“Some of my adventures in Mission31 are immensely public, some exclusively delicate and special. They range from injecting art into the human body to thousands of fully functioning TulipMan robots. I partner with companies to create these adventures.”
How do you define art?
Well, I have to say, before I started to paint, I thought that art was a bunch of arrogant people in galleries, a bunch of strange people doing strange stuff. That was modern art to me, and old art for me was more like taking pictures. If you see The Night Watch in Amsterdam, you know it’s an excellent painting, technique-wise it’s fantastic, but creative-wise no, it’s… what is it? It’s a bunch of guys, maybe they moved one in the painting, because it fits better and he said, no, I’m painting it here, but basically it is taking a photo, and I didn’t like that. I like the creative part, but then I get confronted in the news all the time with people painting the whole floor with chocolates and then getting a lot of money for that from the government and that was “art”. So before I started doing it myself I didn’t like art. I thought it was stupid, I was more into the sort of commercial art toy thing. That’s what art was for me.
Now that I’m an artist myself I start seeing the concept behind it, which I had never opened myself to before, like why there is a straight line and then a green area on it? Maybe, you know, if you read what it is, if you actually read the little text on the side, you can still find it ugly or don’t agree, but at least you know that there is creativity behind it, so for me art is not some high driven thing, for me art is just people expressing themselves in whatever way they feel comfortable with.
I, and maybe all artists, have discussions with people that say, “your work is not art yet” or “this doesn’t belong to the art world”, or as one lady said to me, “You’re an artist, but I don’t think your work is art”, I’m like…okay, so you think I’m an artist, but what I make is not art? How does that work? I don’t even get that point. If you’re a baker you make bread. So you have many discussions, because when people hear “art” it starts being very weird – especially because the Dutch name is kunstenaar, and that is like Van Gogh or Rembrandt, but an artist for me is a much better word, it’s more friendly and low, so for me art is just basically anybody that has a passion for something that he wants to express, whether it’s music, dancing, painting, or a sculpture, and I don’t put a label on it if it’s fine art or museum-worthy. My son doodles and really enjoys it, and if he creates something he likes, I believe that is art.
So for me it’s a very open thing and anybody can make art as long as your heart is in it. If you start doing it because you think you can make money, there for me is where it goes wrong, because then I believe it’s more like a concept to make money and not because you have a passion for it. So if you have the passion and you make something you like, I call that art.
I see.. and do you think art needs to be defined?
No, I don’t. But people love putting things in boxes.
Why did you decide on art? You said you only started a few years ago, and you actually decided that this is what you want. So.. why art?
I was in a startup, as we call it now, because back then we didn’t call it a startup yet. It was a fashion accessories brand and I sold bracelets that my mother and my grandmother knit. I started giving them out in Jimmy Woo, a popular club, and we would take photos of pretty girls wearing them and post them to social media so people started wanting these things, so it grew into a brand. And if you want to grow you need investors, so we had a CEO and I was the creative man, and the investors were coming in, then suddenly this company was slipping out from under me. They started saying things like, “Oh, how about green?! My daughter of twelve wears green, you guys should do green”. So I was frustrated with that, but I also realised that those people were paying the 6-7 people that were working for us, they were making sure that the collections were going out, they were helping me with pre-financing, so it could be made, so I realised that I also needed them. Then I figured, well, if this is my job, I start seeing it as a job, and I wanted something that I really love and that I’m really passionate about.
So I woke up one morning and I was so frustrated, and then I said to my wife who was lying in bed, “Darling, I’m gonna be a painter”, and she was like, “WHAT?!” I had thought about it, but at the exact same moment I could’ve said I’m going to be a rapper. I wanted to do something that I was horrible at, I cannot sing, I cannot draw… I had to pick one of these things and I picked painting because all I could draw were stick figures. You know, I didn’t see any ceiling, I just wanted to see how far I could take it, and the night before I had watched a documentary about Evan York… an artist from the US. He used to go out on the street, get these cardboard boxes, take them to a studio, and paint on them. Then early the next morning he went and put them back to the same spot where he found them, but now it was art, and people could just take it. Eventually he became a bigger artist. I found one in Barcelona, I have two actually, and I figured if a real artist can paint on cardboard, I’m not gonna buy these expensive canvasses and expensive brushes. I just got some children’s paint, some brushes that were lying around, some sponges, and I got cardboard, because I was living next to a bike shop, and bike boxes are always very big. So I cut them with a bread knife, I made my own canvasses, and because a real artist was doing it I figured I can also try. So I started on this canvas. I had visited Hong Kong just before, and when I was there, I was very fascinated by Sneaker Street, which is a street in Hong Kong that only has sneaker stores, shitty ones where they have the oldest sneakers in plastic and cheap ones, up to nice, high-end sneakers. I was inspired by that, so I did something called, “Sneaker Street” the painting, and I started cutting things out, because I was not very certain that I would be able to draw very well. So I cut out things and painted over, and I was just playing with this cardboard and I put it in the living room and I was actually pretty happy with it. And my wife, who at that time was still my girlfriend, is always really honest with me. She would never say, “Go on American Idol”, she would say, “No, damn, you are horrible at singing, don’t do it”. So she came home and I was very nervous, and I said: “Darling I did this thing”. And then she said the famous words, “It’s not bad”. Okay, if an honest woman who I know is always honest with me (and that’s why I love her), said it’s not bad, I thought, okay, it’s not bad, so other people will probably think it’s good. Now I look back and it was not good at all, but it was creative. So for me that was the start and I started getting more boxes, cutting them out, experimenting, using painting phases, and then I went into sneaker things, cause I like sneakers to wear, but also I like how they looked from an artistic point of view. Then I quit my company, I stepped out and I said, you can have my shares, it’s not for me anymore.
