Constructing the future 

There are three types of artists, according to Jeroen Graus. The first kind is of the most individualistic expression. What the viewer thinks, or whether there are any in the first place, is of no interest to the artist. Artistic gratification is what matters most. The second kind, which most artists are nowadays, appreciates their audience. They want their audience to experience something. What that something is doesn’t matter, as long as the viewer is able to form their own interpretation of the work. Jeroen Graus subscribes to the third group; artists who do want to convey something, who want to present another perspective. Some art critics turn their noses up at this, but it doesn’t bother him. He pursues his vocation from his own ‘mechanism’.

Not that the drawings by Jeroen Graus are that easy to fathom. On the contrary. They are not abstract, but have little to do with realism. Surrealism perhaps. Humans are depicted, albeit creatures resembling the human form. Sometimes only on top because underneath is a tree trunk ending in roots. And sometimes they float in the air. We see creatures chained to DNA strings and USB flash drive plugs sticking out of heads or other body parts. A kind of contemporary Hieronymus Bosch (also called Jeroen Bosch in the Netherlands)? ‘Yes, I see the parallels,’ Jeroen agrees, tucking in to a Bossche Bol (a chocolate eclair and local speciality in Den Bosch) on his 48th birthday. His art is loaded with symbolism, as is his namesake’s.

The creatures move across fascinating tableaux, at times accompanied by placards on the wall or a signpost in a street with enigmatic hints, like ‘System Change Rebooth’ or ‘Predict Control All’. This enigma is present in Hieronymus Bosch’s work too. Art historians can explain this in great detail. In Jeroen’s case, only he can explain it. When asked, he is quite willing to do so, but the art experience should arise primarily from wracking your brain with the question: what does this all mean? Just as Jeroen wracked his brain to find the appropriate symbols for his work.

Unlike Hieronymus Bosch, with his moral images, devils, and angels, Jeroen Graus’ story is not so easily told. ‘I’m still searching for the complete story by drawing elements of it, so to speak. That’s why I prefer to draw rather than paint.’ Once he’s in a ‘flow’ he doesn’t want to be hindered by the practical questions of which paint or colour to use or other hold-ups. The thoughts come naturally via his pencil on to the paper. Sometimes that is the small A5 format, but he’s completely at home with a 400 x 180 centimeter format too.

Fundament

One symbol reoccurs in almost all the tableaux. A square. If you rotate the square by 45 degrees, you can place a hemisphere on either side, so you end up with a heart shape. But the symbolism goes deeper. ‘The square symbolizes what I call the ‘fundament’ or the ‘mechanism’; the inner voice everyone has but sometimes doesn’t pay enough attention to. They don’t listen to it because they’re distracted by their surroundings or are not sufficiently aware of their inner self.’ It symbolizes one’s own motivator which everyone ought to pay attention to. This is particularly poignant in a world full of technology.

‘I think my work is easy to understand if you understand the symbol in the current status quo, Jeroen says. The themes of how the status quo is represented in the year 2017 are what his drawings deal with. After graduating from the Royal Academy of Art The Hague in 2006, the main theme was ‘privacy’. In the meantime, other themes have been added: artificial intelligence, robots, how people change under the influence of technology, how robots take over multiple brain functions; allowing space for a new kind of human being, more creative maybe, more well-rounded perhaps.

When you see an apple in a Hieronymus Bosch painting, you’re looking at the symbol of good and evil and you know it’s about Adam and Eve. But Jeroen Graus sees the apple as a sign of curiosity. That throws a whole new light on the banishment from the Garden of Eden. Obedience is no longer sacrosanct. Only curiosity ensures humankind’s survival in the fast-changing, technological world of today and tomorrow. Technology is the overriding theme. The stone axe is replaced by the smartphone.

Books by Kevin Kelly with titles like What technology wants are an important source of inspiration for Jeroen. ‘Technology influences everything and that may appear to be a process of coincidences, but it is inevitable; we can do nothing to stop it.’ As the world becomes ever more technical, people cannot cope with it emotionally. Artists can help them with that. Jeroen’s starting point is intuitive and he uses his imagination while drawing to give shape to that which has not yet been visually represented. Consequently, an image is finally created of a not yet known but inevitable future.

He tries to envision a future viewed from another perspective, not just visually but emotionally. With him art is all about the experience. But not without commitment. His drawings form a project, work in progress, and he calls the project ‘Fundament of Construction’. Now you see a cathedral, then a kind of urban landscape like a hugely enlarged motherboard from an old computer. You see the influences of Robbie Cornelissen, Rik Smits, Laurie Lipton, Kris Kuksi, Atelier van Lieshout, and the etchings by Piranesi. However, the function of the landscapes in Jeroen’s work doesn’t actually differ from that of Hieronymus; a place to put allegorical representation.

Construction

The word ‘construction’ doesn’t refer to architecture. ‘Construction’ stands for a reality constructed from a remix of technological objects, figures from classical antiquity or the bible, constructed symbols and the human form. In the drawings in the project, the present, past, and future merge chaotically with each other.

The ‘fundament’ is the square which symbolizes the DNA from which the ‘construction’ grows. The genes in the DNA, in themselves neither good nor bad, determine the discrepancies between people who are all able to exist thanks to their own ‘mechanism’. Anyone can discover what their ‘mechanism’ within the Construction is, through life experience and inner wisdom. Such a discovery can be intense, as witnessed by the radiation beam hitting one of Jeroen’s figures straight in the chest (Devotees no 15). That may look scary and reprehensible but the opposite is true. Whosoever discovers their own mechanism in such a way, in doing so, discovers their own personal wisdom and insight as a source of joie de vivre and harmony. ‘Discovering the mechanism is not only important spiritually; it is primarily a ‘tool’ and a piece of ‘mental equipment’ to give your existence direction and something to build on.’

A mystical experience like this, intense or not, doesn’t just happen out of the blue. It is preceded by life experience; pain and struggle, failure and defeat, success. The onion is one symbol of this. An onion has a core surrounded by many layers. Everyone’s ‘mechanism’ is at the heart of the onion, so to speak. The layers symbolize the experiences – conflicts, experiments, good and bad fortune in life – that everyone has to go through to discover their own mechanism.

In one of his drawings, a Fundament of Construction sketch, Jeroen depicts a kind of biker with his hair flapping about and wearing virtual reality glasses. The two rear-view mirrors are replaced by onions.  (Guardian no 12). Apart from the huge entertainment value, virtual reality has delivered a ‘new language’, a new perspective on the world and on humankind. Humanity will always need to redefine itself.

Therefore, a standard human is not ‘what their status quo is’ but ‘what their status quo should be’ in this new era. That is an important focus within Jeroen’s topic: new digital realities such as virtual reality can be regarded as enriching our lives with unlimited new possibilities, but inevitably, truly changing our sluggish, somewhat ‘outdated’ physical lives.

Jeroen Graus’ vision is fundamentally optimistic. When everyone knows how to live from their fundament, their own ‘mechanism’, and technology has freed up our minds for new forms of communication, society will continue to grow towards a better functioning world: one in which different cultures and diverse religions live side by side in harmony, without the never-ending battle for domination. Jeroen Graus does have something of the preacher in him, as did Hieronymus Bosch. However, Jeroen Graus’ prophesy is much more fascinating.

text J. Halkes

video teaser Fundament of Construction –  copyright Jeroen JJ Graus 2013