“I’m always searching for a bit of calm,” says the Scottish artist and musician Tommy Perman in the guest studio being shared, for this work period, with friend and colleague Roel Knappstein from Maastricht. “Otherwise,” adds Roel, “you drown in all those images and sounds.”
Nonetheless their final presentation is, in fact, dominated by a day-to-day chaos. One wall is covered with prints hung at random. At the presentation a child recognizes a piece of music in it. On hearing this, I suddenly realize that the large wall installation can be ‘read’ as though it were sheet music. The transparent layers of forms printed on top of each other become samples; a fire escape curling upward conveys the image of a high note. Evidently the wall came about as an improvisation. Knappstein and Perman took turns hanging a work, responding each time to what had been put there before.
Talking with these two artists involves a mixture of humor and sensitivity. As well as a combination of Dutch and English: Tommy speaks English for the most part, but for Roel and me, it is easier to discuss the nuances of the work in Dutch, mainly due to his general affinity with language. “Roel’s work is more about poetry than about anything else,” explains Tommy. The melancholy connotation of a word such as Ginderland (‘Neverland’) or a sign pointing to ‘anyway’ actually plays a role in their collaboration. The letters ‘sch’ (which happened to be the last three letters of a beer advertisement on a building) were isolated by Roel from a photograph of an Eindhoven street scene. The image calls for silence but represents a sound at the same time.
What Tommy Perman and Roel Knappstein have in common is their need for calm. They produce photographs of everyday life, of the dynamics out on the street. From this they sift out small details that are set down in drawings as marks. By establishing a collection of those marks, they create a kind of toolkit which can be used by each of them.
They experiment with serigraphy on old posters and screen-printed album covers of Surface pressure records, Tommy’s record company. At Beeldenstorm they design their own molds for stamps by ‘drawing’ in plaster. Silicone is poured into those molds in order to create soft rubber stamps. The edges of the silicone arrows and cassette tapes have a nice clumsiness when printed.
This is the start of a series of ‘cassettes’ that develops into a veritable ode, since according to the artists this type of music carrier has been closer to people than others. “People draw on it, put stickers on the cassette and carry it everywhere,” Perman explains about its personal character. And Knappstein adds, “The first Walkman that had your own music, the first car radio that you could play your own music on: they all had cassettes.”
Music: that, precisely, is their second common need. With kidding remarks such as “Last night the printer saved our lives,” a conversation with these two artists is mingled with song lyrics and the memory of melodies. Perman plays with the Scottish band Found. Their music is made from ‘found sounds’. His approach to images is similar: “I was always trying to respond to music until I recognized that it’s in my work anyway.” By this he is referring to the development of a theme, to the use of found materials and images. And ultimately to creating a ‘visual sample’ from this.
They experiment with forms and techniques, printing on top of previous versions or spraying paint over them. The polymer print, a technique by which the plate is etched with the aid of a light-sensitive polymer sheet, is even deformed by them into a new form of relief printing. Here the potato stamp has been reinvented, as it were.
With such stamps the cassette is printed on cream-colored paper in various versions. The nostalgic olive-green color of the print evokes, certainly in combination with the cream-colored paper, associations with climatized print departments of museums, where valuable historical works are kept. And each execution has its own character. Every detail of these simple prints has been thought out with enormous care: the color, the form, the texture, the paper. “That’s why I never draw portraits of people,” Tommy remarks. “There’s too much emotion in a human; it’s not possible to draw all that. I can make a copy of you, but it will never be you.”
The exhibition includes series of screen prints, the plaster molds, silicone forms, the polymer stamps, stencils and all sorts of experiments with brush painting and spraying. For Perman it was new to show that process, to take that liberty. By doing so he tampers with the limits of graphic design. But that is precisely what they both wanted from the very beginning: to seek the dividing line between graphic design and autonomous art.
Because of this collaboration, Knappstein has in fact remained closer to the original plan. “Tom and I basically have the same way of looking at things. But his background in graphics makes him see a drawing straight away. I work differently. I’d never use a depiction in such a concrete way.” Perman needed the concreteness of a cassette. Being a perfectionist, he considered a series of drawings done with the wrong ink a disaster. Prompted, however, by Knappstein’s “Didn’t we plan to work with mistakes anyway?” he managed to turn this around for the better.
translation: Beth O’Brien