Did you start to sell your work right away?
Yeah, I’m the type of person who doesn’t care if you don’t like what I’m doing. That’s just your opinion. So I started selling right away, some pieces, not everything of course. I’m the guy who quits his job if he doesn’t like it anymore – I believe I should not stay in a job just to make money, so I went and just started painting. My wife had a salary, so we could live, it’s not like we were starving, so that was the start.
And then, because you didn’t have a traditional training in art you said that you just went out and bought the kiddy paint and stuff. But is that something you are looking after now, like do you want to master a certain technique or you are just still happy that you have the freedom to experiment with whatever you want?
I have to say first of all that I don’t paint with sponges and just any brushes anymore. I have Liquidex who is my sponsor and they give me spray paints and brushes. I’ve started to be more and more an “artist” in the sense that I want to have better brushes and paints, but I’m not focused so much on technique. I believe that if I just do what I feel like, it becomes a technique, and it doesn’t matter if Van Gogh painted that way or if he didn’t. I believe the best things were born from mistakes. Like, I dropped paint and it fell down the wall, and I saw that if you throw paint somewhere, it rolls out very nicely. And probably if I’d looked it up in a book it would have said that it’s a technique. But when I dropped something, I was like if I put the line maybe this way, because the paint just happens to fall that way, it might be nice. So I started to develop my own techniques.
One day I was sitting on my balcony, painting, and I was too lazy to get water. I drank a lot of Diet Coke those days, and I just figured maybe if I normally put water in my paint, then I could use Diet Coke. So I did that and it worked, it had no effect at all on the paint, didn’t look different, it was exactly the same. But the next day or a week later I was talking to this local newspaper about what I was doing and I said, “Oh yeah, I mix my paint with Diet Coke”. Then the headline was “Diet Coke Painter”. So I sort of discovered how the media worked. And then even a few years later a gallery in Soho said, “Oh I have to talk to you, is it really Diet Coke in the paint, because my clients don’t want that, because it goes away after a few years, it’s bad for the paint,” I said, no it was just like two or three times as a joke.
So I just tried to experiment and find my own way, then I started working on canvas. I print half the painting and I paint the other half over it. I try to do anything, not because it’s a technique that an artist should know. I lose any discussion with an artist about technique – I don’t care. I believe most artists.. and it’s a very bad thing to say, but I believe most artists make art so other artists say it’s good. I make art so people in the street might like it, or not, I don’t give a crap what another artist thinks of my work. If you make music, it doesn’t mean that every musician has to like it.
Yeah, exactly, that’s the thing. It’s a really subjective thing, but I agree with you that art is whatever you think art is. I’m not a musician, but if I wanna pick up a guitar and start playing, I’m probably not gonna call myself a musician, but it doesn’t make me less of a person with a guitar.
Yeah, but other people would call you that, it’s not that you call yourself an artist. Other people say you’re an artist.. but I just do what I like, and it happens to be an artistic profession or whatever you wanna call it. Yeah, but it’s a very strange technique. I don’t go to any classes, to learn one technique, I just do what I feel like and it becomes my technique, and maybe in a hundred years they’ll say, in a book, “Gaby Gaby invented the Diet Coke technique”.
So, going back to technique, you also use social media now on a broader scale, what is social media to you? Because I know that you use it for all these different things for your project..
I don’t call it social media, I call it my way of letting the people know what I’m doing, and if I was a painter fifteen years ago.. twenty years ago.. I might make copies and put it in all the peoples’ mailboxes in my area, so it’s just the way to tell the world what I’m doing, and if that is on Twitter or Snapchat or whatever, it’s just expressing.
So you’re not really interested in the technology, it’s more about showcasing your work – so if it was like 50 years ago then you’d be using mail?
Yeah.. but I have to say the technology of today is inspiring. My new project, Mission31, which I could talk hours about, is based on the technology that all these startups are inventing. But I am not on Twitter because I believe that it’s the best technique to get my word out, it’s just, the best way the get your word out at the moment. I just believe if you follow me, you like me, and you can check into my channel whenever you feel like, if that’s Facebook or whatever it is. For me Twitter is the main thing, because somehow I have the most followers there and it works the best for me because I am dyslexic, so I cannot write pages and pages of text, and there I can just, you know, say what I want and it’s done.
