To conduct the interview that follows, we took our tape recorder to Woensel, which is located in the far north of Eindhoven. This is where the 20-year-old mixed media artist Stijn van Leest lives together with his dad and sister. We ringed the authentic brass shopkeeper’s doorbell and the blue door to the family home opened and Stijn welcomed us with a firm handshake. The second-year student cross-media design at Sint-Lucas guided us towards the kitchen and we sat down at the kitchen table.
Where do you like to put your art on?
The coolest thing to me is when I am in Amsterdam or Rotterdam and I see some trash refrigerators, washing machines, or whatever on the sidewalk. Firstly, because it is in the
city center, this means that a lot of people notice you drawing and secondly because the white smooth surfaces provide you with an excellent canvas. Thereby, by drawing on trash, I don’t bother anybody.
With this you differ yourself with a lot of graffiti artists, am I right?
Well I work with a lot of the same materials as graffiti artists do, but I don’t use them on the streets, only on real canvasses. On the streets I work mainly with a black paint marker. I therefore don’t see myself as a graffiti artists.
As what do you see yourself then?
I believe that with the things I am creating
on the streets, the flowers, the monsters, I do belong to the street artists. I do not want to call myself a street artist though, I let that for other people to judge.
What is for you the reason to express your creativity on the streets?
The coolest thing is that people started to recognize my work because it stands out and that they share it online because they like it. That really gives me a good feeling.
Have you tried other forms of art before turning to street art?
Well I started out with stickers. Just placing them wherever I think looked cool. And before that I just drew a lot. During my studies at Sint-Lucas, all of my creative interests kind off came together.
Territory? Do you have an area that is “yours”?
No, totally not. It’s always really spontaneous. If I see something that I like that may serve well as a canvas, I consider if I would bother anybody, when not, I will use it.
Last summer you were in New York right? What did you do there?
I was there for the 2019 World Championship in Adobe Photoshop. This was after I participated in the Dutch championship.
And you won this Dutch championship?
Yeah, I did, that was quite cool. In New York, I sadly didn’t win.
Where did you finish? And how many people participated?
I finished fifth out of 51 participants.
That’s quite a prestation. I saw you also left your mark in another way.
Yeah, I drew some stuff on the Brooklyn Bridge, that was cool. Looking at all the drawings on this bridge, this was something that I needed to do. I had to leave something.
What do you think is the public opinion about street art?
I think that nowadays a lot of people already understand what we as street artists do. I feel it is accepted way more and that the majority also can appreciate nice street art. Maybe
not the tags, but the pieces and the murals definitely.
Are you as a street artist, a proponent of making street art completely legal?
Hmm, I don’t know. I do think that it somehow needs to be manageable. Making it legal will probably result in people leaving their rubbish everywhere because the initial risks that came with street art are gone. You don’t want that.
I wouldn’t change it a lot, there are already a lot of designated places where it is allowed to perform street art.
Do you use these designated places?
No, as I said, I am not a graffiti artist. I do go there sometimes just to see other artist do it. This also is a form of inspiration to me.
Chuck Close, the famous photorealist painter once said: “Inspiration is for amateurs”. What’s your view on the idea of getting inspired by something or somebody?
I do not agree, I think you definitely can learn from each other. With more knowledge you can make more awesome pieces. Without any source of inspiration you probably will not
try out or start with something as easy as you would do with. I am not talking about copying but more about testing out techniques or styles you see somebody else use, but then add your own twist to it.
Who inspires you?
Jean Michel Basquiat is my main inspiration. Next to that I getting a lot of inspiration from Hidjiworld. He also is from New York and I happened to see some of his pieces on the street when I visited New York last summer.
What did you drew as a kid? Just the usual stuff?
I never really drew realistic. I thought that
was kind of boring. I also didn’t copy anything. That would just be a copy and not your own creation. I therefore created my own style over the years which I now integrate in both my school work as also my own work.
Did you draw with the intention to become an artist back then?
I think so yeah. It was such a big interest that it would weird if I would not pursue an artistic life. When I finish my current studies, I also want to study visual arts. I think it is different to say for myself that I dreamt of becoming an artist. What I always say is that I want to live from my own creations.
Are you currently satisfied with your own creations?
I think satisfied in this context is a strange word. I like the art I create now but I am constantly thinking about growing and changing. I am not planning to make the exact same style of works for the next ten years.
Often artists simplify their work and get down to basics, eliminate color and then switch to color again. Basquiat for instance, swung back and forth very quickly in his work. Looking at your recent work it seems that you are making your work more complex, is this a direction you want to follow?
I don’t think that complex. I just like to try out new and different things.
What is the story behind those huge posters in the corner?
Well I recently was looking for bigger canvasses. Sadly big canvasses are really expensive. A while ago I was standing with a friend at a bus-stop in the evening when a guy came to replace these bus-stop advertisement posters you know. I asked him if I could have one of the used ones. He replied with: “Sure, how many do you want?”. Now I have twelve huge posters I can use as canvas.
When I look at your previous artworks from a half a year ago and the first big canvas your finished recently I can see a lot of difference in first of all size, but also in complexity and the materials you used. Is this part of you evolving as an artist?
I think you can put it like that. On big canvases, I really have a lot more freedom to experiment with new techniques and materials. Not only like different kinds of paint, markers, or pencils but also physical materials like boarding passes I found at the airport or aluminum tape.
text ramon schollaardt
media raquel kuperus
graphics sanne van lieshout