Rare Interview with Jan van Rijn on His Subversive Graphic Work
The newsletter pointing to our recent article on Jan van Rijn (1966) is among our most viewed ones this year. In response, we managed to seduce the busy artist into an interview and the absorbing result can be read below.
Also included are images of old and new works which even haven’t been put on the artist’s site yet. At the end of the interview you’ll find some detailed evaluations on his art by colleagues and critics…
1) I tried to do some research on you on the internet but I have to say the info is rather limited. Is this a conscious decision?
It is a conscious decision to some extent. I do prefer to keep my privacy under the cover so you won’t find much personal information indeed. I started publishing my work online in 2005. Non-photographic erotic art is a moderate sized segment and the internet offers a good opportunity for that community of interest.
A lot of sites dealt with the topic and its players over the years, sometimes your work is more present and represented and information is easier to access. But when a site/blog closes down the information goes down as well mostly. I enjoy being in touch with everybody who has interest in the subject and it is easy to get in contact with me through my website.
2) Sorry for me asking because you’ve probably been asked this many times, but are you a descendant of Rembrandt van Rijn?
Van Rijn is an alias referring to the region/place I grew up in and my partially Dutch origin.
3) What sparked your artistic interest for you to become an artist?
Artistic activities run in my family. The smell of oil paint, varnish, flaxseed oil, wet clay and plaster cast, inhaled in strange environments, studios in attics and cellar basements, mystic places full of arcane procedures and mysterious fabrications probably laid the seed.
I became a trained stonemason/sculptor and have been working in this business for more than 30 years now. Drawing and painting even goes way further back than that. I love the moment of creation, the point you realize something comes to life that wasn’t there before.
4) If I am right, as far it concerns your paintings/prints, you work mainly digitally? How is your working process?
I have worked in different techniques, charcoal, dry point etching, experimental combinations with Xerox copies and prints. In general, the pencil drawing is the starting point from where I go to different directions. Most of my latest work is scanned and then enhanced digitally.
Generally I am very interested in techniques that allow certain coincidental effects to manipulate the drawing. I use the pencil drawing like a printing plate in a way. You have all the bones and promising structure, the predisposition, but the print that will descend from it gains more volume, it’s mature and at times has taken astonishing turns.
Working with photos that originate from a pornographic background is a calculated conceptual decision and has become a concept. Even though I do work with exclusively created material and non-porn models at times, I figure that 80 to 90 percent of my work come from that source (porn). There are a couple of practical reasons, but I mainly work with these images because I am looking for an idealizing effect. So, if everything went well, you will find the imagery elevated to an ethereal level, strongly contrasting the bluntness that shows through the makeup of the original photo, visualizing the shifting powers between object and desire, and revealing the fact that phoniness holds truth. Therefore, it seems essential to me that a scene may be recognized as a performance or pose of porn. The authenticity of the model is essential. Although it is, in most cases, not meant to be a portrait, it always is an expression of adoration, a superelevation of the pose and its appearance that, due to its inscrutable nature, mysteriously affects the viewer, and so, at times, might even carry traces of religious faith and divinity.
5) Who (or what) has had a significant influence on your work?
Sexuality is, viewing my artistic work over the years, the strongest and most constant creative impetus. It is interesting to see how this subject kept artists engaged over the periods of times. From the very early cultures, ancient advanced civilizations, Japan, the Gothic age, Renaissance – the Classic Modern period is looking at these roots, and contemporary figurative art is looking at the classic moderns.
Japanese art in general is very fascinating to me. A highly elaborated content melted into sophisticated craft skills. There might even be a kind of spiritual kinship when it comes to the terms of passion, devotion and persistence.
It was a great pleasure for me to work with the Japanese artist Aoi Kotsohiroi on one of my book projects and getting fan post from Japan, or even better, selling an art piece to a collector there makes me actually feel a little honored every time.
7) What are your thoughts on censorship?
I haven’t experienced it. It is pretty clear to me that explicit art is not everybody’s cup of tea. We live in a flood of pictures and cheap sexual content is howling at you abundantly. Therefore I have no problem that art with strong sexual content has restricted rules for exhibition. But I strongly believe that the freedom of art is above everything, as provocative and politically incorrect the subject matter might be.
8) Do you think there’s enough attention for the more daring erotic art such as yours?
A publisher working in this field for several decades told me he perceived a certain reawakening prudery, despite the enlightenment and ease of our times. I am not sure. The traditional print magazines and publishing houses definitely seem reluctant. Dian Hanson from Taschen told me years ago that their sex art books don’t sell nearly as good as their sex photography books.
On the other hand you have a rising number of Graphic Novels some of them do touch the erotic section and I noticed with great delight that my fellow artist Apollonia Saintclaire was able to fundraise enough means to produce her fourth Art Volume just this month. So I guess there is an audience for the ones like us, if you manage to activate it.
9) On your testimonial page there’s this reaction from Menshealth.de. Was this some kind of rejection?
