cultural issues as how we relate to the spiritual (and faith) and our personal introspection to grow as a personSometimes I only find out afterwards that a particular part of my process and inspiration is connected with a certain aspect of art history.

These layers are formed by landscape painting, history painting, contemporary cultural references, and the use of different painting styles such as expressionism, abstract expressionism, figuration, symbolism and lyrical abstraction. How do you go about developing your work?

My artworks are an expression of my journey to find meaning in life which leads me through all kinds of experiences, feelings, emotions, places, moments and knowledge. In this process I compile a selection of some of these elements and create a series of that information. Some series explore more on personal internal processes (the series ‘Stories of Transitions’), some explore more on specific texts as The Revelations ( the series ‘Visions of St. John the Divine’) or the experience of a place as New York City (the series ‘Silence and The City’).

When I have my main theme of the series I do research about the topic and collect my materials for inspiration. I usually choose a particular place or environment as a ‘stage’ for the series. After that I visit the place or environment and take my photographs. I like that the works are sort of grounded on earth in this way. After this point, the creation process becomes quite organic yet structured. I have my notebooks where I write down interesting stuff that may be useful for the paintings. During this researching phase I make notes with schemes of paintings possibilities that pop up in my mind, I make little sketches and turn them into drawings and/ or watercolours. Sometimes I also write poems before or during the creation process.

I basically create the context of the paintings so that I can channel the expressive and emotional brushwork I like to use. At the moment I am working towards a bit looser approach, allowing more freedom and intuition into the painting process. It feels like a new phase in my creative process, which I find really exciting to explore.Who or what influences you?

My inspiration comes from spiritual and religious stories, mythology, mystical places and the philosophy of life. I am interested in the connection between the mystical in this world and the connection and relation to the spiritual world. I really enjoy and feel inspired by all kinds of nature, the sea, forests, mountains, dunes. For me the landscapes of the earth are a way of connecting to the core of our existence and they give me peace of mind and provoke introspection. In the process of creation I am also seeking the divine experience within myself, but without the pressure from any religion, longing for inner freedom, trying to enter new spaces within myself. Especially the painting process always has a magical effect on my state of mind, it provides inner space, inspiration, deeper feelings, contemplation, it is very special to me. 

But I am also influenced by music, literature and poetry. Sometimes I also write poems before or during the painting process. I also love to look at the work of artists through all times of art history such as Anselm Kiefer, Caspar David Friedrich, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cy Twombly, Zao Wou-Ki, Megan Rooney, Joan Mitchell and the old masters.

Make us curious. What are you planning to do next?

I am working on some new collaborations and a few publications in art books, being released in 2024. In this phase I am in the process of finding a suitable international gallery to represent my artworks for the long term. It is a very exciting process with a lot of research involved. In the process I learn a lot about the different galleries and their artists. This is a very important step for me and I am really looking forward to this future collaboration(s), being able to built a good relationship with the gallery.

In October 2023 I have finished my series ‘The Alchemy of Dreams’ which contain 23 oil paintings, watercolour studies and drawing studies, you can view the artworks on my website if you like.

And I have just started my new series where I am working towards a looser approach, allowing more freedom in creation process and the use of more evocative figuration. I mean this is the most exciting thing for me, to explore new things, trying to bring my painting to a higher level. I feels like I’m entering a new phase in my artistic practice.Learn more about the artist: