Like a lot of art we find these days, we first came across the work of Dutch artist Jeroen Huijbregts on social media. It seemed we had a lot in common, visually at least; similar tastes and shared reference points, which became apparent as we began a dialogue on Instagram and beyond. Loosely speaking, Jeroen belongs to a group of illustrators, artists and graphic designers from around the world for whom social media has been an amplifier of work that previously was refined to an underworld of patches, pin badges and zine swap meets. Platforms like Instagram have provided these artists with a new level of exposure and connected like minds around the world. In the process, it seems there’s something of a new trend emerging for this style of work; it’s bootleg culture at its best. Cartoons, classic comics, sci-fi, and video games merge in Jeroen’s world, always with a wit that is retained from the original reference points, and usually amplified, by mashing these references together with other inspirations. We caught up with Jeroen recently to chat about his work and the culture that surrounds it. Dig it below.
Hey Jeroen, how’s Amsterdam?
Amsterdam is at its best in spring. At this time the people from Amsterdam have the town for themselves, before the tourist explosion erupts. It is a kind of Disneyland here for people over 18.
So you’ve been scribbling for a long time, but you’ve said your artistic career didn’t really start until quite recently. How do you mean?
I was too busy pursuing a career as a graphic designer and was thus much more focused on the customer’s commercial aspect to translate as much as possible to a nice graphic design, and did as much as possible with art directors or the customer himself. Occasionally I was doing a job that came more from myself, but then the customer always had the last word. When I started as a freelancer I was hired by advertising agencies, but I needed an outlet and I started to make more free work, and went looking for a style that I felt good and trusted.
Has your style of work changed much since introducing it to the public eye?
Oh Yes! I finally started to work with colour, using more and more acrylic paint and experimenting with paper.
When did you first start playing around with mash-ups and hybrids?
I wanted to combine logos and logotypes in black and white, and I that concept became increasingly interwoven with comic figures, consisting largely of a black fill-in (e.g. Felix, Spidey’s black suit, etc).
You’ve got a really varied range of reference points – everything from the Black Panthers to Playboy, The Simpsons to Anonymous… where do you look for inspiration? Do you have a filter?
There are a number of fixed elements that I’ll always come back to. I love working with references which I grew up with and always had a fascination for logos and iconography. I’ve been collecting comics for almost my whole life. I watch a lot of movies, I own a huge image database and have quite a good visual memory. I certainly filter, there is a lot of what I find ugly or I’ve simply no sense in.
Did you watch a lot of TV as a kid? Or were you more the hoarding, comic book type?
Both! Not to mention movies! I read as a child and came into contact with the American comics early by an uncle of mine who gave his entire collection of Spider-Man and Hulk to me. My grandfather collected the weekly Donald Duck comic strip where he had a plan for me and had all sorts of Disney classics on 8mm. On TV, I watched Spider-man, Battlestar Galactica, the Hulk and the Dukes of Hazzard. My first feature film was E.T.
In a past interview you confessed it can get hard to balance genius and cheesy. What’s the difference?
It is very easy to stick all kinds of characters on each other, to print it on a shirt and then sell in the tourist shops. I try to bring a little more logic to it. This may be due to the colour, a particular shape or movement. Subtle and clever.
What are your thoughts on today’s bootleg culture?
You can clearly see that since the advent of Instagram, the bootleg culture has boomed. I see brilliant things come past but also a lot of junk and outright rip offs . For people like daywaste, stugazi and especially wthn_mason I have a great respect. They have original work and learn through their creativity and insight to lay down brilliant bootlegs. And thanks to wthn_mason literally a new world opened to me. The world of bootleg culture. He adopted the Marge Monster more or less to screen print it on a shirt, giving me a lot of followers. It is especially good to see that many people are creative.
Why do you think it’s become so commercial?
Hard to say. Producing stickers, shirts, pins and patches is becoming cheaper, and Instagram as social media helps tremendously to plug your creations. Most characters are recognisable to many people and most of the bootleg stuff looks way better than the commercial stuff.
Who’s your favourite character?
Can it be characters? … Spider-Man, Conan, the Hulk and Boba Fett.
Bruce Banner or Peter Parker?
Hugh Hefner or Hulk Hogan?
Smurfs or Simpsons?
What have you got coming up?
A new magazine (Wonderland 2), a booklet with collected works of the past two years, some stickers, I want to make some paintings and would like to be part of a small exhibition (which is an open solicitation). 😉