aart-jan venema is a colectivo futurist

As soon as we caught a glance of Aart-Jan Venema’s illustration online, we knew we had to reach out and make him our next colectivo futurist. Finding inspiration in classic painters from past eras, Aart-Jan creates beautiful stories full of detail and wit. His use of color is also a thing of beauty, making his works immediately stand out and jump off the screen. This year, he’ll be coming to the always excellent Pick Me Up illustration fair at Somerset House in London and you can catch his works in the flesh between April 21st and May 2nd. For now check our some of our favorite pieces from his portfolio and check out our interview below.


CF: How did you first get into illustration? Was there a light bulb moment when you suddenly knew that’s what you wanted to do in life? Or did it build gradually over time?

Actually, both. First I studied some other things, and then suddenly it hit me that whatever I was studying was going to be the thing I was going to be stuck with for the next 40 years for 8 hours a day… At that point I went over my options, and after eliminating some things (football, snowboarding, gaming) I came to the conclusion that I should focus on art. From that point I slowly drifted towards illustration.

“He always sounds a little bit off and lazy, but he probably is in full control. I have the same feeling about my own work.”

CF: Who or what are you currently inspired by?

I really like the work of painters like Jeroen Bosch and Pieter Brueghel. They painted (Dutch) everyday life, and made those pictures in which there’s an awful lot to look at. This year is ‘Bosch year’ in the Netherlands, and there are a lot of exhibitions with his work. I especially like that he mixes those everyday scenes with creepy monsters and devils. I’m also a big fan of Charles Burns’ story telling and hope that I can at some point deliver a book with that great surrealistic vibe. I also love artists that go for a complete experience in their exhibitions, like Charles Avery or Grayson Perry.


CF: Tell us a bit about your Coffinboys collaborative project, how did it come about and what is its aim?

I started this with fellow illustrator Niek Pronk, who by the way also makes awesome music. The aim was to have a good reason to contact artists we like, and make connections in the field. Another goal was to connect artists we think have a good match, to each other, and give them a platform to work together. From our experience people really want to do ‘something’ together, and we wanted to provide a reason for that ‘something’, which resulted in some very nice collaborations. At the moment we’re both busy with our personal projects, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be back with something later this year.


CF: You’ve worked with a wide range of clients, from Red Bull Music Academy to the Dutch Center for Social Innovation, do you have a favorite kind of client or project to work for?

I really like editorial jobs, because they’re usually very quick and dynamic. There’s no time for overthinking and you have to trust a bit on gut feelings. You work very hard for a day or two, and a few days later you see the result in a magazine or newspaper. It’s a very rewarding feeling. What I really like about my job is that I can vary those quick jobs with longer, sometimes personal, projects. It’s never boring.


CF: What is your favorite thing about living in The Hague?

I love the sea. During spring and summer it’s lovely to get on your bike to get breakfast or a coffee in the early sun. In the winter it’s nice as well to let the wind run through your head.

“I really like editorial jobs, because they’re usually very quick & dynamic. There’s no time for overthinking…”

CF: If you could soundtrack your work, what would you choose?

Tough one… at the moment I’m listening a lot of essential mixes and other dancefloor music while on the job, just because it gives me a good workflow. It doesn’t really relate to my work though.

If I’ve got to pick an atmosphere for my images I think I’d go for the The Sophtware Slump by Grandaddy because it has this nice dystopian vibe I also use in my (older) work. I think it came out just at the time of the change of the millennium and is about the relationship between man and technology. The concepts are starting to be a bit outdated now, but that’s part of what I like about it. It reminds me of how fast everything is changing, and that I actually lived in the time that there was no internet.

For my more recent work, which is a little bit more feel-good I’d like Kurt Vile to do the soundtrack. He always sounds a little bit off and lazy, but he probably is in full control. I have the same feeling about my own work.


CF: Do you have any mediums or formats you would like to explore further in the future? Are there any projects coming up that you’d like to tell us about?

I hope to get into pottery and weaving next year, that would be really interesting for me. I love artists that use different mediums to build a world, like Grayson Perry or Charles Avery and want to get a bit more into that.

Also, in April I’ll be part of Pick Me Up festival in London, it’s my first big show abroad, and I am really looking forward to it.

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