Known for his curvaceous hybrid characters and signature red and blue aesthetic, Pieter Janssen, aka Parra, launched his first solo exhibition ‘I Seriously Doubt It’ at Over the Influence gallery in Hong Kong. In this show, Parra explores scenes of domesticity and human interactions. Constructed in a range of tightly claustrophobic spaces, the pieces demonstrate the oppressing nature of being in a confined compartment. From the mundane of everyday life, to eating breakfast alone at the kitchen table, to sharing a glass of wine with a roommate or a lover after a long day at work, Parra created the narratives to explores scenes of modern situations and the fluctuations of the emotions in association with human interactions. We are curious to find out what is that he seriously doubted.
I seriously doubt it - Parra
I know that you don't like interviews because I read about you online before coming in. Is that anything you’d like to talk about specifically? Do you want to talk about your personal life, your art, skateboarding?
It’s fine. Just ask me whatever you have in mind.
Let’s talk about this show. You mentioned it's mainly about your interactions with your friends specifically your girlfriend?
Well not specifically about my girl. It's about relationships and intimacy. It’s a more personal project of mine. Most of the paintings are set in my house. I’m always in my house in Amsterdam. I work in my house and I paint in my house. It's on the fourth floor and I can look outside. Sometimes I forget to go outside for a couple of days. Everything is small and cozy. Like my own creative bubble. Some of these paintings are interactions with my girlfriend or friends who visited me at my house. I also took information outside and online and implement them in my paintings.
Are relationships a big part of your life?
Yeah for sure. Relationships are super important but they’re not necessarily mine, you know… it's everything I see and hear from friends and people around me. It’s filtered in my creative bubble.
And this one here is specifically of your girlfriend?
Yeah. This was actually a painting inspired by a photo I took of her. She was wearing clothes though in the photo. I painted her blue so it’s doesn’t resemble a real person. Painting with the reference of a photo is sort of an easy way. You take a photo and try to replicate it. The subject and the background was already there, then I put in other elements like a puzzle to make it look aesthetically pleasing.
So for this particular one the background was already there, then you add on other shapes.
Yeah. In this particular one but usually in other work, the character comes first. So I draw the character and then the background comes later. It sometimes takes days to put the puzzle together. I kind of put it together like a graphic design poster because of my graphic design and illustration background. Usually the design progress takes 2 weeks on and off. I leave it then come back to it and work on it more.
I can't leave yet - Parra
Is woman usually your subject? I noticed most of your work includes a female character.
It is. Yeah. There are male characters but I usually prefer a female one. I find male characters too aggressive. People read them differently. Woman characters are softer, more feminine and you can work with different hairstyles. It just works better in graphics and my style. But it’s nothing sexual.
Nowadays people get offended so easily, I’ve definitely seen some artists getting caught in that by painting naked woman bodies. Have you ever had any horror stories?
No. No I don’t because I think I portray woman in a respectful way and not sexually. I like to express the softness of femininity but I know exactly what you mean.
So you've been a graphic designer, an illustrator and have been doing exhibitions with some amazingly renown galleries, where do you position yourself and what leads you to this position?
It’s been a long journey. Everything started in the late 90’s, 2000s, when I was heavily into graphic design, mostly making flyers and posters. Then I started a T-shirt company and have been running it till this day. And then gradually I started doing more illustrations and paintings. My first art show was around 2006. Then my work slowly builds up from there.
And how do you go from a graphic designer into an artist? Would you say you are more of an artist now?
Yeah I think so yeah. it's hard to say what leads to it. It's a very natural progression. There were a lot of new galleries starting to emerge at the time when I was making posters. I guess the art culture has evolved at the time and some of those galleries have an eye for street art, pop art or commercial art and I came from a street culture background. Also I met people from graffiti background while I was skateboarding.
If you were to do something else outside of art, what would you do?
Another passion of mine is make making music. I’ve been playing music a long time. I like to make beats, electronic beats. I also play the guitar. I would spend a lot of my days doing that and then nobody would listen to it. Haha.
So if you didn't design or paint, you were going to be a musician.
Well, I will fail at being a musician for sure so I'll probably go into repairing bicycles. I like cycling.
You were saying that your dad was a painter and did his work inspired you or influenced yours?
It did not when I was younger but lately, I’ll say in the last five years, I've been looking at a lot of his older work. I visit him a lot and he still paints every day. He does traditional oil paintings and sculptures make out of wood and whatever he finds. He is a real artist. He makes something everyday
Like a conceptual artist?
Not necessarily conceptual, more towards figurative. I was definitely influenced by him, not the technique but maybe the subjects. Let me show you… He also takes elements from my work too like these faces, these birds, so we both influence each other in a way.
Would you ever do a show with your father?
It would be cool. I’m not sure if he would. Maybe I'll ask him. A father son show.
Is it fair to say you have a huge audience in the States? Do you ever consider relocating?
I was just talking to somebody else about that. I like to be in Amsterdam and be the only one there who is painting in this style. And I feel really comfortable there. You know. I travel to the States sometimes, but I think I'm good in Amsterdam and I can stay in my little bubble. Living in Amsterdam inspires me. Plus Amsterdam's was in the middle, it’s perfect if I want to travel to the States or to Asia.
What about Amsterdam? What's the scene like there?
I am not sure. It’s not much, Amsterdam is such a small city. There are galleries but interestingly they are more high end and traditional. There are also galleries for up-and-coming artists and I don’t fit either of the categories. It is a cool art town and for me it’s more like a great place to live.
I know some artists change their styles in different projects and you have a very distinct style. When I see your paintings, I associate them with you, have you ever thought of doing something completely different?
I think I did evolve a little bit. In a very subtle manner. If you look at my work 10 years ago, I’d outline my characters. They used to be more cartoony as well. I try something different in every show. It’s just not in my personality to do something drastically different every time. People who does that (changes style frequently) also live like that. They are more likely to move to a new country. My changes seems minor but for me they are huge. Like removing the outlines. In 2016, I did a show in Germany, which was, for me, the end of the outline era. I made a piece with a woman diving into the sea, above the water, there’s outline, but when she's in the sea, the outlines are gone.
What are you going to do next? What’s your next show?
Probably New York. There're multiple options. We'll see. But no show in Amsterdam. Haha.