From the Series
Brian de Graft is a German collage artist based in Amsterdam. His collages began as meditative distraction from his text heavy studies (a bachelor’s in film studies and a master’s in English literature). What started out as a hobby has now become a Graft’s chief concern: last month he had his first solo exhibition at the Kuvva Gallery in Amsterdam and has been selling a steady stream of his abstract pieces.
We had a chance to ask Graft why he felt drawn to paper and scissors, how Tame Impala and Wes Anderson effect the mood of his work and how being an artist has opened his eyes to his surroundings.
How would you describe what you do?
I primarily make collages. I "sample" existing images from books and magazines and combine these to make a new, mainly abstract whole. When I make art, it's nice to get away from computer and television screens and return to the basics: papers, scissors, and glue.
How do you describe your aesthetic?
I’d like to think that over the last two years I have developed my own collage style (even though I do not see it as important to strictly stick to a certain style). A lot of other collage artists work primarily with existing photographs, whereas I work heavily with pictures of paintings (and often combine these with photographs). That might be why someone who is drawn to abstract paintings is also drawn to my collages: a person may recognise that I have "borrowed" Picasso's colours for one of my pieces (even if subconsciously).
"Business Birds" from 2013 is the first real collage that I made. Even though my style has greatly changed since then, I really like it, and it marks the beginning of a positive change in my life.
Talk us through your process: where your ideas come from, do you work quickly or slowly, do you work with paper or screens?
I use art to escape the screen; that's why all my art is made by hand. For me it's a type of meditation, so I usually work quite slowly, whilst listening to some nice music. My ideas can come from anywhere: a film I have seen, a random idea in my head, a song, or a picture in a book that I feel drawn to.
Do you see shapes or narratives in the pieces? Or are they purely abstract?
There are always exceptions, but I usually strive for beauty and harmony whilst making my art. Most work is abstract and without a narrative, but I hope that some of the emotions that I put into my work are carried over to the viewer.
What mood are you in when you design your best work? Are they cheerful pieces?
For me, art is mainly a therapeutic aspect of life that can brighten up one's day, which is what I wish to give the viewer. Again, there are exceptions: I have some darker pieces as well. But mainly the colours and shapes I use reflect a positive mental attitude.
My ideal working environment is when it's dark and quiet outside, and I'm indoors listening to good music. When I'm making art, I often use the opportunity to discover new music by musicians I like. For example, I made my latest collage whilst listening to the new Tame Impala album.
Have you been drawing all your life?
I drew a lot when I was young, but somewhere along the road I quit. Now I'm not that good at it anymore, so making collages suits me just fine!
Who or what are your biggest creative influences?
Mainly abstract and conceptual artists like Willem de Kooning, Henri Matisse, John Baldessari and Kurt Schwitters.
What do you do when you're stuck and can't find a way to start?
I look into art books or watch an art documentary. That usually gets me inspired!
Has being an artist changed the way you look at the world?
Definitely. I'm a lot more aware of my surroundings nowadays. Colours, shapes and patterns catch my eye a lot more quickly than a few years back. If I cycle through Amsterdam, for example, I see the beauty in countless things: buildings, trees, people, canals…
Whose work do you admire – any genre, any industry?
I admire a lot of people and their work, but mainly artists, authors, musicians, film directors and skateboarders. I love John Irving's books and Wes Anderson's films, for example. Also, I recently went to see Fleetwood Mac with my dad, which was a great experience. It’s amazing how five people can create so many great songs together. I skateboarded for many years and still enjoy watching skate videos. Shane O’Neill is one of my favourite skaters at the moment – check him out on Youtube!