EK Interview: Joram Roukes

Joram Roukes was first featured in 2010, but revisited because of how awesome he is in 2011.  Besides being a fantastic artist the man is smart as hell.  His responses are present and honest and refreshing.  Worth a read?  Shoot, it’s worth three.

Introduce yourself.

My name is Joram Roukes, born February 25th 1983 in the small city of Lelystad, the Netherlands and I currently reside and work in the city of Groningen.


You’ve spent time in Groningen and New York, how has each different place effected you?  How has your art changed as a result of each experience?

Groningen is my hometown. It’s a quiet, relatively small city with friendly people in the North part of the Netherlands. The rent here is reasonably affordable as opposed to cities like Amsterdam, so that allows me to work on my artwork fulltime without having to do shitty jobs on the side. In regards to my work, Groningen itself isn’t the most inspiring of all places. However, my work often refers to the kind of banal excesses of modern society, which is well present in our small country and community. Be it in a much more futile way than say New York City. But the folky and often narrow-minded way many people tend to behave here in the Netherlands is something I find both fascinating and inspiring.

Having worked in New York for sometime however put me right in the middle of excessive society. I like these little western phenomena that seem to get taken for granted and go unnoticed. Especially in places like that where nobody seems to be aware of how irrational this urge for everything big and over the top actually is. There are tons of themes to be drawn from that and even more ways to work with them.

art blog - Joram Roukes - Empty Kingdom

As an artist, what is your greatest strength?  What is your most severe weakness?  How have they changed since you attended the Minerva school of arts?

My strength as well as my weakness I think is being able to paint well. As it is tempting to opt for this medium anytime I’m creating something, even when sometimes a different medium or technique or discipline may be more suitable to work out ideas. This was the case during my education as well as I was practicing graffiti prior to that. Doing graffiti, you kind of teach yourself esthetic ways that are awfully difficult to get rid of. I struggled with this at first because I thought I didn’t need to let go of this even though teachers wanted me to be more of a ‘tabula rasa’. It took a while for me to realize it is very valuable to open up and experiment.


How did you develop as an artist at the Minerva school of arts?  How did you develop as a person?  What have you learned from art school that you do not think you would have without formal schooling?

I was 19 when I enrolled, which I think is very young. Art school is all about exploring yourself as a person and finding ways to express that through art. At 19 you have no clue who or what you are. So that was tough.

In the end I made it work for me. Teachers have some very useful things to say about your work if you are willing to listen to their feedback. It’s important to be open to that and not ignorantly believe that what you do is already the best it’s ever going to get. I built a window of reference for myself that is useful for me and I learned to be analytical about my work without it being vague or overly conceptual.


Can you tell us some of the dilemmas you see are inherent to Western society that are absent from non-western societies?  What about vice versa?

I think the ways we are confronted with way too many choices is what puts us in positions we don’t actually want to be in. we’re very concerned with a manufactured identity, always reinventing ourselves but we are clueless which direction is best for us. The dilemma might be best explained as how we choose to go about our self-destruction. We know all too well it is imminent. This sounds dark and rather depressing but our lifestyle isn’t generally in our best interest. The irony is that people are aware of it very well and they criticize society when they go to a Ron English art show, then they go eat at McDonalds afterwards because they’re in a rush to get home to watch American idol.

art blog - Joram Roukes - Empty Kingdom

What experience have you drawn from for your work?  What is a particularly outstanding event that shaped you as an artist or inspired you?

There hasn’t been a specific incident or experience that influenced me in that regard. It’s more of a gradual process. I observe and filter the world around me and give everyday life a fair chance to inspire me. However, I think graffiti-art still has a big impact on my work in terms of the asthetics but also in the way of looking at the world. I think it helped to give me a sharp eye for the ‘dirty edges’ of society and to see beauty in decay.


In many of your pieces you incorporate animals, what do different animals mean to you, how do you use them to develop or deepen the discussion in a piece?

I paint mostly animal heads on my figures to enable association. Besides the multiple elements and ingredients that I put in my paintings to put across a rather unclear narrative, animal heads, much more than a human face can evoke association with behavior and attitude. A human face doesn’t work in the same way. Also, I don’t paint portraits. Painting a human would make the painting be about this particular person, and that is not what I’m aiming for. It will become too recognizable as ‘someone’ instead of ‘something’.


Tell us about ‘The Decay’.  What is the significance of the soldiers?  What about the deer?

The theme for the show I did that piece for was ‘The decay of bambi’. I interpreted this as the decay of innocence, as I think that is for a great deal what bambi represents. Therefor it’s not an actual deer that is decaying but much rather an artificially constructed concept of innocence. In the process you will see several things that could illustrate this, like references to war in this example, that grow from this decay.

art blog - Joram Roukes - Empty Kingdom

Can you name an artist who has been inspirational or influential to you?  How have you learned from them?  How is their art reflected in your own?

I can’t really. I just like contemporary painters. I love Neo Rauch’s work a lot for example. Glenn Brown is incredible too. I just recently came across Jeremy Geddes work, which I think is insane. But I’m equally influenced by David Lynch’ films for example.


How did you settle on the media of oil?  What about it, the feel, the smell, the texture, the way the canvas takes it, appeals to you?

I love the traditional feel of oil paint. The many different ways it can de dealt with. The colors are vibrant. It’s a slow medium, which I love. It doesn’t have that synthetic feel of acrylics.


Do you meditate?  How do you clear your mind when you want to?

I don’t meditate. I rather not clear my head. There’s too much stuff in there I might want to use.


Would you rather have an extra arm or a tail?

Can I have wings?

art blog - Joram Roukes - Empty Kingdom