Even though he’s a successful illustrator with prestigious clients and projects that take him around the world, Jordy van den Nieuwendijk is happiest when he’s teaching at the Royal Academy in The Hague or when he’s walking his dog at the beach. Managing to clear his head at least once a day is always at the top of his priority list.
“Do you like dogs?” Jordy van den Nieuwendijk asks when we enter his apartment in a quiet, but central street in Holland’s governmental capital The Hague. Before I can answer, an excited black terrier starts jumping on my leg. The honest answer is ‘not really’, but it’s hard not to love Jordy’s dog, Bell – named after her birth country, Belgium. Bell keeps jumping and wagged her tail at the arrival of these unexpected guests, but calms down when asked by Jordy. “I’ll have to take her out later today. We go to the beach or the forest at least once a day. It’s an outlet for us both. She can get rid of all this energy, for me it’s a stress relieve.” His apartment is both clean, tidy and warm at the same time. With high ceilings, original ornaments, lots of – mainly art – books and two of his own huge paintings on the wall, this is clearly the home of someone with acquired taste. The laid-back jazz music in the background completes the picture.
This portrait is part of our ongoing collaboration with ZEIT Online who present a special curation of our pictures on ZEIT Magazin Online.
How long have you been living here?
I moved here a couple of months ago with my girlfriend at the time. We were living in a tiny apartment before and really had to get used to all this space and the high ceilings. Our couch seemed enormous in our old home, but here it looks super small! We recently broke up though, so now it’s just me and Bell. I like the fact that The Hague is not too busy and near the beach. I’m quite stressed sometimes, because of deadlines and balancing out my illustration work, teaching and painting. Walking Bell at the beach or forest clears my head. We go out of the city at least once a day.
For people who don’t know you – who is Jordy van den Nieuwendijk?
I’m an illustrator, painter and drawing teacher. My main source of income comes from my illustration work. I work for various fashion and lifestyle brands, like Lacoste and Kitsuné, but also for magazines like Vogue and The Fader. In my free time, I try to paint as much as possible. I recently had an exhibition in Williamsburg, New York. That was pretty amazing. I also went to Paris, to meet with the people at Hermès, who I’m doing a project with. That would be the first time my paintings will have a commercial purpose. I normally paint purely for myself, but I’m willing to make an exception for a brand like Hermès.
What does your teaching work entail?
I’ve recently started teaching drawing class to first year students at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. For me, that’s even more fun than working on illustrations or being featured at exhibitions. Fifty students, who are drawing and doing their own thing in this huge, messy classroom – there’s nothing better than that. Tomorrow I’m going to ask them to make full figure self portraits on the wall. Teaching is so much fun and it’s so inspiring.
How did you become an illustrator?
I studied illustration for four years at the Graphic Lyceum in Rotterdam, where I created an alter ego for myself called Superoboturbo. I had a hard time finding out who I was as an artist, that’s why I decided to create this bold alter ego. He actually became quite successful and I starting getting assignments as this alter ego. After the Graphic Lyceum, I studied Graphic Design at the Royal Academy here in The Hague.
Tell me more about this alter ego.
As I often worked in the same style and color palette, drawing a lot of characters and robots, I decided my real name didn’t really fit this drawing style. Having an alter ego meant I could experiment and work behind a mask. When I noticed that people really responded to it well, it boosted my ego and the whole thing became bigger and bigger. At some point I even started wearing clothes that made me feel and act like I actually was Superoboturbo. The trouble began when I tried to figure out who and what I was or wanted to do at the academy. My alter ego Superoboturbo had exhibitions and assignments, while Jordy van den Nieuwendijk was having the biggest trouble in art school.
As I was failing at the Academy, not showing up, missing deadlines, etc, I focussed more and more on my alter ego. He was becoming the bigger part of me. I became jealous of him as he was successful, while I was struggling in school. So at the end of my studies I decided to kill Superoboturbo.
What, kill your alter ego? How does that work?
Well, my graduation project was the funeral of Superoboturbo. I literally organized a memorial service and burial for friends and family. I made a huge coffin in bright colors and a cross of a three-headed phallus, also featured on stained glass images I made of Superoboturbo. To me it felt like the worst breakup ever, I was really down for a while.
This story needs proof, so Jordy walks to his computer, to look for images of the funeral. “Here,” he says. “This was in the backyard of the academy, where we held the ceremony.” He points at the screen. “This is obviously the phallus, not hard to miss. Someone actually stole it within a week or so.” Sitting behind his computer, showing more of his huge portfolio: “This was my dark period, where I drew a lot of penises. I tend to do that when I’m mad or sad.” Jordy admits his work drive has not always made it easy maintaining relationships. “I prefer to work at night and I’m a workaholic, so that’s not always easy for a partner. It’s quite hard to find a girlfriend that understands my schedule and almost obsessive work drive.”
Were you always popular with the opposite sex?