How much do you value the feedback you get on social media?
The positive things, I don’t care about.. but the negative things I do care about, because that is honest. It could also be because they wanna wind me up, or whatever, but if you say that I did or said something wrong or I shouldn’t have said that, then I start thinking about it. If you say, ohh man you were amazing, then I hear it and it goes by me.
But then in general, that philosophy works, because it’s still (although it’s not the goal) going up, so people still like it more than they hate it. I’m still on the plus side.
At the moment you have around 147.000 followers, but we read about the World Champion of Art initiative you started and one of the points was that you wanted to have a million followers. I mean, it’s one of the points, but why do you want to become World Champion of Art?
Because I am a person that needs a goal. That’s the only reason and I’m not competing. It’s not a race, like a hundred meter sprint, where one of us wins. It is just, I put ten goals out there for myself. They are all things I think I could never, ever reach and I would even be scared if I did. Besides having a sneaker. There is a pretty good chance for it to happen soon, but the other ones are far away. But I have to have them as goals, otherwise what I do has no purpose. For me it has to have a purpose and to give a label to a purpose is maybe to say that I’m trying to fight to be the best boyfriend or I’ll try to be the best badminton player. So in everything I do I’d like to have a goal. By saying I want to be the World Champion of Art, that’s my goal and I just said it as a joke once, and these people with me were like, “WHAATT?? IT’S NOT POSSIBLE, IT’S NOT A COMPETITION!!” So then I kept it and I just started saying that I was gonna be World Champion of Art, and I actually truly believe that I will reach these goals, although I probably won’t, but I want to try and do so.
I saw that you’ve already achieved some of the things on your list.
Yeah, I have to make some of them higher. But the difficult thing that I realised is that everybody’s asking, how far are you? But most of them are based on somebody growing and then because you grow, and probably in these four or five years, towards the end, most of the goals will be checked off, because you need to be bigger to get into the MOMA or do something extraordinary, so I realised that the first few years, not much will happen in terms of ticking off the boxes. But in the end, if my goal, if my track is right, it will happen. If it doesn’t, there was still something to keep me busy and give me a goal. Every project I do is based on getting bigger as an artist or doing a project that is bigger, so I get closer to these goals. Mainly it’s just for me, and people like talking about it, because I need something to aim for.
So when you pick a new project to do, do you have a goal for every single one of them, like for example the ‘Tour de France’ project you did. Did you come up with the idea, because you wanted to paint cyclists? Were you interested in that part or did you know from the beginning that your goal is to actually reach these people?
It’s always from the heart, like I said, especially the ‘Tour de France’ thing. I like the Tour de France, I like cycling, but especially how in three weeks you can do shitty one day and then the next day make up for it by doing a good time trial, or be good at the mountains and suck at flats, so you do good here and then you lose time again… So all these calculations of one guy being the best, or combined the best of all these different aspects team-wise, no accidents, luck. All these things you have to master. So the Tour de France for me was the ultimate thing.
I was always fascinated by all these people that write the names of these riders on the mountains. So I decided to go and make some bigger paintings on the mountains there. It was the year Lance Armstrong came back to the Tour de France so I figured, well, then let me paint his portrait on the mountain and see if I can take a picture of him riding over himself. I thought that was cool, Lance Armstrong riding over Lance Armstrong. That was my goal. It turned out good and I actually took a photo exactly where Lance Armstrong is on himself and he is looking down. People say, ahh he is looking at himself, but if you study Lance Armstrong, you know that this is the way how he climbs, he always looks down. But I didn’t mind that people thought that he looked at his own painting! Then the next day LiveStrong sent me an email saying that they saw that I did something, press came and took photos, so it was a pretty successful. The next year I said, now I’m gonna do eight of these paintings in three weeks. I found myself a sponsor, Kodak, to provide us with the cameras. I went with a whole team and I did eight of these and then I knew if I did it right it was gonna be a good one for PR. So then I did it. It was fun even though I didn’t make any money. So then I knew that the project would get me a little bit further, but the first time, and that’s how it always works, when I start something it is always because I like it.
I also gave paintings to the riders. So I went up to these famous people from Eddy Merckx to Armstrong and I gave them each a painting.
With TulipMan, I created TulipMan, because I thought it was cool to create a Dutch superhero, because we don’t have any. So now I know what the effect of TulipMan is, many people like him.. so now I’m creating projects that are based around him, knowing that it will also get me publicity. It’s a two-way deal, or whatever you wanna call it, that I always start them from the heart, and if I didn’t like him or the Tour de France the first time, I would not have done it the second time. Although I know it would have been a success, but if I didn’t like painting these cyclists, then I would not have continued doing it. Most of the time I know that something I like can also grow into something bigger.
You mentioned TulipMan, so tell us what is it that you are working on right now?