Yes it was, but I don’t blame them. These magazines try to find a way but they became a sorry sight over the years if you compare them to the big league issues of the 60’s and 70’s. But of course – where is the audience willing to buy printed media?
10) We could hardly find any places where your work is offered. How can collectors obtain your prints?
My work is available through me and my site only. Sending around original artwork is always a little risky and costly. As brief and limited the contact with a buyer might be, it has a favorable effect for both parties.
11) What are you working on at this moment?
I started to combine text and illustration some time ago and have managed to publish a couple of art books in limited editions over the last years. I’ve been working with authors of various backgrounds. They contribute short erotic prose or poetry that goes along with my drawings.
This year I just finished a very special project about the work of Joyce Mansour, a literary Call and Response with four contemporary authoresses. A beautiful large sized Coffee Table Book, with Japanese binding.
At this very moment we are about to release a collaboration of different visual artist and authors on the subject of Jean Genet’s Notre Dame des Fleurs. It is the most extravagant project I have pursued yet. I am absolutely looking forward to seeing this book becoming real after years of work. It was very time consuming and I am now looking forward to getting back into my drawings again.
The two following questions and replies are taken from an offline interview with the artist by Carmenica Diaz in May 2013…
12) There is a sublime simplicity to your work which, balanced by the stark draughtsmanship, makes the work leap out at the viewer. Where do you get inspiration from?
The motifs and scenes I depicted do not emanate out of my psyche, like inner visions. I work with and from photographs. So it’s a rather impressionistic approach. The act of drawing is an act of examination and like an entomologist, who by picturing a new species, is trying to understand how this creature works and effects, I strip down everything that seems distracting. Sometimes I do exaggerate, blow up, add or change details to clarify the nature of “the creature”. Then, in case if all went well, it lies heightened and divine like a gem in a jewelry box. The transformation into a non-photographic image works like an amplifying filter and for me, turns mortality into timelessness.
13) What led you to the sexual elements within your work? Again, where does the inspiration for those scenes come from?
Sexuality is, viewing my artistic work over the years, the strongest and most constant creative impetus. Above all stands the female physique. I cover different sexual varieties because I find them attracting and they really spur me on. But I am not depicting scenarios, sequences or storylines. To work that way would require a well elaborated set of stereotyped figures and stereotypes are not what I am interested in. I am drawn to physiognomic details, the spectrum and range of forms and limbs, anatomical variety. That makes it impossible for me to work out of my imagination. The only parts of the body I regularly stylize are hands; and the hair that often turns into embellishing ornaments. Everything else is what I find and it adds persona to the nakedness. Creating strength even in imperfection or distress.
Additionally, some evaluations on Van Rijn’s work by several art critics and colleagues…
“Jan van Rijn has a very distinctive style- taking more standard erotic model poses and rendering them in an exaggerated and sexually corpulent fashion. There are no anorexic waifs here- the bodies are fleshy, the breasts are pendulous, there are curves, and a tangible substance to these figures to digest. The nudes that van Rijn depicts are unashamedly sexual and they glance out at the viewer with knowing, suggestive, or sultry eyes. His figures seem to revel in their exhibitionism and wantonness. The moments he captures are not static- in the same way that they convey physical substance, the viewer understand they are looking at just a moment out of some larger event, almost like a photograph. His erotic drawings cover straight aspects of sexuality, but then also stray into more fetishistic iconography- high heels, long nails, lingerie, bondage, piercing, and transsexuals. The style of van Rijn’s erotic art is very graphic- just black, white, and grey. While these images may at first seem bold and simple, they are anything but. The quality of the lines and shading is very deliberate and technical- the detailed layering of fine lines in the hair, the lips, and the nipples specifically but also the every so careful rendering of the delicate female and male folds. And the drawings which push the distortion of angle and view, or where the body seems to expand to fill every crevice of the canvas- this attention to detail and keen eye is where the work becomes art.” (Kayla Freedma)
“…his drawing skill is quite remarkable and raises the issue of what erotic art can achieve when talent is matched with an eye for the sensual detail. You detect traces of Klimt, Schiele and Bellmer in the work but he has transcended these sources and elevated the genre. One is impressed with the fleshy weight of the breasts, the attenuation of pulled nipples; his attention to detail in rendering cunt lips, pisshole and puckered anus without resorting to the ridiculous visual hype of the fantasist. Injecting a remarkable power into his compositions by the foreshortening effects he employs; looking steeply up the thighs or from over the models head. There is a wonderful ambivalence to his women; at once alluring in their demure provocations, yet menacing in their state of enervated sexual nausea, with over-heavy mascara masks of the vamp whose powers are on the wane…” (Glenn Ibbitson – Fine artist)
“I can see the problem the others have with your work. It’s very pretty, very elegant, nearly like fashion illustration, but fully explicit.” (Dian Hanson from Taschen)
Thanks a lot for you taking the time Jan, and sharing your views on erotic art!
You can visit Van Rijns’s site for more of his seductive females!
Click HERE for our earlier article (new images included!) on Van Rijn…!!
Did you enjoy our interview with Jan van Rijn? Leave your reaction in the comment box below….!!