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Interview with painter Jasper Krabbé

Before we started the interview, Jasper showed me around the first floor of Graanmarkt 13. We were staring at the restaurant’s herb garden and the beehives through the windows while he told me about the amazing dinner he had the night before and how he loved how carefully the dishes were made.  Our short talk immediately showed his appreciation for the little things in life.


Transiency is one of the themes in your work, but painting has been present in your family for four generations already. Can you explain the contrast?


I’m not sure if transiency is a theme. It’s more a feeling, and from that feeling I create. Since my childhood, I’ve been aware of the transience of things and moments. They can be so beautiful and it hurts me that they only briefly exist. That’s why I want to bring tribute to them.


A while ago I found a photo album in a little shop in Ibiza. The album itself wasn’t for sale but I asked the shopkeeper if I could take a look at it. She agreed hesitantly. In that album, I found an old picture, from around 1900, of a young Chinese girl on her wedding day. She looked so hopeful, as you are on your wedding day. The photo was already fading away, the girl herself didn’t exist anymore, the moment was gone… and it touched me. That girl was stuck in the album and I didn’t want her to be forgotten. So I secretly made a picture and from that picture a painting. It was my way of keeping her from oblivion. Maybe that’s my theme if there is a theme at all…


And why painting? Painting those forgotten moments takes time and asks for a lot of attention and that’s what I want to give to make them live on.


When you take photographs, you also cover them with paint. Why do you always end up making paintings?


(Smiles) I can’t help it! I just love to put the time in a piece, in a way it wasn’t there before. Take that lotus pond for example. The image itself is only a fragment, a short moment in time, but when I start to color it and make it come to life – I invest a lot more. It’s an ode to the moment, paying attention, honoring the everyday.


I also made a piece with the chandeliers from the Vondelpark. I noticed them every time I passed them (about 3/4 times a day) but I didn’t feel like taking just another touristy picture. And then suddenly, one night, it was storming and the chandeliers were wobbling all over the place. The moment was right, everything came together: they suddenly looked like jellyfish in the ocean. Then I started working on the photograph, adding more little lights than you would ever see in a print, making the line between photography and painting fade. I would rather live in that twilight zone than in the reality of a photograph.


I see a lot of people in your work: who are they?


They’re not necessarily people I know, but they often are. There you can see my daughter receiving a bow around her wrist. The atmosphere together with her attitude made it a perfect moment. We were in Angkor Wat… a monk offered her something and she accepted it graciously. It was a loving gesture. These small moments are not necessarily art but I want to honor them.


I also had a housekeeper in India and the man walked through his house with incense every single evening and I was taken away by that moment. It’s not only about other cultures, but it’s also about the human touch. It can also be the way someone is serving you in a restaurant, or how someone parks his car.


Do you feel your work evolving throughout the years? How?


I may hope so! There are a few regulars: one is portrait. I’ve always made portraits. Self-portraits, assignments, odes to people I admire or people I would like to know. For me, it’s a way to make contact with the world. I also ask people I don’t know if I can paint them: because they intrigue me, or maybe because we could become friends through the work (smiles). I don’t know… there’s something about portraying someone, it’s an intense process with a lot of talks.


Next are my collected drawings, they bring different moments together and take a lot of time to finish.


And lastly, my paintings. Sometimes I don’t touch a drawing for years. Then it’s just lying somewhere, maturing. Suddenly it can ask for my attention again and then I start painting. Between the first idea and actually making the piece can be a gap of five years. It gives me time to think, to pick up new pieces that are part of the moment and to make something that’s more than the original drawing.


I notice I’m much more capable to let things be, to not work out everything in detail. It’s like the difference between writing a novel and a haiku. 500 pages versus 3 sentences, but those 3 sentences can slap you around the ears. It’s interesting how you can say more by showing less.


In the end, you put all your experience in a funnel and one drop comes out. I feel I’m getting better and better at filtering. At a certain point, you know what makes you tick, why you want to make things, how they need to feel and when they are good or not. You hit the “yes, that’s what I want to say”-spot earlier… but it’ still a process.


I also read you love traveling and I can see memories of those travels coming back in your paintings. Is a painting the only souvenir you bring back or are there other things as well?


I save packagings and I always take a bunch of them home after a trip. Candy wraps, medicine boxes, a bread bag from around the corner, anything… if it’s graphically powerful, I take it with me.


When you look at India you’ll see they have amazing packagings. Because there are still a lot of illiterates, they use a lot of illustrations to make things clear. The simplicity of it all moves me. The everyday can be so beautiful…


Especially the colors on packagings fascinate me. I created an archive filled with color references. You’ll also find old French order catalogs from the 50’s in that archive, those catalogs contain the perfect colors (for me). Somewhat pale colors, the ones that don’t get printed anymore because printing techniques have changed. Those I study.


It’s interesting to see how something that was created a long time ago can be transferred from that time to the present. You can almost say I take the image to withdraw the colors from it and inject them into my work. That way different moments in time get mixed and a piece you couldn’t have imagined yourself comes to life. The layering of time is something you can only achieve in paintings. It’s in those moments I can be surprised by the result myself.


One last question: because we’re sitting above a restaurant I would like to know your favorite meal. Pick just one.


It would be a close tie with Japanese food, but in the end, I would order dim sum. I admire the fact that you can order it in New York, or Amsterdam, or Beijing,… and you will always get the same freshly made dish. Plus I have a lot of great memories eating dim sum with my wife and kids in Amsterdam, or on travels. Each time I eat the dish, wherever I may be, all those memories come together.


Background information

On the 13th of June Dutch artist Jasper Krabbé opened his newest exhibition 'Summer Is Full of Hope' in Antwerp. A selection of painted photographs from his personal archive are on display in Graanmarkt 13's cozy gallery. Jasper's personal memories come to life in multi-layered paintings mixing different kinds of materials he found during the creative process - like packagings, envelopes, etc. Themes like dreams, transciency and poetry are the starting points of his work.