Last year, I did three very big projects with TulipMan. I started in Art Basel in Miami in December, so I’m sort of saying December is the first month of the year. For me that was my TulipMan year starting. I was invited by a local Art Basel, made up of one hundred little shows in all these galleries. So I had three paintings of TulipMan with augmented reality. I already used that before, but this time I did it really well with animations and before it was just, you scanned something and TulipMan does this. That was all, just an image attached to another image, but this time the sign broke and there were explosions, and then he, as a superhero, would fly down. So it was more like a second layer to the painting and it was a very big success.
Then at the same time I got an offer to get a tulip named after me, or after TulipMan, because the tulip industry thought that I was doing good things for the flower world (laughs). Something that you really, really want to do as a ‘hip young artist’. They offered me a red tulip to be officially named TulipMan. And if you’re not from Holland people say, “Ok so there’s a flower named after you, whatever.” But here famous people get a flower. So now in the paintings of TulipMan, I use a photo of his real flower. Then they asked me to do the artwork for the opening of the tulip season. That was actually a few weeks ago, you might have seen it on Dam Square. I used 200,000 real tulips to make an art piece, and to do something legal as an artist at Dam Square is something unique, because if you put a sticker there you’ll get arrested because it’s a no-fly zone, etc.
So I made a face out of ‘pixels’, but each pixel was a box of coloured tulips. There was a line the whole day, and once the artwork was done, it was there for an hour, then people were allowed to go in and pick the flowers. In two hours the artwork was gone again.
Then I did something for the National Flower Parade, it’s a flower parade in Holland, and again, people might say ‘Huh?’, but one million people see that in one day. There is a million people on the road. I had two of these big 10 metre floats, 8 metres high, and I recreated my paintings, like TulipMan on a taxi and a shark behind him. It was pretty cool, cause it was made in 3D, then it was made out of barbed wire, then with foam, and they stuck these flowers in it. It was a whole process, so it was very amazing to see these floats and a million people screaming at it, throwing flowers, so it was very cool to do that. Then I did the Amsterdam Dance Event, and I got Samsung on board as my partner since we were doing augmented reality and it needs to be done with a phone. I did a painting of 50 metres and 2.5 metres high. I went a bit further with technique, because I created an art concert. I figured I want to do a new form of art and I want to involve more technology than I did with just augmented reality. Sometimes I would put Four Square on a painting so you can check in to the painting, but those things I did were not very high-tech yet. This time I started using laser, I used four projecting screens, and there was an 8 minute track made by a DJ. The voice over told the story of TulipMan, so people were there for eight minutes in a big circle, like 25 metres across there were like 100 at the time and we actually started doing showtimes, so you can get a ticket for 10, 11, 12 or 1 o’clock etc. So for two days we had 1200 people coming and normally I’ve never, ever fit 1200 people in a gallery.
Yeah, that’s amazing…
It was very cool. Once the 8 minutes were done and the story was told, people were able to pick up a phone and I had 100 augmented reality pieces in there. So people could go discover and maybe see a third of what actually was in there. I collaborated with ‘Fiverr’ on this project as well. I asked all these artists to do something with TulipMan, which I then incorporated in the painting. I hired and worked with a tech startup, so they made a Lego version of TulipMan and a Simpson version etc, and all these things were attached to the painting so people could go and discover them.
And, like I did at the Tour de France, I wanted to do the same thing at the Amsterdam Dance Event with the DJs. I picked the top 10 DJs, went to Ibiza with a backpack full of paintings and those small TulipMans, like the ones up there with earphones. I put the name of the top 10 DJs on there, and 8 out of the 10 DJs received me with open arms! I was invited to go to the club with them backstage, Steve Aoki invited me to his house…
That was my favourite by the way, Steve Aoki’s TulipMan.
I named these DJs the official sidekicks of TulipMan, because every Batman needs a Robin, I always say.. So Steve Aoki and Hardwell, they all have their different skills. I had all these descriptions for them and in that story of that 50 metre painting, the voice over explained how TulipMan together with Steve Aoki saved the world. You think they fly around to play their music, but actually they’re there for a mission. If one of the DJs is in Malaysia, there is probably something going on in Malaysia. So that was the sort of the hang up of the whole project. Three of these DJs actually came to the show.
Then the technology was becoming a much bigger theme in my art and I started to think that I maybe have a nice hook, because there is art that is doing stuff with technology, but it’s still not explored as much as it should be. You know, there is robotics, but why don’t we see a statue in a house that is just a robot. It doesn’t have to be, ‘HEY, I’M A ROBOT.. I GIVE YOU A DRINK!’, but the shape of a robot as a statue… so I started to look into all the new technologies and not the technology of today, but especially the ones that are gonna be out there five years from now… Then I hooked up with an organisation called Singularity University and they are in the world to tell the people that if you don’t change your business, you’re gonna be overtaken by a startup who is gonna get to you and get past you, etc. They are funded by NASA, Google, Intel, all these big companies with money.
I started to look into what they did and create a project called Mission31. This project’s gonna take 3 years and I’m going to make exponential art with all the startups, all the disruptors that are out there today and tomorrow, that is gonna be art. So I’m not using technology to make art, I’m actually gonna use technology AS art.
