Jasper de Gelder's depiction of the unimaginable reality

TUA: Animals and plants are recurring topics in your works, what is your relationship/standpoint towards them?

Jasper: I come from a rural area just south of Rotterdam in the midst of agriculture and nature. There are a lot of animals and game in that area so it’s almost impossible not to see them, although of course a lot of people have their eyes in their coat pockets, so to speak, without having an eye for their surroundings. It always amazes me that people can walk straight past a beaver sitting next to a creek without noticing it for example. As a kid I walked around with binoculars and rods and reels; at a certain point you start noticing the interesting complexity of nature with all its lifeforms, and how everything grows in a certain place and walks, flies, and swims around at certain spots. It’s that amazement that forms the base of all my work.

TUA: What materials do you use for your mixed media works? How do you preserve the biological elements?

Jasper: I start by creating a background with oil paint to bring depth to the work. On top of that I create a layer of dried and pressed flowers and plant matter. It’s very difficult to predict how it looks over time because when drying plant matter it changes colour due to chemical processes in the plants and under the influence of sunlight. For example, grasses dry up in light yellow tones, while sorrel, which is a vibrant green plant, dries up almost dark purple/black. So the work changes over time; in a year from now it will look a little different. I use fish and squid as well which I dry and sometimes fillet on one side when the specimen is too thick for my taste. The whole piece is then covered and sealed in several layers of an artificial resin called epoxy, which is very transparent and tough. This also reduces the influence of UV light which causes decay and colour change.

TUA: What is epoxy and how do you use it?

Jasper: Epoxy is an artificial resin consisting of two chemical components that, when mixed together, react and produce heat that hardens the material. It’s often used in combination with fiberglass and other fibers to create a very strong composite that is used to build boats, airplanes and a lot of other parts. It can also be used as a glue or coating, which is what I do. Perhaps it is a bit peculiar though that a person with a close relation to nature uses a chemical product for his works…

TUA: You seem to collect a lot of materials, is the collecting part of the artwork? Where does your work start and where does it end?

Jasper: I always have my eyes fixed on plant materials to use. I’m often that grazing guy that picks flowers from people’s gardens and parks in the city. Usually I go by bike from the place I live to my studio in Rotterdam, which is a 20 km ride that starts in farm fields and leads to the urban environment, so especially in the fields there is a lot to gather. Many times I’ve had bunches of stinging nettles, reed plumes and other totally useless plants with me on the bike - I wonder what people seeing me in those moments might think.

Basically the work never stops, it’s an ongoing process all the time because it’s always in the fore of one’s mind, or, in my case, gathering plants, making pictures for my paintings, and fishing with rod and reel to find ‘customers’ for a sunbed followed by a refreshing swim in epoxy.

TUA: Did you ever get criticised for your works in terms of using real animals for your art?

Jasper: I didn't get any reactions so far when it comes to using real dried fish and grasshoppers and so on. However, that's probably because those epoxy works are too recent. But probably it's only a matter of time before the first green activist sends a bullet in an envelope to my address haha. I wouldn't mind, I think that leads to interesting questions. Why would it be okay to buy a fish at the market and eat it but not to use one in an art-piece where it is conserved ?

TUA: What is your process from beginning to finishing a work like?

Jasper: That depends on the type of work. In my oil paintings I often start by considering the lifestyle, so to speak, of a certain underwater animal, and ask myself where this animal’s habitat might be, and where it could be found and act when seen above the water level in a non existing world. I then try to find a way to portray this as a possible reality. That’s why I always say that strictly visually my work can be classified as surreal, but to me it’s a more realistic view - it would not surprise me to see what I paint.

TUA: Would you consider yourself as a surreal painter?

Jasper: Technically I guess I’m a surrealistic painter, especially since it’s a very human characteristic to divide everything around us in domains, and box everything in to create an overview and simplify the world around us. But looking at the world I often see very surreal things and situations which are considered ‘real’, so the line sometimes is a bit blurry. Seeing what swims in our deepest oceans is something you can not imagine and yet is very real - in the end it’s all in the mind.

