In Studio Sessions we take you on tour along the work spaces of MAPA artists. This time we visit Axel Roy, whose work is featured in our current exhibition Rectangle Roots & Paved Tongues. We meet Axel at his studio at the old Werkspoorpand on the outskirts of Utrecht, where every 10 minutes, a train rushes by. He talks about the differences between Dutch and French architecture, the misconception of the romantic artist, and breaking social rules.
‘Art is not only what you do, but also how you talk about it.’
We’re in your studio now, can you tell us a little more about it?
I’ve been working in the Vlampijpateliers in Utrecht for almost a year now, ever since a friend of mine introduced me to my current atelier roommate. It’s a really great space to be. It’s chaotic, but not too much, so it allows you to try stuff without being afraid of making a stain on the floor the moment you touch something.
What other spaces have you worked in?
I had one other studio in the Netherlands before, in Utrecht, which was not the best place for an artist. It was more of an office space, more controlled, and you weren’t really allowed to create new things. Before that I lived in Paris, and there I worked in something called a ‘plateau urbain’ in the 20th arrondissement: an initiative through which old buildings that will be renewed or destroyed are rented to makers and creatives. It was a really cool space, we had a whole building of seven floors with about a hundred start-ups and artists. And because everyone was so different, we also started working for each other. Our neighbours were the police, actually, we’d see them in the elevator every morning.
How would you say the space you work in affects your art?
Materialistically speaking, it really has an effect. My pieces are quite big, for example, so I need a high ceiling to be able to turn them around. And not being afraid to make a place dirty improves your productivity. Being around other people also helps, because it forces you to step out of what you do.
I think it’s hard to break your habits. It’s easy to do the same thing over and over again, especially when you start selling and your customers expect you to do one thing.
Being with other people, seeing different things, techniques, conceptual approaches, can help you to do something else. Plus you can use the critical eye of others who come to your workspace, which helps to challenge yourself.
What else do you do to challenge yourself?
I base my artworks on photographs I take, but I try to add in the element of randomness, by using a timer, for example. I will walk around with my camera not knowing when a picture gets taken. Or I go against the social rules. Sometimes I hide a camera on my back when I am standing in a supermarket queue, and then I won’t move forward when the queue moves. That way, you get a picture that’s a bit different. You need a bit of this weirdness. Especially since I remove the spatial context out of all my paintings, and just leave in the people. Sometimes I give clues about the space,
and I like to see people guessing, or projecting their own subconscious ideas onto it. That interests me.
Do you draw inspiration from your direct environment?
I do. I really want to make a series of pictures of the people on the train, for example. We see lots of trains passing here every day, and it’s quite nice, because sometimes it even stops and you can wave at people. I did the same when I just arrived in Holland. I was a bit disturbed by the Dutch architecture, which is completely open with big windows; perfect for someone who is very interested in social behaviour. So I started taking pictures of my neighbours.
How did they like that?
I am pretty sure they noticed me, because I had a big tripod and made a whole installation because I didn’t want to move it. At first I started to hide myself, but then I realised that was even more creepy, so then I decided to just show that I was making pictures, and if they were not okay with it, they could come and tell me. But I didn’t take pictures of their interior, I thought that was a bit too invasive. Instead, I took pictures of the main shared stairway, which also had windows, so you could see people walking in and out, the pizza delivery guy, etc. Then I made a collage of all the events happening in it. It became an interesting look at the interactions and gestures that happen in this semi-private space. In Paris, you would never be able to see that.
Do you distinguish between your own spaces and their purposes?
Yes, I think that’s healthy. If you don’t have a choice, you don’t have a choice, of course; I used to paint in my room as well. But I think going to your workspace is an important moment of the day. You have a productive day of work, then you go home and feel good. I try to wake up early every day, and I usually spend my mornings behind the computer, answering e-mails and such, and the afternoons in my workspace. I really don’t like this idea of the romantic artist. Because if you’re stuck on that, you don’t seem to acknowledge that being an artist is a job, which takes eight hours a day.
Artists are not superheroes, they are like everybody else. They also have to unload their dishwasher.
What would your ideal space look like?
I find this a tricky question. A while ago I was sitting with some other artists who were talking about what they wanted to achieve in five years. Many said they wanted a bigger space, with an oven for pottery baking, a wood section, a glass section, etc. And I find that so boring! I think it’s logical that I will find spaces in the future that are a bit bigger, a bit more convenient. But I don’t have a five year plan, I just want a place where I feel good, and where other people feel good. My dream space is the one I have right now; I am content with it. I dream mostly of having a bit more time. To take care of the people I care about. To do projects together. I don’t dream about my dream space because it’s not a dream for me. It’s here, and it will be there.