Jeroen Erosie's transition from disenchanted art school graduate to prolific contemporary artist has been a unique one. After spending several years immersed in graffiti, Erosie went on to ply his trade to an array of other mediums, with text, stickers and traditional mural-based work finding their way onto the Dutchman's broad palette. Recent years, however, have seen Erosie finding a new audience, courtesy of his work as the designer behind 3024, the label helmed by long-term friend and DJ/producer Martyn.
The fact that Erosie himself describes his own work as reactionary suggests that there's something important going on behind the bright colours and intricately crafted letters. His works are often politically and socially motivated, and range from the relatively minimal to the elaborate and grandiose. As a freelance illustrator bound to client's expectations, Erosie's other work is his outlet to say the things he can't say otherwise. In talking to the artist, RA's Matt Unicomb found it clear that Erosie's belief that "artwork should say something about the viewer and the way it's viewed too" isn't just idealism. And while his poster for our RA X party in Sao Paulo later this month isn't a social commentary (we think), it does reflect yet another side to Erosie's talents. A mere street artist, he isn't.
When I started to do graffiti around 1992 or 1993, music and art had started to become linked in a way. By the time I started actually doing it, I was already really into graffiti, just from looking at it like a tourist. I think by 1986-1987 it really became noticeable, and started popping up everywhere. To me, as a kid, it really linked a number of elements: it was outside, and it had an edge to it with all these angry characters, colourful shapes and letters. The combination of this, along with its illegality was really powerful. Once you make an image or an icon, even though it's similar to doing graffiti or a tag, it becomes a different method. This opens up a lot of possibilities, because I started doing the stickers and posters afterwards.
I don't see myself as a street artist, I see myself as a visual artist. It's very important to make that distinction. My name kind of suggests I have this street art background, but it doesn't mean that it's the only way you can look at my work. I try to always avoid the term. I cannot deny that it's already a "thing" and that it's very much linked to a certain way of working. The problem is that I was a street artist before the term "street art" came about. I never called it street art. The weird thing is that it's something that people used to do, and now it's called street art. These days, people start doing "street art," so it's the other way around. It became something that you can easily be a part of, and this became much more important than the actual reason for doing it. When something doesn't have a name, there's a much more personal, clear, real and honest reason to do it.
Working with text is obviously very different from working with visuals. But the weird thing is, text is visual. If you type a letter, it's an image. In that sense, there's a link between doing these more conceptual text-based pieces, and very outgoing and elaborate drawings. Both are reactionary. But the text-based work is more reactionary and linked to human communication. The text work is a more conceptual way of doing things—you can think about it, talk about it and explain it.
I only did the bicycle drawings for one or two years, around 2003-2004. They made a big impact, but I quit doing them very deliberately, because I realized that they were getting popular and I needed to decide whether or not I was going to continue doing them for another couple of years, or leave it there and try other things. Even these days it's like, "There's Erosie, the guy that did the bicycles." But I've done so many other things.
The bicycle was both a drawing and a tag. In a way, it was a very pure way of doing a tag, very fast, illegal and in one stroke. It was an elemental way of drawing, too: just one line. This was a visual way to deal with frustration. [The local government] were cleaning my home city. They removed the old poles people used to attach their bikes to, because it would block the way of the people shopping in the street. They wanted everything clean and organized—you weren't allowed to just park your bike in the street, you had to use the designated bike racks.
[The 3024 artwork] has changed a lot over time. The artworks for the first releases were kind of like a visual way of describing the track titles. There was the thing with Velvet / Twenty Four, so there's counting in the comic, which is like an outtake from a larger story. With the Vancouver release, there were these drawings on the sleeve, which were based on a personal story of Martyn's from when he was at the Vancouver airport. The artwork was linked to this very personal thing, so it could not be read and understood by just anyone.
You have these labels that have these very distinct designs, so the artwork on every record they put out is similar to the last one—but with a different number—because they want to be recognized. If you listen to one of Martyn's DJ sets, you'll notice that, with each track, the general sound changes, so, within a set, there are a lot of different sounds. I think this is similar to my way of working with different projects, not wanting to be pinned down by one label or another. If Martyn and I think about it, it's something we both relate to. I'm completely non-musical, and Martyn is not that much into the visual side, but we have a similar approach to how you position yourself within the things you do. And the label itself reflects that attitude, because it's changing over time. The only thing that stays the same is the logo.
I used the RA poster for the RA X party in Sao Paulo to shine a different light on my own process. I like to challenge myself making different things for different occasions. I did three drawings with ink and a brush, straight onto a poster, just as I would do with a mural. I did it on a transparent paper, so I put the second drawing on top of the first, and then drew again, and did the same with the third. So each drawing is reactionary.
I knew it would be silkscreen, so, of course, you can change the layers around—it's interchangeable. I really like the way that the technical process determines the form, because you get the overlapping of the colours, and you get all these unplanned and accidental colours and shapes. It's a give and take between technical process and my visual side of the story.
As part of the festivities, we've commissioned ten of our favourite designers to make a limited-edition screen-printed poster for one party in the series. With only 75 made available to the public, you can be sure that you're one of the only people on your block with this unique piece of art. Purchase one exclusively via the event listing on RA.
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