To give you an example, the first thing I’m gonna do is in October. I’ll go to the MTV awards, the same thing I did in Ibiza, but this time with all the rock stars that are there. I’m gonna give them TulipMan statues with their name and the logo in their style, and that is gonna be the first subject of the first year of the project. Rock ‘n’ Roll is gonna be the first thing. And then in Art Basel my opening show is “There’s a TulipMan inside all of us” because my goal for this project is the evolution of TulipMan. He started as a normal tulip, going to a man, then he was this symbol, not a superhero, and then now he is this bionic man evolving into a superhero, and I am going to try to make him real. That is my goal, how real can I make TulipMan in art?
I’m going to create his own DNA. There is a company that makes DNA with a 3D printer. They can get a sample out of you and then say, “His beard is going this way, maybe if you change this…”. They can take things out of his DNA and put something back, etc. They’re just not able to put it back inside you. Well, they are able to, but they’re not allowed to. Eight pigeons died when they experimenting. But we can create you, a new you, so that also means that we can create a TulipMan. So If I say he needs to be strong, he needs to have blonde hair, he needs to have muscles etc, you get all these DNAs out of all these things and put it into a DNA sequence, and then I get a cube, like a really nice square glass cube and in the middle there’s a circle with drops of TulipMan’s DNA.
The goal of this project is gonna be to bring this technology to people, like my mother who sits on the couch at home and has no clue that she can actually do this. You might have heard about it, but you never heard in detail what it is and the first thing in your head is, “Ohh, I can change the DNA.” But it also means that you can stop yourself from getting older, or maybe help my mother who is sick, because you can change her DNA, so she can get better, but then the next moment somebody in the room will say, “But how about a criminal? He can change his DNA and suddenly he is not the guy who committed that crime anymore”. Right now this discussion is just going on between like-minded people who talk about how this technology is the best, but outside these walls nobody knows and nobody cares at the moment. But they need to care if in 10 years this is going to be the future. My mom at home needs to be aware. So this art project is going to bridge the gap by making art with these things.
At Art Basel I’ll start with a NFC chip, it’s a new thing where you can just hold your bank card, not inside the machine, but on the side and it will scan. There are a lot of bio-hackers that started putting chips in their hand with their Bitcoins on it. So they pay their Bitcoins with their hand. There is a company now in the US, called ‘Dangerous Things’ (although I’m not sure if that is the best name for this company to get accepted into the world), and one of the guys there can open his car with his hand, pay his bills, and he can go into the train, etc. In Holland there are 20 people that have this now. So I called up this guy, and I’m sometimes pretty lucky with these things, he happened to be in Holland the following week for an interview. I said to him, “Can I put art on these chips?”, he said, “Well, it’s not made for it, but I can do it if you want”, so I explained what I was going to do.
I’ll have six paintings, six simple paintings of TulipMan on the wall in the middle is a fireplace. In front of it, there will be 6 pedestals, and on the top there will be a NFC chip. There are six NFC chips and in the middle is a red button, so when somebody buys one of my paintings we press the red button, and the original painting goes into the fireplace. We press the button, fireplace goes on, original painting GONE. Then the piercer comes and the art is gonna be injected in the buyer’s hand. Then he gets a tablet and if you hold his hand by this tablet, POOF there is the painting and he is the only guy in the world who has the original art, in his hand. Nobody else can see this painting, it’s not on the internet, just maybe a photo of the booth. So this guy is the owner of the original art, and he has it with him in his hand, he can view it any time on his smartphone.
It’ll die with him, basically…
Yeah, yeah.. and the guy that invented this? He will have protesters in front of his house, because they’ll think he is the devil. So I know that the art world is gonna love this, because there’s gonna be people in front of Art Basel screaming “Gaby, Gaby! He’s the devil! He injects art into people’s hands!!”
And there will be other people saying they will buy it off the guy who bought it.
Or there’s going to be discussions, which I believe is the whole purpose of doing something, so people can talk about it and discuss it. I’ll start this as the first project, because in a way, I mean, as I saw your reactions you’ve never even heard of this, so for you it’s the future.
But if you realise that only 3K can be on this chip, so it’s like you have a mobile phone and you can actually call, but it’s a huge mobile phone! You cannot even carry it… so in a way it looks like the future, but it’s actually just the beginning of even what is even possible with this. This guy already talks about that he wants to have a hard disk in his arm! That is too weird for me because it’s huge, this I can live with because it’s tiny. So it’s my first project where people can see that it is the future, but they can also actually see that it’s also just the beginning. 30 of these will follow in 3 years. We will visit the Olympics, because the World Champion of Art has to go to the Olympics. I’m gonna be doing stuff in Rio de Janeiro and it’s gonna be a 3D mapping, 3D printing, 4D printing, biohacking.. it’s a whole spectrum of everything that is out there in the future. Through Singularity University… I’m now in contact with Google and I want a TulipMan statue in a self-driven car. I wanna have TulipMan drive around, make him real.
