Interview by Josh Barrow
Photos by Bob Mollema, Lea Gsimbsl, Sabrine Baakman, Mathee Van Der Plas & Studio Ski
We first had the pleasure of meeting Bob under our very roof for the launch of Volcom’s Featured Artist residence at WT Studio. Between beers, Bob painted live for gathering crowds and impressed many (including us). We’ve since kept in touch and with the projects piling up on his plate we thought it was a good time to reach out and find out more about our new favourite illustrator from the Netherlands.
Please give us a little background about yourself for those who don’t know you ?
I am Bob Mollema, and I come from a small village hidden in the forests of the eastern Netherlands. I am fascinated by the visual culture of ancient civilisations, I care a lot about nature, and I am into pop culture, reading and making music. I play in the black metal band Fluisteraars and the rock and roll band Whip. As a person, I am enthusiastic about many things, and my brain is constantly on. That sometimes causes a storm and complete chaos, but I can always turn that chaos back into something manageable. My work and music also consist of this; endless references and associations that originate from images, mythology, history or pop culture. That is also one of my convictions; as artists, we must build on each other and break down our walls. Art, in whatever form, is vital to the world and our relationship with the unknown. Art is blood cells for the world! So we must share with each other and pump it through.
Do you see yourself living near Amsterdam forever or do you have plans to live and work in different parts of the world ?
Utrecht is fine for now, but the city is getting fuller and fuller. Because I come from a small, magical, full of legends and green village, I constantly feel the call of that village. Living in the countryside, close to or in nature, has an enormous magnetic effect on me. My head is always busy; therefore, I would like to find more peace. The problem is that I need the city because that’s where the market is! I get a lot of my work done by chatting, going to get-togethers or visiting places. It’s an eternal battle, a kind of tearing at the twilight. But to answer your question correctly, no! I definitely don’t see myself staying in the Amsterdam area. My dear girlfriend is French and comes from Aveyron. I would love to go there and be more surrounded by silence, landscapes, rocks and a sense of historical activity.
When did you first pick up a paintbrush?
I think the first brush I ever held was when I was 16. But the first pencil I ever had was when I was 7 years old. I made a comic called ‘The Man with the Bat’. That’s a little story about a caveman who comes from the past to take revenge on modern television characters. I don’t know exactly what was going on in me at the time,but it was the starting point of my artistic life. Since then, I have always used it to express thoughts, and feelings and, of course, to mimic inspiring artists.
What different mediums do you use and which are your preferred ?
I use many different kinds of material. Examples include oil sticks, pastels, acrylics, graphite & pencils. In art school, I did a lot of screen printing and still do this when I want to reproduce my work. I actually always do that at Kapitaal in Utrecht! A brilliant place which is not only a workshop but also a meeting place for other creatives. Recently I separated the colours from a pencil drawing until I had cyan, magenta, yellow and black left. These then became my four different silkscreen layers to imitate a full-colour pencil drawing. That worked out really well! I also find the transition from pencil to screen print interesting; you onlyneed the computer for a small part. That is also something I try to avoid a lot! A computer makes the artist a bit lazy and also makes the artist adapt to the speed of the consumer society. Faster is never better! Society should stand still and change into a stationary entity where human minds can grow but do not have to grow along with the speed of machines. Anyway, graphite, coloured pencils and oil sticks are the materials I use the most!
Talk us through your inspirations… Early day though to present.
In the previous days, I was very inspired by different artists; therefore, I didn’t know in which direction I wanted to draw. It ranged from Rien Poortvliet to M.C. Escher. I could express myself through drawings, but I didn’t have a style of my own yet. It was a quest! Until I came into contact with the work of Kim David Bots. That was an artist who was at the same art academy as I was but in a later year. His work opened a world for me, and through that world, I ended up with artists such as Olivier Schrauwen, Atak, Moulinex, Thijs Desmet and Henning Wagenbreth. In fact, they are all modern comic artists. But apart from that, I have a massive interest in medieval iconography, the Russian folk art style called Lubok, French posters by Roger Broders, propaganda posters from the first and second world wars, Indian matchboxes, masks from various archaic traditions, different kinds of artwork from multiple genres, but also autonomous artists like Henri Matisse, David Hockney, Edvard Munch & Jorn Asger. It is a lot, actually, but all these sources of inspiration together form, I think, my style. I look at all these sources a lot, read about them, draw them and make sketches of combinations of elements from these different sources. That way, I am actually sculpting illustrations! In that way, I build on other artists, precisely the vision I have and explained earlier.
So what inspires me enormously about these artists is that they have a creative urge and dare to allow a certain wildness in their work. Wildness is something that has a dirty connotation in this society. I think this is because 2000 years ago, ‘god’ was placed outside of nature, and according to this mythology, we were created in the image of this god! What do you get, then? An ultimate clouded relationship with nature and the world. The artists who inspire me to break with conventions are not so focused on the end result. They believe in the power of the now, precisely by not wanting to conquer and control nature but to allow nature in its already coarse and beautiful forms. That is something that inspires me and what I strive for myself.
The studio where you work is a collective of 10 different artists… What sort of work are those around you doing and do you find this inspires your work ?
It is charming to be surrounded by other artists. Everyone who works here has their own style and their own themes. It is inspiring because you can talk nicely about your themes and constantly get new perspectives. Sometimes we also get inspired by each other’s themes, and short-lived projects arise. As a collective, we sometimes apply for a subsidy for these projects to realise them. These are mostly socially engaged projects. We recently completed a project in which the stories of various homeless people were drawn and turned into animations. During the release of those animations, a benefit evening was organised in which the homeless who participated in the project were put in the spotlight. There was a fridge full of beer, pizza and lots of people to speak to! That was very special to see everyone confronted by talking directly to a homeless person. So the prejudices were suddenly corrupted. We have achieved that by inspiring each other as a collective!