TUA: Do you often feel the need to explain your works? Do you like to explain them?

Jasper: Yeah, I get a lot of questions and reactions - quite surprising ones also. I hear a lot of comments from people, gallery owners as well, who find my work fierce and quite heavy. I have never encountered a piece of art that I found heavy to look at. I can understand it to a certain degree when it comes to the creatures I portray of course because some of them are pretty scary looking bastards, like straight out of a horror movie. But it all exists in real life however.

TUA: What are your thoughts while you create, do you have any rituals?

Jasper: When I‘m painting or creating I usually put on music, and every now and then I sit back to survey the work and have a cigarette. Other than that I don’t really have any rituals - when you’re in a good vibe while working there’s also not a lot of thought, at least in my case. I’m just mentally absorbed in the process.

TUA: Would you say you are a full-time artist? If yes, what is it like?

Jasper: Yes I am, although I also teach art at some schools in Rotterdam for a few hours a week which I really like. It’s part of my DNA I guess since my mother was a teacher before she retired. Now during the COVID-19 pandemic it’s all painting and studiowork again for ‘I don’t know how long’, which is also good. Other than that, being an artist is just like a “normal” job, only it should pay a bit better.

The thing with being an artist is that you are always busy, and every now and then the line between work and hobby/free time can become vague. For example when I go fishing that can be considered a hobby, but when I take the fish home and start drying them for my pieces it becomes work again, so then fishing can be considered work as well in a way.

TUA: Your series Rabbit seems at once medical and ‘meaty’ - what inspired you to do a series like that? Do you want to show amazement or disgust, or neither?

Jasper: My brother is a hunter and I myself like to fish - in the past I put out illegal nets to catch eel and other fish, so in that capacity I have, and continue to, see a lot of game and fish. It‘s interesting to process these animals into something delicious as a next step. I’ve done that with rabbits, hare, and by now hundreds of geese and other animals. When looking closer at what’s beneath the layer of feathers or hair you stumble onto the anatomy of the animal with an array of meat colours and shiny fleeces that cover the flesh. To me it’s not disgusting at all, but rather it shows beauty.

TUA: Can you give us more information about your series Copulation?

Are your titles important for your works?

Jasper: I actually just removed the series Copulation from my website because the gap between that series and the rest became a bit too big for my taste. Not in regards to quality but rather consistency so to say.

Since the fundament of all of my work is bound in nature (even way back in time you can still see that red line), I found different ways and techniques of highlighting several angles within that theme, of course the pure act of reproducing being one of them. That’s why I changed the human faces into monkeys and rabbits, because if there’s one creature famous for reproducing it’s rabbits, and when a monkey “does the deed” their facial expressions sometimes change hilariously. It’s also just a fun thing to make of course, not everything has to be taken seriously all the time; besides I had to watch a lot of professional porn movies to find the right stills to use.

TUA: Your works also have a microscopic element to me, as though you really want to highlight every small facet that humans would normally overlook - is that something you have in mind while you create?

Jasper: In my epoxy works that plays a role indeed. It started with the idea of taking a square foot cross section of a ditch edge and reproducing that on a two dimensional surface with all the small details that normally would go unseen. When creating epoxy works it’s almost like painting in reverse; when painting you take a two dimensional surface and some paint from a tube and try to create a three dimensional effect, while the base in an epoxy work is a three dimensional object that you want to form into a two dimensional piece, which of course is never going to happen the way you see it in the field. That’s why plants and flowers appear in a shape and form in an epoxy work that is totally different from how I would paint it. That in itself gives them an almost abstract appearance at times.

TUA: Is underwater life a fascination for you?

Jasper: The interesting thing about underwater life, and therefore fishing, is that it provides a look into another unseen world - literally underneath a surface. Sitting above it you have no idea what’s underneath and you have to pick up signs from the surface like currents and wave patterns to create a mental map of how it may look down there and where to expect what. The vast variety and adaptations of the creatures that inhabit that world is really astounding and very inspiring.