Oh, I saw you made it to Google Earth.. Congrats! That was cool!
They were following me the whole way! Strange though that they don’t ask you permission they just blur you out. So I have 30 of these very strange projects and music is also part of it, I also want to experiment with music, for instance, because I want to make TulipMan real I have to give him a heartbeat, right? Otherwise how can you be real? So I wanna make the same kind of cube and I wanna put in the middle a screen where you see his heartbeat going all the time, and the musician’s track, (the beat of that track) will be his heartbeat. The collaborating artist that is gonna be in this project, will have a role, I don’t want just this music, but I also want to see if we can 3D print music. No clue what it is yet, but what is it? So I wanna see if maybe some smart startups that are doing 3D printing, I can give this as a task to them. Let’s guys collaborate on printing music in 3D. What is gonna happen?!? Then his music will be used… We’re creating a robot, collaborating with a technical University of Eindhoven and with still now one of the biggest robot companies I’m introduced to, to see if they wanna participate. Because I wanna make robots part of the art. I wanna do, for instance, something where if you play a certain track for this robot, he will do something that he will never, ever do if you just talked to him. So I wanna collaborate with these artists, I wanna collaborate with athletes, with all different people, and especially with all these startups that make these smart things. I don’t wanna see it as an extra to my art, which it was until now, I actually wanna see it as art. We’re gonna do the content, because you can understand it’s gonna be a very nice documentary, can be made alongside of it and I want to do a 360 documentary style.
Yeah, those are amazing…It’s a whole new thing for movies as well.
Also to do editing that is a bit too far out for me, because I’m an artist, so I wanna do the life part of the documentary. I wanna do it with this thing. If you open now a Google hang-out, let’s just put the camera here and people can follow our conversation. This whole project is loaded with technology and we’re actually now having it so far. We’re gonna be the first art startup. I’m gonna approach it as a startup. I’m working now my pitch with that, which I have to make. I’m gonna pitch for the big VCs that have money to do good, to finish a disease, or to teach children how to read, but also maybe to get people adapt to the hard and difficult things for the future. There is actually venture capitals out there that fund projects like this. So I’m actually now learning and then working to get partner support that are very smart people and that know this world. And then I have my new form of art and it’s not just the evolution of TulipMan, it’s the evolution of me as an artist. I’m moving from painting to using technology as the lead, to the art world where this is also a new thing. Maybe in 100 years they look back and say, “In 2015, there was this guy from Holland and he started this. He didn’t go to be the biggest in this, but he started it”, or they’re gonna say, “That year, Gaby Gaby started with this technology as art and it took off. It was a whole new revolution in the art world.” Like Mondriaan doing a straight line. So for me using technology as art is my straight line, and that’s why I gave him as an example all the time, because for me it’s now a choice to do so. It’s developing to be bigger and bigger. I actually now am in contact with the Singularity University (people that inspire me) and they’re going to be bringing me to Google and 3D Systems, the biggest 3D printing company in the world. I’m also creating a television, I wanna make TulipMan into a television, cause that tulip you can put LEDs in and you can project on it, so then if there is new content from a documentary, people can view it on their own TulipMan television, and those things are gonna go to the galleries. The galleries are gonna have also new disruptive art, so I’m creating a disruptive form of art. So that is my 3 year project.
I keep telling the story of TulipMan to people, but people always say I have to put the story out there. But I don’t like writing, so I made a comic. I hired this very good Marvel comic artist and he was actually my intern and now he works for me, but to do that right, you have to do it in that style. Just do my paintings in a comic version? I’m like, no, I do my paintings on a wall, so I did the art direction of it and he created 16 pages of illustrations. Sometimes the background is my painting, but I changed into the style he is doing. I created a magazine and I printed a thousand. It’s the story of TulipMan with a poster in the middle that people can put on the wall.
I saw a few drawings, they look great!
So that part will also be animated and part of the documentary. Like if I go to Vegas to pitch something, like the first 3D printed dinner show I created, which I could go on for hours about, basically you walk in and there is nothing, and you walk out and you have tables, food, and you’re sitting in a restaurant. Everything is 3D printed, table, food, plate, art… So if I go to Vegas to pitch this, in the comic in that episode I want him to experience the same things as me. If I go into the casino to talk to a big manager, he is also in Vegas for a mission. His life and my life are basically the same, because he wants to save the world and I wanna conquer the world, so we are basically the same person, you can even see that his shape is based after me! Of course, TulipMan is me.
So I’m playing with all these elements that I like from comic to tech, to art and creating it. But the basis still the craft of the painting, translated into digital. I would never, ever, ever create something on a computer. It always has to be this, as the basics. Then it could be translated into video mapping on the Hoover Dam or the Copacabana, which we are going to try to do. But what is projected, the basis, is painted. That is it in a nutshell, but it’s really only a 10th of the project. As I’ve told you it’s a huge project.
We are really interested in new technology, this is fascinating.