You’ve done a range of different projects over the years. What have been your favourites and why ?
Two years ago, I published a book with Minem Sezgin, Jasmijn de Nood, Rajab Eryigit & Erhan Muratoglu about gentrification in the different cities we come from. Rajab about Istanbul, Erhan about Ankara, Jasmijn about Amsterdam and I about Utrecht. For this project, I went blank for a specific neighbourhood (Lombok) where I spoke to people for a week, went into shops, etc., until I had built a bond with the local residents and collected stories. I made a comic about this heavy subject from those stories, which was very well received! This comic created a lot of dialogue and awareness about this subject. That’s why I’m pretty proud of that!
Also, I recently made a series for Volcom that they have beautifully incorporated into their clothing. I am very proud of this collaboration because there is such a talented team behind this collaboration! I had been in contact with Helene Grolleau (Art Director Volcom) for a while until she asked if I wanted to work with them. That is, of course, a dream assignment and, therefore, very exciting, but it was so very free. I was able to fully express my artistic vision in this. Consequently, I feel that, in addition to this collaboration, I also had the opportunity to send my message out into the world. I received so many positive reactions to this that it gave me a massive boost of certainty, and I now know that I am on the right path in terms of theme, style and domain in which I work.
In addition, M. Koops and our band Fluisteraars released an album with our black metal band last year called “Gegrepen Door de Geest der Zielsontluiking” (Seized by the Spirit of the Soul Awakening). That album was the icing on the cake for us because this album was partly improvised in the studio, and we went very deep in creating certain sounds. Making as much as possible with as little. The same goes for the artwork of that album. It is very minimal and therefore fits well with the music. This album was very well received and has made us an established name. It is not super important because we do it for ourselves, but it ensures we have a healthy foundation to allow more experimentation. I learned much from this process and often applied it to my artistic process.
How many times have you exhibited your work ?
That will have been about 13 times at various locations. Another exhibition is coming up on 15 September in Leiden (for the Dutchies) in VAET (Voor Af en Toe). The exhibition that stayed with me the most was in Kapitaal. During the Le Guess Who festival, I had a duo show with Victor Crepsley. At the opening of our exhibition, we both went as our alter egos, me as Flip Zonneheuvel. Dressed up and possessed by that character, we gave drawing lessons to a club of 30 people doing our assignments in the disco and strobe lights. The moment supreme was when I went to blonde Victor Crepsley, sitting on a lifeguard chair while a half-hour mix of German schlager music was playing. It was a grandiose success in which people could enjoy our art and stretch their elastic brains.
We loved having you live painting at Wasted Talent earlier this year. I forgot to ask you (as we were busy drinking beers) have you done that sort of thing before?
That was my first time doing this at a party. I found it very exciting, but while I was at it, I often forgot the audience. It brought me something. Namely, I draw or sketch more often outside in the audience. I did create a mural at Volcom’s head office in Anglet last year (which I am very proud of). That was also live because people were constantly passing by for a chat and filmed during their sales meeting. But, live painting tastes like more!
How did you start working with Volcom and how did the recent collaboration come about ?
I went to Berlin in an old fire truck four years ago with the band of good friends, Pizza Knife. They then played a show with King Khan & BBQ Show somewhere in an old GDR building. This event was organised by Volcom. At that event, I met and briefly spoke with Jebrane Desigaud. After the show, my mate and singer from Pizza Knife, Rutger de Boer, gave me Jeb’s (Jebrane) email address and put me in touch with Helene Grolleau. After that, I think I sent her emails for a year and a half with updates on my portfolio and other things. They were always lovely email exchanges. I didn’t expect anything, but I did hope for collaboration. Until I suddenly received an email from Helene about a collaboration between Volcom and me! I then flew off my chair and ran around the studio, went outside and walked along the beautiful canals of Utrecht before I really dared to read the email. It is extraordinary when a dream comes true. You end up in an in-between phase where reality still has a shell of a dream. When I came back, I immediately reacted; that is how our successful cooperation started! And it doesn’t stop with just the series; Volcom also involves me in other projects; we have a lot of contacts and have become a kind of friend.
What else do you have in the pipeline for the rest of this year?
A while ago I made a big drawing of our cat Yeti which I gave to my friend. Now suddenly, many people want a similar illustration of their pets. So I keep getting emails with pictures of fish, cats, dogs and even grills to melt into a drawing. The most bizarre stories about those animals pass by. It’s fun to do, and it keeps me going!
I am also working on a grant application for a subject I have been working on for a long time. I am fascinated by archaic peoples, their mythology and their visual language. I am trying to make these visual languages my own. These peoples come from a time when people still saw gods as personifications of natural forces, not a true god who is above nature. Through this application, I would like to spend a few months researching these different visual languages, reanimating them as a voice for climate issues, and making people aware of nature and their surroundings. A way of reconnecting. I don’t know where it will lead yet, but I can see a space where I will display the fundamental research as an exhibition. Perhaps this will lead to a publication.
I am also working with my band on a triptych of 10 inches on a particular subject. I can’t say much about that yet, only that it will be ultra epic.
Where can one find our more about your work, or even buy it ?
I am active on Instagram, where I always try to give as much background information on projects as possible. I also have a website that I update pretty often. There you can also find more projects and backgrounds. If people want to buy my work, they can do so directly through me, Instagram or Etsy!