Robin van Wijk is a Dutch Graphic Designer working out of the East Bay. Recently he and his partner founded PALMS, an apparel company using 100% original screen print art inspired by living in the bay. Transcribed below is a preview of our chat in Lake Merritt. Full audio forthcoming. Be sure to check out his pop-up stand at First Fridays.
Oakland Breakfast Club: How does Oakland compare to the places you’ve lived?
Robin Van Wijk: Compared to the big city, like San Francisco, Oakland is like the Hague. It’s where people get to live. They have the benefits of the big city, but do live in a peaceful, quite-like… it’s also building up, just like the Hague.
OBC: It’s pretty different in terms of wild life [than you’re used to]. I know in your print work you draw some inspiration from the new—more fauna than flora—that you’ve seen around.
RVW: And that’s a lot, yeah, it’s weird. Usually when I travelled I went to France, Germany, or even Spain, but every where you go you see the same kind of nature. Of course there’s variation in temperature that’s why you see stuff like lizards. But here I’ve come to a completely different place. And except for birds—like the seagulls—everything is different.
OBC: What’s the most peculiar sight for you? I know when we were walking here you were pointing out squirrels and saying that you’re still not used to them.
RVW: For all my life, I’ve seen like… five squirrels in Holland. And here I came and I started running around the Lake and every time I saw one, I stood still and I’m like: “jesus, another one.”
OBC: You’re flinching right now.
RVW: And at some point I was walking—like going off roads—on a grass field and it’s all like twenty of them. I didn’t know what to do.
OBC: Were you scared?
RVW: No, I always approach animals, even though I shouldn’t sometimes. ‘Cause I immediately saw they were kind of like… aggressive little fellows. Even the geese are little different.
OBC: The Canadian geese are different, what are the geese like where you’re from?
RVW: They’re usually white. They are kind of hard to separate from swans…. I think they are the stupidest animals.
OBC: So you went to school for print design.
RVW: No for graphic design. Silk screening for me is just a tool to express my designs. And still the best tool to execute it. I can’t go to a printer because they always screw things up. And they never reach the same color… and they can’t print on certain kinds of paper and all that so that’s why I started silk screening.
OBC: So you started out as a means of control for the process because you weren’t satisfied with what was coming out.
RVW: Yeah, and also I kind of, I grew to kind of hate extremely perfect things… like you make something in illustrator and everything is perfect—perfect circles and everything—and you go through a print (and it’s perfectly printed) without any… “gifts”. The tiny little mistakes that come with the process. So that’s also a thing I like with silk-screening.
OBC: You like the fingerprints of something being man-made.
RVW: Yeah. I also like to see the hand of the creator.
OBC: Has that always been the case for you? Even as a younger artist?
RVW: No, at some I started to—at one point I was considered the master of Illustrator because I could do anything with illustrator—so I think that was a moment for me where I said: Ok, this is just a tool and I can work my way in this application, but now I want … you know… it’s too boring. And anybody can make it [work]. And that’s why I kind of stopped working with it. I also saw that with silk-screening you have to burn the screen with something that’s light proof. That was always something weird for me: to create something on a computer and print it out on a transparency sheet then put it on the screen. Now I’m taking one step out from taking stuff I create directly on the screen. I like the process.
OBC: How long was that process to discover that it was the proper medium to kind of access—
RVW: I think there was a lot of graphic designers that—and mainly old that some of them are already dead, right now—that kind of inspired me to see graphic design as a “handy”-craft again. Because I felt that there were “artists” and there were “graphic designers” that were on the computer. I didn’t get why because when you go back to the very basics of graphic design, it’s just drawing letters by hand. It’s just as much painting, as an artist does, or sculpting or whatever, to a make a picture of it and use it in a poster. I don’t get why it was always strictly focused on using a computer as a tool.
OBC: And that gets to what you find frustrating about moving to the bay area that you have to have a resume—people ask you: Well what are you? What do you do? And you feel that graphic designer doesn’t really capture what you bring to the table.
RVW: Yeah, because I feel like there is a lot of creativity lost in graphic design… a lot. And a lot of guts. That’s what I’m mainly frustrated about. The graphic designers [here] don’t feel, themselves, obligated to step up and act like an artist. Because artist move the public crowds. They are always—
OBC: They are motivating change through their work?
RVW: Yeah, they’re strictly showing a different perspective on things.
OBC: And you think that graphic designers around here have lost that responsibility of an artist?
RVW: Yep, because their communication is one of the biggest things right now. Where ever you see some sign on the street that’s going to do something for that person on the street of the moment.
OBC: There’s a communication between the observer—
RVW: Yeah and you have to think about that. You should think about: Okay, how can I create a poster within two minutes, print it, and reach deadline, because you have a responsibility as a graphic designer.
OBC: Now do you think that’s coming from the business pressures of being a graphic designer? That you’re kind of stuck to what you can produce within the hour?
RVW: And it’s okay to work fast because I do know that time is crucial to admins right now in creating anything. You have to be fast, especially with social media. If it’s digital, you have to throw out things. But still you can think about, a plan. Okay what am I putting out in the world, is it just like any other crap that’s just out there?
Our full interview will play out later this month, but we wanted to post a preview early so you can check out his pop-up shop this Friday at Art Murmur in Oakland.