R.P. Well, this sounds stupid. Okay. When I make my work, I do a lot of investigation in it, it’s maybe a two year process in the whole. Afterwards the works travel around for a year, I present them. Because I want people to see my work, I want the work to have an affect, then, yeah, I plan it strategically. My last series Qi was really strategically very elaborated. By the help of my assistant Sam Hammilton we made Movies on the Internet and in social media, all that was very strategical. Maybe even too much. First the movie, than one month later presenting the works. People could get in touch with the work already before, in small portions. They got time to understand a little about what the work regarded. So this choice was very conscious.
Can a strategy be unconscious?
R.P. No, then it’s not strategy.
It just happens.
R.P. In my case it was a very conscious choice.
The choice of galleries for exposing your work is also a conscious choice, part of the strategy.
R.P. It is really extremely important to find a gallery that will make you visible and that can actually work with the artists name and creation. In fine arts it is an essential decision.
The galleries in the jewellery world are not so sharp as in fine art, and artists have a much bigger role in their presentation. In fine arts, gallerists make the decisions, not artists. Sean Kelly, a gallerist from NY, represents among others also Abramovi?, Kosuth and Mapplethorpe. He takes them everywhere, he arranges everything. It would be best if each gallerist had, at most, ten-fifteen artists to represent. So the artist only has to deal with one gallery that represents him all over the world.
My job is making my work as well as I can. The gallery represents me and does the selling. So they have to sell like hell, to provide living for the artists, because that is their job. But not many are capable of this, only a few. I am very happy that my galleries support me a lot.
When you look at the established gallery system or design events today, you definitely notice the aspect of pleasing the audience. Which is a big mistake.
R.P. Yes, a number of young people don’t want to make a change there. Life in the comfort zone.
You have also claimed, that the gallery system is fading. Does that maybe apply to the art world in general, that everything is more flat? Nowadays there are more ways to make yourself seen, in addition to galleries.
R.P. That’s it. The collectors who are an important component in the gallery system, are getting older. There is not yet a new generation of collectors.
I have always told my students to find new ways for presenting their work, to invent something new. But they are like monkeys: happy if they get an invite from a gallerist to present their works in a gallery. I don’t think that is a solution. And maybe the biggest problem is that the young artists don’t make jewellery for their own generation, they try to please the gallery system. And in my mind, that is sad.
More about teaching, what do you prepare your students for, what kind of future? It is all so unsecure.
R.P. There was a time, in Konstfack, Stockholm, when I could promise every student that when they came to study there, we can guarantee that you get a gallery to represent you after graduating. It was very ambitious. Today there is no more guarantee. The world has gone through enormous change. Young jewellery makers have to work very hard to find their way in the world.
Do you think the young generation is more superficial?
R.P. They are just different, they relate to the social sphere differently. They are quick, they are multitasking and they can do everything at the same time. This is a great ability, but for me personally this is impossible. I teach my students to focus on one thing.
This kind of attitude is not good for evolution.
R.P. Yes, and the students don’t practice enough piano.
What do you mean? That they don’t do enough mechanical and often annoying work?
R.P. Exactly. They should repeat and repeat and repeat to come out with a good piece. But they don’t do it, they are lazy and comfortable. I believe in consistent practicing and repetition. If you really want to achieve something, then you have to do it ten, twenty, forty times, repeat what you believe in. Maybe then something good comes out. I see it on myself, too. I make shit and if I suffer enough, and repeat, then suddenly, my hands start going in a certain direction. I don’t believe in artists who make two pieces a year. I say, thirty.
And also, I think this breaking out of the comfort zone is not only a problem for the students, but also to experienced and famous artists.
Things seem to come too easy and it blinds the sight?
R.P. Yes. And I believe in suffering. And suffering means that you have to fight for getting where you want to go. You really have to fight. You can feel if the work has been done in the easy way. The piece is also on the surface. I always call this afflatus. There is no word in english for it.
Effort, intensity? inspiration? An unnatural creative force. A strong creative impulse. Unexpected originality. (This is what happened to our students this week.)
R.P. It’s the soul, the heart, the love put into the piece. The reason why the piece has an appeal.
In Dutch language a word exists called ‘bezieling’. It is difficult to translate into another language, but it literally means ‘to give a soul to something.’ Whenever the word is used in relation to a work of art it often describes an imaginative power that communicates on a spiritual and emotional level. It means the viewer is touched by something that transcends the material of which the artwork has been made. For an artist it is a challenge to reach this level of concentration, because it demands great dedication to be able to bring the material to life. AFFLATUS is to look with your eyes and with your soul and to work with your intuition as a source of creation.
It just happens, but you have to be prepared for it.
R.P. Yes, the mean is the goal and the goal is the mean. The path will lead you to it.
As a teacher, also, you value suffering. You are known for your traumatic way of working. And it has been effective.
R.P. You mean the crying students – , but that is not my goal. I have just pushed the right button, that’s where the crying comes from. I don’t tell them what to do, I only have a mirror and I always go around showing them themselves. Then come the tears. They have to face their own being and work.
This kind of shocking method mobilizes the students will, the strength. It opens the students personality. And a lot of teachers are afraid of crying, are afraid of confrontation.
They are being politically correct, afraid to hurt the student.
R.P. Exactly, especially in the Nordic countries. Less in the Mediterranean countries. They are more emotional there. If a student does not want to change, then why waste my time on her/him? The problem is, when you don’t put them in competition in the school, what will happen afterwards?
And the pressure cooking method in todays education – it’s not normal. It is disastrous.
What do you think is the solution?