Plus all these companies are listening. There’s a company in England, they created a lamp that is so thin it’s like paper. You can print on the thing, but it’s a lamp. I wanna be the first superhero comic on light paper. I approached them and asked if we can talk about it and they said yes. Doing things with holograms and everything is in the goal of making TulipMan real. So I need to make his skin.. I got a company that has a technology using sound waves where if you have Google Glass or whatever, and you see a button, you can actually touch the button, not just on your screen, but you can also feel it, because there are sound waves there. So if I put a hologram of TulipMan and then we add sound waves, you can touch TulipMan, but also your hand can just go straight through. I’m trying to play with the idea of creating art out of this that people can buy and put in their homes. I have a 3D printed robot, a company developed the parts, you can just get it on the internet. You can print them out and then you have a proper robot. But I am creating him with a tulip head and trying to put them in people’s’ houses as just art. He can also move his arms, but it’s just there as a statue. As a new way of making a statue.
That is what all these people and companies are finding fascinating, using technology as art, and somehow I hit the right vein…
I guess you need that as well to popularise science, because science is advancing a lot, but the problem is that most people don’t know about it…
…and they are afraid. Like my mom still doesn’t program their DVD player or the recording device out of fear. Maybe by going to a seminar about it or reading a book it gets easier, but if you don’t do that you’re in the same position… but my work will be free, not for the sponsor, but for you. You can go there and say, let’s go to this show, and then you’re confronted with this technology. I am talking to the Dutch tourist office, they’re trying to get a big museum to have a popup show over a month, where all these technologies that we used over 3 years will come to one place. It’s a very good strategic partner to help me with saying, “In Holland we’re doing this cool stuff”.
It makes it a lot more accessible. I mean, end of the day people are scared of technology and science and they don’t understand it, but if you approach it through art and through creativity, they’re gonna be more open to it.
Maybe that cube of DNA that you can have in your house, for the first 5 years at a birthday party, people are spooked by it, because it’s actually real. Thoughts of Nazi Germany pop into your head because you can say it has to be blonde, has to be strong or a boy or it has to have blue eyes. You can create a “superhuman”, which probably is never gonna happen, but the idea is there because it’s still DNA and you still have to make it into a human, which is a whole other step.
But it’s not science fiction anymore, it’s reality, but people still think that it’s science fiction. I think it is important to make people understand that it’s real and it should be accessible.
ZAINA: And you can do it with art.
For you, self-driven cars of Google you know about, because it’s already been talked about for a longer time. But my mom doesn’t know that. But she also has to be, one day, confronted with this thing. They’re now saying that they’re gonna test it with buses and Uber is gonna try it. But she doesn’t get all these things and she’s not a stupid woman, it’s just not in her world. Nobody tells her about all this.
Because the world changed a lot within one lifetime. It didn’t really happen before.
See and the idea of an art injection.. you hadn’t even heard about something like this, so for her to understand something like that is really difficult.
ZAINA: I just find it really interesting how contemporary your art is, because it’s more about the experience, it’s very visual and now you’re moving it into this experience art, and I think that’s something that’s gonna be a lot more present, say, a hundred years from now. Because now humans are just not satisfied with the same thing. They want to experience something so many different ways, it’s not just a painting, you can touch it, you can feel it, you can talk to it…
I’m also talking to people that are experimenting with paintings that you can change the colour of.. with an app or with a computer, so you can paint a painting and then change the colouring. You can have this pink wall change to red or whatever, but I asked them if it’s also possible to use this paint on only parts of my paintings and they said yes. They’re still in the developing and testing phase, but they don’t mind if an artist tries to do something with it. I’m talking to them to see if I can create a whole series where I do an art piece that can change its colours using an app… and I want to do one where heat changes the colour of paint, so I can do street art in Miami or Dubai, and in the morning it’s all blue, but in the hot air it’s suddenly a red painting and then at night it’s blue again. So the painting changes with the weather. But I can’t believe that besides a few artists, people aren’t doing anything with this.
ZAINA: I think it’s fear as well though, because people end up feeling like they can’t try certain things out of fear of being criticised or told that their work ‘isn’t art’.
GYULA: Yeah, people always have to follow the old way of doing things.
ZAINA: Why should we follow it? I think the greatest artists always just did whatever they wanted to do and they set the standard for everyone else. So it is the same thing with impressionism, surrealism, abstract art, and many other art movements, when they first came out everyone was quick to criticise and say, “this isn’t art…”
This is very tough to say, but I sort of understand how Van Gogh was like when he started doing more human-like paintings, and Mondriaan with a straight line… because people say to me, “it’s not ever gonna work”. Not everybody, but some of them are like, “what nonsense, it’s crazy to do this”. I can just imagine, and I’m not saying it’s gonna work, in 100 years people like us are discussing that I initiated a big change. I can understand how it was difficult to stick to your guns and keep doing what you wanna do. I started with painting, but for me it’s now my sole purpose to get this project into the world and create technology as art. I would not stop, even if I don’t get a cent I’m gonna try and find a different way and do it all myself if I have to… but I just believe that artists in the world should do more with this and maybe musicians and maybe ballet, or who knows.
