The works of Utrecht-based illustrator Joost Stokhof thread a fine line between reality and fiction. On the one hand, his world is inhabited by faceless, grey-scaled individuals honing in on resolutely contemporary missions, on the other words are his weapons of choice. We interview the up-and-coming artist and talk about fighting and embracing life’s fragility and obsolescence.
How old are you?
Where were you born?
What’s your hometown like?
I live in Utrecht now which is a nice place to live. It is a lot smaller than Amsterdam which can be both a good as well as a bad thing. But there is a lot of talent here and a really nice atmosphere so it’s a really healthy environment to meet and work with other people.
Can you describe your childhood to us? What kind of household did you grow up in?
I grew up in Amsterdam, with my parents and my older brother in a rather small flat in a pretty ugly neighborhood. I used to make comics with my brother a lot when we were kids and actually made our parents pay to read them. At a certain point he lost his interest in drawing but I never stopped. My parents have always been super supportive whether I was drawing or dreaming about becoming a rockstar with my punk band, they always encouraged it and helped me out wherever they could.
What and where did you study?
I did illustration at the Art Academy in Utrecht. Although I really liked to draw I never saw myself going to an art academy before. By the time I hit puberty I was more into making music with my punk band, than into drawing. But somehow I decided to go to law school and I ended up really hating it so I quit after a few months. I kinda knew by then I had to do something more creative. I went to the Art Academy in Utrecht and really fell in love with everything I saw there and that’s how it all started.
How would you describe your style?
That’s always such a hard question to answer. The most important thing about my work is that it is all hand work; I hardly do anything on the computer. I try to keep it as close to myself as possible this way. So it is really personal and I always seem to end up making very melancholic work. I never sketch, so everything I do is very intuitive; I don’t want to know where I will end up. So a lot of times I don’t really know why I did something a certain way, it just happens, but that’s good. I really learned to trust my gut feeling in these cases. I think that’s the most honest I can be as an artist.
What do you hope is the message of your work?
I don’t think I have a really strong message in my work. I don’t try to influence people’s opinions on things. I see my work more as an open invitation to step into my world. The art and the music that I really love is the stuff that I don’t necessarily understand but that captivates me. I really hope that people can look at my work the same way; without really knowing what’s going on they can still fall in love with it. I guess that’s why I hardly draw any faces; so they can complete the character/story themselves. There is nothing worse than reading a book and knowing that Tom Hanks played a certain character in the movie they did about it. So now when you read it you constantly see Tom Hanks in your mind. I like it when I can give the peoplein the book a face myself. I have nothing against Tom Hanks, though.
Your work goes beyond traditional illustrative work. Can you talk to us about your artistic work?
I never really felt much for doing typical illustrational work, it’s not the kind of stuff I get excited about and I don’t think I’m any good at it anyway. When I graduated from art school I spent a lot of time doing my own projects; finding my own style, creating my own assignments. At first I never allowed myself to be figurative at all, but over the years I think I found a nice balance between figurative and abstract work. That does make it harder for me to find good assignments, not everyone will understand my stuff. But when I do editorial jobs now I get asked for my style so that gives me the confidence to keep making the work that I do. And I still really love to work on my own projects, to push myself to try new stuff. Both ways influence each other, which is a very healthy way to work I think.
You mostly work in black, white and grey tones. Are you afraid of colour?
Haha, I’m not sure if I’m afraid of colour but I sometimes do have a really hard time adding colour to my drawings. I started using colour again because some of the art directors I was working with wanted it. Like I said I make my drawings real intuitively, it’s just a spur of the moment thing. Adding colour often feels like I’m out of the moment again and then I start to get second thoughts. Once I have those I don’t dare to add anything else to my work. Also when I do use colour I really want it to add something to the work; I don’t just want to fill in the forms, that makes no sense to me. So a lot of the time I decide to leave it without any colour on purpose.
Whats your favourite subject matter?
A lot of my free work has something to do with transiency. The fact that everything is ending makes life so delicate, wonderful and scary at the same time. I noticed that in a lot of my work I’m either fighting or embracing it.
Which artists do you think most formed your work?
There are so many artists that contributed to the development of my style. I think it started with Egon Schiele, and the last few years it has been Scandinavian artists like Kim Hiorthoy, the guys from Yokoland, Jockum Nordström. I now really dig the photography of Aurelien Arbet and Jeremie Egry. But music has been super important as well; Spinvis, Bon Iver, Sigur Ros, Bonnie Prince Billy and let’s not forget Michel Gondry‘s movies.
Where do you feel the most comfortable to draw?
I do most of my drawing nowadays in my studio, but I guess I’m okay anywhere, as long as I have some music with me and not too much distraction around me I should be fine. I did an artist in residency in Trondheim (Norway) in the winter of 2010 for two months which was great. I didn’t bring any ideas with me, I only knew I had a solo show coming up in a month there so I started drawing like crazy. It’s healthy to step out of your day-to-day routine every once in a while.
What’s the last thing you drew?
A man laying on the floor with his head down. It is part of a series of illustrations I do for the blog of my art academy.
What’s the last exhibition you went to?
I had a small show myself here in Utrecht and it opened last friday, but before that I went to ‘A living man declared dead and other chapters’ by Taryn Simon in Berlin. That was one of the most incredible shows I have seen in quite a while. It’s to hard to explain the idea behind the show here but if you have the opportunity to go and see it I highly recommend it.
What’s in the pipeline for you in 2012?
I’m really trying to focus on editorial work now. I’m doing a lot of record covers and merchandise for bands which I really like. I am doing a project with a singer/songwriter called ‘the subhuman’. which combines an exhibition and a concert with some nice way of presenting his new record, which should be done soon. Napa books will release a project of mine somewhere the next few months, and I hope to find the time to work on a solo show again and then there’s tons of other ideas floating in my mind right now which I hope to develop somewhere along the way
Five websites you recommend?
There’s only one you need:
Five new bands you recommend?
Not all new but I recommend them anyway:
One other illustrator you recommend?
Are you on Twitter?
I’m more of a tumbling man; ttwa.tumblr.com