Dirk Kruithof is a Sydney artist whose work really zinged my eye the first time I saw it. I was struck by the raw emotion coming off the, I loved their Punk skin. There was a directness which lay over (or under) the layers of possibly poetry's in the works – a directness that called for a response by city dwellers to their urban environment, just as Kruithof responds to his. It was real.
Prior to Kruithof’s first solo show in a while – ‘City of Illusion’ at Chrissie Cotter Gallery on April 6, I asked him six questions.
John Hardaker: Dirk, your work strikes me as being highly reflective of your environment, with signs and buildings and graffiti-like scrawls, the urban environment.
Dirk Kruithof: That’s a pretty accurate reading - A big part of my work has that urban environment theme going on: I go for walks around my area (Darlinghurst) and surrounding suburbs and get ideas for paintings - sometimes I’ll take a photo or 2 to remember ideas, or I just see things and keep it in my mind ‘til I get back home to paint. Something as simple as liking the combination of textures and colours on a wall that’s been graffitied, or seeing a real-estate sign with ludicrous text like: ‘Exclusive authentic warehouse living, only $900,000.’ This sparks many ideas for me. I take this everyday imagery which I then recycle and recombine in my paintings. If I wanted to sound more pretentious I could describe myself as a Flaneur, wandering poetically around the city getting inspired. I ofter find physical material on these walks too, boards, paint, canvases etc on the street which I take home to use. So thematically and physically it all comes from the street, images and materials, which is a neat little circle. Hey I may even get a grant going with that angle.
The other element to the work (which still relates to the urban environment) is that I use consumerist symbols - (bar-codes, QR codes) and icons from online and social media. They all become architectural elements I use to ‘build’ the painting.
JH: Would you say it has a Pop sensibility - are you heavily influenced by Pop artists past and present – or are you reacting as an individual set of eyes, ears and nerve endings?
DK: I’ve described my work as Abstract-Pop/Post-grunge/Signwriter Expressionism (!!) and yes I owe quite a debt to Pop Art. Perhaps the more messy or anarchic American and European pop artist have influenced me: Kippenberger and Polke, Rauschenberg, Wool, Basquiat and earlier artists like Schwitters. I share the same love-hate relationship to culture and advertising that Pop has, plus the use of text. The collage technique of taking things from here and there – hoarding and re-combining images is a classic Pop technique, all the way.
I feel like I’m increasingly ‘commenting’ in the work now, analysing or critiquing these things that I’m taking from here and there.
JH: There seems to be anger among the playfulness in your work. What makes you angry?
DK: The anger in my work and in particular in this show ‘City of Illusion’ is mostly to do with the stresses and frustrations of daily city life, often related to how expensive or restrictive things are (that’s Sydney for you). Perhaps my heckling, griping or gonzo commenting is more a quizzical or bemused confused anger than rage. To give an idea: in this show there’s a painting called ‘Big bad rent tiem’ (pretty self-explanatory really!). Another that has ‘Billion dollar sunset over re-development city’ written on it, and another ‘Connect, complain, entertain’ which is like an inspirational/motivational quote for cynics.
Another piece ‘Welcome to Sydney’ is an oblique comment on the anti-culture sentiment Sydney seems to be undergoing - lock out laws and noise complaints. In that painting I’ve used beer-bottle tops for a frame.
I’m railing against what appears to be the increasing attempt to tame this cities vibrancy. I think we should have an event called ‘Art Year’, art all year round, every year. One viewer said of my work ‘It’s political but I’m not sure what It’s saying’. I like that ambiguity too. I hope I’m not preaching too much in the work. Ultimately the painting has to work as an interesting image, regardless of my intentions of meaning. The anger is a bit of a front or persona I like to exploit in my work too, I’d like to be the Mark E Smith of painting.
JH: You told me that someone viewing your work once said you should have been a signwriter. Why the text?
DK: Ha ha, yes that’s right! Some of the work in this show I’ve stripped right back to painting just text and nothing else so they are kind of ‘signs’. Why text? Well I can’t be the ONLY contemporary painter not using text!!! But I’m allowed to because I invented text-art back in the year 2000 at art school. Seriously though, being a huge fan of serial texters Basquiat and Christopher Wool really influenced my work. Also whilst studying I became interested in the work of Adam Cullen who would often have bits of text sprayed alongside the creepy figures in his paintings - seemingly unrelated text and image that you’d then create your own connection between.
Sometimes he’d use a quote or a song lyric or title, something out of context against the image. I really liked this strange collage-like effect, it was kind of like the text was a separate disembodied voice commenting on the image at times. These influences as well as advertising and now increasingly social media, where you get bombarded with things like a picture of a sunset or rainbow with some inane inspirational/motivational quote over the top. This combination of things has got me hooked on persevering with making my own word pictures.
JH: Dirk, is your show at Chrissie Cotter a significant one for you?
DK: Yes this show is significant for me, it’ll be my biggest show to date. I ’m really looking forward to getting my new work out there and getting everyone’s feedback. I’m building on artistic themes and momentum that has been slowly gathering for me over the past 5 years or so. I participated in ‘The Other Art Fair’ in Sept last year and this is my first show since then, and my first solo show in 2 and ½ years so I’m rearing to go.
Chrissie Cotter is a great gallery because it’s a large community-minded space and is not probititively expensive like so many art galleries in inner Sydney.
JH: What can we expect to see at CITY OF ILLUSION at Chrissie Cotter?
DK: ‘City of Illusion’ is the culmination of several years’ work exploring the theme of the urban environment, about 25 mixed media paintings in all, many of them using recycled/reclaimed for found materials. A few of the works feature the use of textas/markers but mostly acrylic paint, oils and enamels are the mediums used. A large number of the works feature extensive use of words and bright colours. There will be a short live music performance on opening night, and drinks. All works for sale reasonably priced. Everyone welcome. Mention ‘Art Month’ and you can pay double for any artwork.
6th April - 17th April 2016
Chrissy Cotter Gallery, Pidcock Street, Camperdown
Gallery Hours: 11am - 4pm Thursday to Sunday