I wanna sort of get to the edge where art might be entertainment. Maybe one thing might not be seen as art, but the whole thing might be… that’s what I want to try to do. The whole legacy of what I’m doing should be a new form of art. That’s what I’m trying to get at.
The beauty of it is that no one can actually tell you it’s not art, or it is art…
Yeah, but they do though…
ZAINA: Of course they do, but they have no justification.
GYULA: Yeah, but it doesn’t really matter, does it? That’s the thing, 50, 40, or 1000 years from now, nobody’s going to really care. Nobody remembers the names of the people who told (now) famous artists and scientists that they were crazy. They remember the ones that actually did something. Which is obviously sad, because a lot of these people were never appreciated in their own lifetimes.
ZAINA: But the difference is they didn’t have Twitter. They didn’t have access to the whole world.
The only thing is, that some people say they come close to what I do and I’m not comparing myself, but just as an example, what Leonardo da Vinci did, all these inventions… they are not technology, but at that time the parachute and flying machine… Maybe he also found “startup” types of people that talked to him in a bar and said, “I think I know how to fly!”, then he said, “Well, come and talk to me”, and together they made this machine. So now I am not collaborating with other artists, I’m collaborating with people who I believe are artists in technology.
Like Andy Warhol and his Factory.
I get compared to Andy Warhol a lot. Then I say, “Is my hair horrible today?” and the discussion is gone.
Well, not even just him, but pop art in general. That’s what it was about, but the whole marriage between art and technology is so interesting, because I think it’s always together. I went to art school and that’s why I was interested on a personal level as well about your technique. Just because you go to art school, you learn technique, but you miss out on a lot of other things, because all they tell you is, “No, this is the right way of doing things” and I was always questioning that.
Isn’t that strange though, teaching people how to be an artist?
Yeah, and you can’t!
But you can learn the technique of how to hold a brush for example.
GYULA: Which is useful and it’s good to learn these techniques.
ZAINA: But they can’t teach you to have ideas.
And what they forget to tell them, and I say this a lot when I speak to groups of artists, I tell them that the storytelling part, as we call it these days, getting your story out is just as or maybe even more important than how pretty or how great the pieces that you did are, because there are a billion people that can paint much better than I do, with much better technique. But it’s not just how you paint it, it’s also how you make people look at it, you know? If you’re afraid and you just show it to your mother-in-law she’s probably not gonna say it’s ugly, because she likes you and you’re married to her daughter. If you only show your work to people you know you’re limiting yourself to a very biased audience. But if you bring your work into the world people see it and judge you without knowing you. If a guy from Korea says he likes my painting, that is a lot more valued than if my mother says it.
And he doesn’t judge you based on who you are or where you’re from or what you do.
Exactly, it’s just the image… and then also you’re finding out that maybe if somebody doesn’t like the colour red, he doesn’t like TulipMan, because the damn thing is red. That is also something that you have to learn to cope with, because then they don’t like your art or that particular painting, because it’s red.
Many of these artists start with painting things that other people know. If you like an ‘Air Max’ and you see a painting of one, do you judge how it’s made, or do you judge it based on the fact that you like the subject? If you see a painting of Madonna and you like her, you’re probably gonna like this painting of her. If you don’t like her then it’s a stupid painting. It’s very easy to start with stencil arts, and if you’re lucky it grows into something like I do now these days, which started also of course as a stencil, because it’s the easy way of doing it. But it’s all things we know, so that’s what you also judge. Even the big guys sometimes do that. Mr. Brainwash is an amazing example and that’s why I still believe it’s a project of Banksy.
GYULA: Me too. It’s funny that you mention him, because we were just discussing him yesterday.
ZAINA: Honestly, I don’t think that art can be (or should be) restricted or defined.
Art teachers are sometimes especially horrible with this. They tell me what I do isn’t art and I say, well, I believe that an artist that decides to be a teacher is not an artist. Because why would you go into teaching if you can be on walls everywhere? You’re probably not good enough or nobody wants you, so you start teaching other people how to hold a brush. What is artistic about this crap?
And probably you’re gonna be really bitter about it, because you couldn’t make it as an artist, so you’re gonna tell them, no what you’re making isn’t art!
It’s like a security guy at a store that actually wants to be a policeman and he says, “No-no, I like my job…”
ZAINA: When it comes to art it’s like they’re teaching the building blocks, but what you do with those building blocks is completely up to you. You can teach someone how to write or paint or sculpt, but not what they do with those skills.
Even with big artists there is still this discussion, like Jeff Koons. I think he’s one of the most inspirational guys these days. I love what he makes. But even with him, who is one of the richest guys art-wise in the world, people pay him a lot of money, but people are still discussing, “Is what this guy does art?” WHY?! Why do you think that? I would say, “Is The Night Watch art or is it a photo of a bunch of guys standing around?”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ZAINA SHREIDI
TRANSLATED BY PATRIK DEÁK