I noticed at an early age I had a talent for drawing. Even in primary school, I was constantly drawing, which caught the attention from the girls in my class. They loved the fact that I could draw them rabbits. You know that guy that always got the girls’ attention because he was creative and cute? That was me. But in high school I didn’t want to be cute anymore, so I tried to think of the coolest thing you can do with drawing as a teenager, and started doing graffiti.
How did that work out for you?
At first I started tagging, like most people. But I wanted to be original and started working with the same colors and in the same style, under an artist name. I was more interested in painting characters than letters. All the others did letters already. I was quite good at it, I guess. But when I started learning more about artists like Picasso and Matisse at graphic school, I realized I had to do more than just graffiti. So I started drawing.
You said you had troubles adjusting to the rules in school. What do you try to tell your students now?
I try to teach them to not behave like I did at the academy. I was super unmotivated and I don’t want them to be the same. What I do want, is for them to explore the world around them and experiment with their own style. I’ll try to let the students figure out and analyze their personal visual interests, while getting rid of a fear of drawing or the idea that they cannot draw. I try to make them familiar with the basics of drawing and different drawing materials. So they can easily translate ideas to paper. I will introduce them to screen printing and RISO printing this year but most importantly, I want them to enjoy drawing the way I do.
Why do you love painting so much?
Commercial illustration work doesn’t always allow me to work freely. That’s why I need to paint, to express myself. Drawing and painting are not that different, but for me, it’s about having the freedom to work whenever and on whatever I want. No one’s telling me what to paint or when it should be finished. It’s just for me, to explore my own boundaries and expand my horizon.
How can people recognize your work?
Probably through my use of color and bold lines. It wasn’t a conscious decision to mainly work with colored lines, but it just evolved.
Who do you admire?
I think I own about 55 books with the work of British artist David Hockney. He lived and worked in California for a long time. When I first saw his work, I instantly fell in love with his use of colors and shapes. He’s one of the last real art superstars. He does everything himself and has a good sense of humor. He’s a romantic in the style of Picasso, or at least that’s what I imagine. Not someone like Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons, who have whole teams of people working for them. And I highly enjoy the fact that he’s alive and working now, compared to 99 percent of my other heroes that all died decades ago.
So Jeff Koons is not your style?
Well I did go to his show in New York, because I was curious. His work is interesting, but I’m more of the romantic kind. I like artists who worked because they felt an urge, they just had to do it. Picasso for me is the ultimate hero.
Is that also why commercial work is sometimes hard for you?
It’s definitely quite stressful at times. At some point, my work has to be finished for clients. To me it’s not always ready when I hand it in, but it’s also a good thing. Sometimes you just have to let it go. That’s what I like about my free work, I can leave it for a while and pick it up again.
Is traveling also a source of inspiration for you?
I like to travel, but I’m not really adventurous. I usually visit Western cities like New York, Los Angeles, Paris and London, but I should explore the world a little more. Maybe India or Indonesia would be interesting. I always figured I would feel guilty for being the rich tourist visiting a country where many families and kids are struggling to get around. But maybe I could also set up a cool art project there, like painting with the local kids. That would be really cool. For now, I’m pretty comfortable here in The Hague though.
Since Bell is really eager to go outside and we want to see Jordy’s studio, we decide to go out and visit his workplace. “I haven’t been to the studio in three weeks, so it might be messy,” Jordy apologizes. Upon arrival, Bell runs to Jordy’s best friend Julian Sirre, who’s also an artist and he shares the work space with. When we ask if Jordy wants to paint something, he immediately starts cleaning up. “Sure, but I have to clear out this space first. I can’t work when it’s messy.” After moving around some undone paintings and bottles of paint, Jordy looks at the bright white canvas on the wall and starts drawing. Looking at the other pictures on the wall, peppers are Jordy’s latest fascination. “I really like peppers for some reason, I guess because of their shape and bright colors. But do you mind if I don’t answer any questions while I’m painting? I can’t really concentrate when I’m talking.”
Jordy focusses on the white canvas with a super serious face and starts painting the outlines of a large pepper with a big brush. Within ten minutes, the image of a bright red pepper is finished. “It’s not great, but you get the picture,” Jordy jokes. Working in the same space as his best friend has many advantages, Jordy says. “Being an artist can be quite lonely at times. It’s nice to be in the same room with someone who does the same work as you, but who can work in silence with.” The two friends have completely different styles and clients, so there’s never any competition coming on. They also have very different ways of working, Jordy explains. “Julian can look at a piece of paper for hours, before he starts. I normally just start and see where it leads. And he works during the day, while I prefer to work at night. So there are also plenty of occasions when we don’t even see each other.”
Since Jordy works best at night and he’s helping a friend move in an hour, we decide to say goodbye. “Thank you for doing this article,” Jordy says with genuine humility. “It’s sort of an affirmation of the fact that your work matters. I mean, it matters to me, but as an artist you’re always looking for recognition from other people. Otherwise, who are you doing it for?”