Paul Brookes did an interview with John D Robinson and me in response to the publication of “the Barbed and the Beautiful”
How did you choose the order of the poems in the book?
JDR: I think the poems for this book chose themselves: I think that the title encapsulates the work of Marcel and my own work: and I think that this gave me a direction with regards to choosing the poems: the words and art are spiky and tender, raging and serene, punchy and embracing: tinted with a sense of humour of crushed glass or soft flowers: and I guess, they reflect and capture something of this life we live, that we have created for ourselves, sometimes at a cost that is beyond salvaging: ultimately , I hope these art works and words within this book give some hope:
there was no hesitation when Marcel approached me about a collaboration: Marcel is alone, out there by himself: there is no other artist like him: genius:
I am so honoured and privileged to have been approached and to have a contribution to such a beautifully produced book:
Why did you choose the title, “The Barbed and the Beautiful”?
JDR: It was one of those, rare, but wonderful moments when the words you are seeking , come springing forward and presents themselves and you know that you have got to go with it: the title of the book should, I think, give an indication of what lays within: I think it mirrors the work of Marcel and myself: it is a striking title and draws many images: I think the title also has a musicality to it;
What is it about narrative poetry that suits you?
JDR: Being direct: to the point; strip away the gloss: lay it bare: honesty: truth of self expression in a way that does not drift off into something that it wasn’t or isn’t: clean punches: that’s the kind of poetry that I read in the main: though I do admire some surrealist poets:
What is it about Marcel’s art that makes him a genius?
JDR: I guess that like all terms of reference: it can have multiple interpretations: Marcel’s work is unique: original: it cannot be compared to anything else: when you see a work by Marcel: be it painting/drawing/sculpture/combinations: you know instantly and instinctively that the work is Marcel’s: he has a creative energy and spirit that very few possess: the application of colour and of images appear to be wild and free-flowing but there is a serenity to be found in much of his work: the echoes’ and shadows of compassion and humanity are very much alive in Marcel’s work: outstanding: captivating: mysterious: the work never fails to impress itself upon the viewer: a genius, in my very humble opinion, is someone that can recreate works of quality again and again and each time there is something fresh and enlivening: sad and scary: Marcel creates life, a life that is part of us all:
I find these poems to be a very strong exploration of masculinity and manliness. What is your response to this?
JDR: Masculinity and manliness are two words that I would not adopt for myself or my work: for me these words reverberate a sense of macho-ignorance: or of perhaps lacking any clear and open compassion and empathy: I can see how some of the poems can be interpreted in this way but that was not my intention: for many years I lived and survived in a world that was dominated by the ever looming threat of violence and one had to be prepared to fight or flight and some of the poems reflect this distant world: it took me many years of writing to find a tone and voice of self expression that felt natural and alive and comfortable: tough and raw and direct, for sure, and this is of course not exclusive to just male poets: I know of numerous female poets that kick ass good with their words: so for me masculinity and manliness are obsolete in a way: I hope that this makes sense:
What do you think Marcel’s artwork brings to your poetry?
JDR: Marcel’s work grips my poetry, shakes it, spins it and weaves it with such colourful mystery: the works breathe another level of life into the words, takes them on another journey , a journey that few artists dare to take: Marcel’s work is fearless and unafraid of the brightness or the darkness of the poems and he injects these beautiful and frightening talents and feelings into his pictures, piercing each word with every movement of the brush or pen: his work feeds the poems, nourishes them, builds them up and then releases them. Marcel has an endless imagination that he uses to great affect in infiltrating the poems and getting beneath the bones and into the blood stream of the poems, knowing the poems intimately, he unleashes his awesome talents.
After reading the book what do you hope the reader will leave with?
JDR: wanting to read and see more
to tell every one they know of the book and buy it
to be inspired and not to be afraid to express yourself honestly
to have enjoyed and be entertained/outraged/laugh/
to know that the small press is very much alive and thriving
that the small press publishes beautifully produced books
How did you decide on the order of the poems and of the paintings?
MH: John first selected a number of poems. I then selected ten of them that appealed to me and in which I saw images in front of me. The order of the poems is the order in which I received them from John.
What was it about John’s poetry that inspired your art?
MH: John writes honestly, raw, without restraint and without regard to the consequences and possible reactions of others. That’s what I try to do with my work, so that inspires. In his poems you can read that he lived life. That he has been through things. And that does not always lead to good poetry, but in his case it does. He is ruthless but also gives hope. His work is often hard and confrontational, but also deeply human. His poems are written visually. I often saw images when I read them right away.
When and why did you start making artworks?
