Artist, born in the body of a designer

Maarten is seen as one of the most influential Dutch Designers of the 21ste century so far. His work can be described as rebellious, humorous, intellectual, theatrical, and artistic.

Maarten can be characterized as a rebel, he does things his own way. This is one trait many readers can relate to, I think. He studied at the Design Academy in Eindhoven, for six years! From 1996 to 2002. He graduated with his burned furniture Smoke which wasn’t something controversial. It however became a big success after his graduation. His works are included in the ‘25 classics of the future’. In 2009 he was awarded ‘Designer of the Year’ by Design Miami. His works are in Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum, and Schiphol. Celebrities like Brad Pitt and Kanye West have works of him in their private collection. Maarten works for exclusive brands such as Louis Vuitton and Dior. I have a video call with him from his studio in Den Bosch to talk about the topic shaping the UNID edition: ‘Unfolding’. I want to know what kind of person he is. To start this interview, I introduce him the same way as described above.

When I ask Maarten about what it is like to be praised to such a status he humbly replies that he never really wanted to be praised for these awards and prices. Those things are more means than goals. It is definitely an honor and with those big prices come big brands who have a budget to do interesting and beautiful things. But what is really important to him is expression through his work. And if that is for Louis Vuitton or your neighbor, that does not matter in its essence. While I believe that to be super cliché, I also think it is very true. To me, it is like playing for the sake of playing, which is an essential trait of an ‘artist’.

One topic which cannot be left out of the UNID is the question: what is the difference between an artist and a designer? He has a history of people trying to put him in a specific box. He claims to be an artist in the body of a designer because they overlap. They depend on context. He did the Design Academy, which makes him a designer. But when he was a teenager he was interested in a lot of artistic professions like cabaret and music. Eventually when he had to make a decision for his higher education, design came on his path. For him design is like applied art. On one hand design is using certain restrictions of for example a chair, which has to be a certain height, as a rule. On the other hand, you are free to explore anything around that. And it is that freedom of exploration and expression around that chair, what makes it creative, what makes it art. There is this paradox of restrictions and freedom in art and design, which makes it context-dependent.

‘‘Never just trust a one-liner.’’

I think artists and designers both like to create things, make people question things, and shift perspectives around ideas and the essence of things. It is only the box that people put them in that is different. While listening to him I get what he means: same essence, different box. I ask him for some kind of summary or one-liner to get to the core. Because as you might know, artists are not as straightforward as Engineers. I know he has this caption on his Instagram: “Never just trust a one-liner”, so we laugh. It is like we both understand the essence without naming it. That is kind of the beauty of his work I think. Touching the untouchable. To summarize this paragraph, I sometimes joke: People will put me in a box, but I don’t care. As long as the box is big enough. I ask Maarten to give the Industrial Design student a glimpse of his development, transformation and change, and lessons for the readers. I don’t want the reader to think: “ow yeah another Q&A with some famous artist that has it easy now that he made it, just sprinkle some ‘wisdom’ on the interviewee and get publicity by sounding really smart.”. (In its essence it is still that, but you know better now).

‘‘You will get discouraged by setbacks.’’

To end this article and still put his lesson in a one-liner, Maarten advises young Industrial Design students to never give up. “You will get discouraged by setbacks.” It took Maarten six years to graduate from The Design Academy. He had some differing opinions from his teachers. But he graduated. And he became famous with his graduation project. Now I don’t want to give you false hope that you will become famous with your graduation project. But Maarten wants to tell you: never give up. As cheesy as that one-liner might sound, find your own thing. Have differences in opinions with your teachers. Don’t be afraid to tell them. Dare to stand for that and don’t get discouraged by different opinions. What you will get is closer to that thing you are trying to achieve, touch, or name. It is then when art and design intertwine.


text bas vink

media maarten baas

graphics jesper kapteijns

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