R.P. I cannot offer great solutions. I offer trust to my students during the short time I work with them. If there is trust, they open up. But I believe that many teachers are afraid of trust, it is painful.
After this you have to kill your daddy. „Go away, I’m doing it my way“. It’s the development of life, a necessity. Defiance.
The problem of our society is that parents pamper their kids. And by pampering they put their own norm into the kids. The way things should be. So it is more difficult to show your own personality. The norm of the parents is holding them back. You have to free yourself up and do your own thing. I think that’s complicated.
They say that what you have learned for five years, it takes the same five years to forget it (although somewhere deep it remains forever!) and then you can start over as a free spirit.
R.P. Yes, letting go of the experience. But experience and knowledge are different things. Knowledge is blocking, experience not. Knowledge is in the brain. Creativity is in the belly. There are enough people who cannot trust this.
Especially the people who believe in numbers. They need numerical measurement. What can you say about the proportions of brain and belly in teaching?
R.P. I try to get my students to open up to the unconsciousness. Unconsciousness is the mother of creativity. There are different methods for doing that. Blind drawing, touching, different senses, different psychological methods that also work in art.
I think not thinking at the beginning of the creative process is the best, but that is not possible. The brain is a tiger, it always takes over.
Is it possible to tame it?
R.P. I think it should be. Gurdjieff (George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, Armenian spiritual teacher during the first half of 20th century, representative of esoterical christianity. – K.M.) has said that in good art there should be at least two components of three – brain, heart and belly. But it should also have remarkable personality and that is a problem for the students.
Yes, you have to dose very accurately, in turns – some are too rational, others too emotional. Can you also see it sometimes as a manipulation? Not only in teaching but also in your work?
R.P. No, because manipulation, it is not honest.
What is honesty in art for you?
R.P. It is pureness. I want my students to come to inner pureness. That they wouldn’t make pieces that are trendy, beautiful, in. They sould find their own pure, real, honest, authentic way of expressing.
And it has to come from inside. How do you feel about simulation?
R.P. Wanting to be something you are not, ignoring your inner being. It is dangerous.
The line between real and fake is blurred, maybe even speculative. Is the person of the mind never honest? Maybe the belly can also be deceptive, an outcome of imagination and wishful thinking?
R.P. When you don’t consider the belly, you never get authenticity in art. The older you become, the less fake you are. That’s happening to me. In the beginning I made design and now, slowly-by-slowly, I start making my own work. I gave up all the unnecessary. And now I’m doing what I want.
But it was authentic at the time, even if looking back it seems like smooth design?
R.P. Now I am more honest to myself.
Your works still have the reflective, communicative function of design.
R.P. You cannot escape from the communication.
Do you sometimes have an uncomfortable feeling because of your expansive way of working? You are everywhere, as an artist and as a teacher. Have you felt some kind of guilt from spreading your ideology. Do you see it as a danger?
R.P. Yes, but I’m not spreading out the Dutch mentality. I don’t want to do that. I wish that artists were closer to their roots and not adopt the western way. I am quite aware of that. We are not missionary who spread the western methods. Then we only get copies, nothing original. You are killing your baby if you let everything in.
And your travels to China, they haven’t been social but driven mainly by your psychological, mental interests?
R.P. Yeah, actually. This started with a strange situation. I decided to take a challenge and go where it is most difficult, so I would have to struggle. So, China. After three weeks I was getting frustrated and ready to leave. But I still wanted to do research about Chinese alchemy, so I decided to stay. And I wanted to see the difference between Chinese and Western alchemy. And I found a clue. Western alchemy is more outwards. Chinese is more holistic, complete and more inwards. Blood, circulatory system, that’s where everything comes from. But you have to let go of that knowledge. All experience is somewhere in the back of your head, just do and make. I trust my hands, they are faster and stronger than my brain. Mostly hands are stronger than the brain.
That’s why we are artists.
R.P. Otherwise we would be scientists.
How do you justify the huge cost of your pieces? Even in jewellery field they are very expensive. For instance if grandma makes a jar of pickles, she also puts enormous energy there, skills and will – why couln’t she ask a thousand euros for a jar of pickles, like artists do for their work?
R.P. I think that when someone buys something from me, they also buy a part of me, buys a treasure of investigation.
Avant garde brings the changes in art. And they are expensive. The troops that come later, are cheaper.
But let’s say that the whole Western civilization with all the economical problems will melt. With it melts the avant garde of art and the following troops.
Or does it get frozen? There are some qualities, that stay, but they are frozen.
R.P. I agree that something will be taking over but that is not yet happening.
What could happen after freezing, what follows melting? Flowing? Evaporation?
R.P. We are in the middle of changes. The young generation have to say something here.
What do you think is the ideal scenario that could take place in jewellery field in the next twenty years? And what is tha pessimistic scenario, the worst possible scenario?
R.P. The most ideal would be that jewellery is accepted as art form, not only craft, design. If that does not happen, we will be aliens.
One possible negative scenario is that we will dissolve in globalization. The pendulum is moving and there is a force behind it. There will come a breaking point, we must start moving back from extreme pragmatism, towards a more human dimension. In jewellery that means back towards spiritual quality. Values will set when the status of art in society is not irrational anymore. It is like selling a diamond. Only a piece of rock. It doesn’t have real cover, except for rarity and beauty. Irrational categories.
R.P. The crisis will set things straight. There must be a beakthrough.
But jewellery is an emotional phenomenon, a spiritual phenomenon, it will always be needed. Like a human need, it will stay.
Thank you very much. Afflatus worked.