As a child I already drew a lot, like most children by the way. When there were all kinds of rules about drawing at school, I lost my interest in it. Then the fun was over. It wasn’t until around my 20th birthday that I rediscovered art and realized that you don’t have to stick to the rules of course. Preferably not I would say. That was liberating. And why do I make art? Because I feel good about it. I experience a certain urge to create. And I better admit to that. That’s best for my mood. In my art I am free. I can lose myself in it and forget the world around me. That is worth a lot.
How did you rediscover art aged 20?
I started reading about it. And visit museums. Apparently there was a certain interest present. I did not get it in my upbringing. But once I rediscovered it, I quickly moved on. Then I started drawing and painting again. Just in the first instance by looking at examples and imitating them. Later I developed my own style.
Who did you imitate?
My main influences when I started were the CoBrA artists and especially the Dutch artist Lucebert.
I am not only inspired by his art but also by his approach to art. Just get busy, make mistakes and move on with those mistakes. And just see what comes out and surprise yourself.
What is your daily artwork routine?
I go to my studio (at my house), put on some music and start. It boils down to that. I cut myself off from other influences and just go to work. I often start drawing, on paper. Sometimes I continue with a painting that is not yet finished. There are all kinds of pieces of paper around my workplace that I sometimes tear off to glue to the piece that I am working on. I try to get into a subconscious state and make things happen. I don’t know in advance what I’m going to make. That only becomes clear when I am working. I sometimes work on several pieces at the same time.
What do you do to get into that subconscious state?
Well, that is difficult to explain. I just start working, messing with ink and paint, smudging and moving on. Draw with my left hand (I am right-handed), edit parts with the spray paint, and so on. Those kinds of things. Don’t think about anything that can be distracting. It’s kind of a meditation I think. If I keep thinking too much, a soulless image emerges. That sometimes happens. That can also be a first phase that I have to go through. I am going to paint over that radically. And then it usually turns out fine. And music helps.
How does music help?
It puts me in a flow. It helps me to cut myself off from other things. But to be honest, I try not to think too much about how it works. As long as it works. It is an intuitive process.
Does the intuitive stretch to the materials you use, or do you have favourite materials?
I mainly use acrylic paint, ink, pencils and crayons. But also spray paint, oil paint, oil bars, charcoal, ballpoint pen and everything that is available. Sometimes I mix sand or sawdust through the paint. And I work on different surfaces; paper, canvas, pages from books, book covers, cardboard, wood, used envelopes, etc.
The choice of what I use is indeed intuitive.
What is your work ethic?
My work ethic is that I want to do good work. But above all, I also want to enjoy the work itself. At first I do this purely for myself. If others can appreciate it, I am very happy about it, but that is not why I do it.
I regularly work with others. Of course I take my partners very seriously and I try to make something that we are both happy with.
How do the artworkers you studied when you were young influence your artwork today?
I like a lot of different artists and art styles. But I am and became most influenced by work that makes me want to get started myself. Artists who make wild, expressive work with rough edges. Artists who let chance play a role in their work. That is what appealed to me from the beginning and which still affects me. When I see that kind of work I feel like creating. But otherwise the influence is limited and I think I have developed my own style.
Who of today’s artworkers do you admire the most and why?
There are too many to mention. I also don’t want to risk forgetting someone But I see a lot of good contemporary artists on the internet. A well-known name that inspires me is Jean Michel Basquiat. But also various outsider artists. And actually for the reason I mentioned earlier. It’s not that I want to imitate them or work in their style, it’s more that the work of those artists gives off some kind of energy that inspires me and makes me want to get to work.
What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a artworker?”
Oh, that’s tough. To be honest, I don’t think anyone asking that question has much of a chance. There has to be an inner urge and then you just have to start. And above all you shouldn’t care about what the outside world thinks about it. Only do what you believe in yourself. And keep going. No excuses about lack of time or a bad workplace. If you really want to, just do it .A pencil and a piece of paper are enough. If you are really motivated then you make time and find a place. And otherwise it is better not to start.
Tell me about the artwork projects you have on at the moment.
At the moment I am mainly busy with the publishing house I have with Martin Knaapen: www.uitgeverijpetrichor.nl. The next edition will be a free newspaper (in December) with a circulation of 5,000 to which more than 20 artists, poets and thinkers contribute. In addition, I started with Martin on “kopwolven”, a combination of poetry and art that should appear next year at Petrichor. If everything goes well, that will also be a very nice publication. And there is more on the program, take a look at the website.
After they have read this book what do wish the reader to leave with?
To be honest, I never thought about that. I hope people can appreciate the combination of poetry and art. Perhaps some poetry readers now also come into contact with art and vice versa. I have received very positive reactions so far and that is always nice.
Thank you very much for the interview Paul. It was fun to do.