TUA: Did you see the Netflix documentary Seaspiracy? If so, what were your thoughts?

Jasper: I’m one of the very few people without a Netflix account so I haven’t seen Seaspiracy yet, but looking at the trailer it's clear that it shows more examples of how destructive and ruthless our species can be. A lot of man made problems occur in freshwaters worldwide as well unfortunately, and you don’t have to go to the Amazon or a place somewhere far away to see that. Right here in our own European rivers and water streams where you can see the influence of overfishing, poison spills by companies, and disrupted water flows by dams and other man made structures that have caused major problems for fish like eel, salmon, sturgeon, and many others. On the other hand, I see awareness is growing so I’m very positive in that regard - let’s hope that we are rabbits that jump aside in the last moment before we get crushed by the car with the bright headlights.

TUA: Do you think art is a tool for promoting change in the way we treat nature?

Jasper: It’s difficult to say, but I think it can be if presented in the right way and with that motivation. Art certainly can have a strong impact that may lead to change, but to me I’m not sure if that’s the role art has to play. Speaking for myself I don’t consider creating awareness and being ‘activistic’ is the highest goal of my work. I like to create what I find interesting and if in that process I can change people’s minds in certain ways then I consider that bycatch, to use a fishing term.

TUA: Did your practice change during the pandemic? Could you find personal inspiration through it?

Jasper: I actually found time and the vibe to finally begin some experiments and start with the epoxy-works thanks to Covid. It was in my mind already for some years but I never had time to find a way to express it, discover the right form and gather the momentum to begin. But now it’s full speed ahead, so that’s a benefit. I’ve never made so much work in one year.

TUA: On your instagram it says that you were part of the project ‘Artist's Call’, what was this project about and how did you participate in it? What would you suggest for artists who are looking to participate in those kinds of projects?

Jasper: There are a lot of artist calls; projects or exhibitions in which you can participate as an artist if you get chosen by a commission for example. I don’t really participate in those projects anymore because the amount of time it costs and the financial benefits are not always compatible in my opinion. But I would advise beginner artists to participate because they challenge you to start thinking outside of your own self made box, which is, in my opinion, a very important aspect of being an artist that you should practice for the rest of your career and life. Non artists should do so as well I believe.

For example, my “artistic partner in crime” and I (together we are working on projects such as designing coral reefs with a company, finding solutions for empty oil rigs together with Shell and TNO, and managing two gallery spaces in Rotterdam) spent an evening thinking of a challenge to put to the people; come up with an invention to catch crayfish in Dutch waterways, which is an invasive species. That’s a project that gives your mind a push in another direction, which is very helpful and refreshing.

But to finally come back to my artist call, it was a project that I was invited to from the Belvedere Museum in Heerenveen. They came up with the brilliant idea to make a special Covid show with small works (the size of a mobile phone, the same for every participant) and turn it into a lucky charm, also called a talisman, to fight off the bad Covid vibe. Those pieces were then displayed and sold for a small price. I myself came up with a mandragora, which has a long and interesting history that I advise the readers to look up on the internet. I changed the seedballs into the well known Covid cells with the spikes.

TUA: Would you say your works are educational?

Jasper: They’re not created with that goal in mind, but if they have that effect for some people then that’s only a good thing.

TUA: Do you have anything to add?

Jasper: For the younger artists studying in art schools; keep on experimenting with an open mind and keep pushing on if you believe in what you do. Being an artist and creating art is not only about being strict in what you thought you found as “your style” and sticking to that. If you like to grow tomatoes then keep on doing that and experiment with it because sooner or later it may become part of your art. When I was in art school I built a surfboard, which I thought at the time stood completely outside of my art and was just a funny side piece until a teacher explained to me that it was part of my work and ideas as an artist as well. It took a long time to see and understand that she was right.