Portrait I | Amsterdam

“My clothes are pretty much always dirty”

The same subtle energy – the energy of colour, of people, of contemporary culture – that pulsates in each of his works is no less noticeable in Michiel Folkers himself as he talks about his work, his inspiration and the world around him. Though Michiel is quick to point out that he’s creating work “that people like to hang in their houses, above a sofa,” commercial art in essence, even a quick glance at his pieces reveals his more underground beginnings. “The creative part in me opened when I was young, spraying graffiti on walls in a small town near Utrecht with a good friend, and that interest always stayed with me.”

“It’s engaging. It’s accessible. And yet, there is still something wonderfully challenging about Michiel’s pieces.”

Michiel’s work is particularly interesting when juxtaposed with most of the contemporary works flooding the market. It’s engaging. It’s accessible. And yet, there is still something wonderfully challenging about his pieces. You recognise the subjects, drawn from pop culture, and your eye is inevitably caught by the vibrant dynamism of his collage, but you “always recognise the streets, that more dangerous part.” And it’s true. There is something dangerous and a little bit incendiary about his work.

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“The problem is I actually really like clothes, but after just an hour in the studio, my clothes are already destroyed.”

For a man so enamoured of colour, it’s curious to note his wardrobe is pretty subdued. In fact, his typical palette lines up almost perfectly with the TAU COTTON colours, which is probably why he actually wears a fair bit of the brand. “The problem is I actually really like clothes, but after just an hour in the studio, my clothes are already destroyed. As soon as I get in there, I want to start right away. My clothes are pretty much always dirty, but I’m trying to get a bit tidier,” Michiel laughs. But even with the threat of paint stains, Michiel says that he usually opts for TAU COTTON or similar brands because they’re casual but quality, a difficult balance to achieve amidst all of the fast fashion these days.

This dichotomous nature seems to characterise Michiel. He adores colour; he wears neutrals. He prefers simple, elegant fabrics with staying power; he creates his art with the disposable, the ephemeral. Many of his subjects puff languidly at dangling cigarettes; he’s quit smoking. He draws inspiration from the grit of the streets; he lives in the countryside, leading a truly bucolic existence. “In art, though it may be a bit of a cliché, contrasts are very important,” Michiel points out, and this certainly extends to the rest of his life. “I really like to have balance.”

And here, I think, is the reason Michiel and his work are so captivating. There is balance and tension in everything he does and everything he creates. It all seems so casually cool, whether it’s an outfit he’s thrown together, an eclectic DJ set or a beautifully frenetic canvas. No matter what it is, you may not notice all of the thought and consideration that’s gone into it. Because he just makes everything look so damn effortless.

Which artists inspire you?

Out of the United States, I really like Kaws, a contemporary artist who also started as a graffiti artist. I have a weakness for artists who have certain links to or roots in the streets. Take Basquiat and Keith Haring in New York in the 80s or Piet Parra and Niels Meulman from Amsterdam for example. But I also adore Picasso and Van Gogh, as well as artists from the Golden Age of Holland like Rembrandt. I never try to copy, but I do draw something from artists I like.

Describe your style

I always call myself an ‘eclectic artist,’ as I’m using tons of different techniques, styles and other things. People know me for my works with cultural icons in them, but I do a lot of different things. In my current exhibition, for example, there are like 18 different styles there. Like six years ago I was photographing, filming, making art, DJing. It’s always difficult for to choose one thing.

Most beloved Amsterdam restaurants? My studio is right near Café Restaurant Amsterdam, so I think I eat there at least once a week usually. I live in Amsterdam Noord, so I often go to De Goudfazant. Skate Café is also good and in Noord. FCA Hyena is a small cinema that puts on outdoor cinema in the summer. I’m really discovering Noord at the moment, and it’s just getting better and better. It’s edgier over there, though I know in ten years it will definitely be more mainstream.

Favourite TAU Cotton pieces? I never really wear bright colours except for swim shorts, and TAU COTTON has a pair of bright pinky salmon swim shorts that I really like for the summer. In the winter, I prefer grey or blue or dark green, and I love the colour combinations they have, so anything in those colours.

Dream spot for your art to hang? It’s a little bit of a cliché, but New York is the best city in the world for art. Most of my work goes to the United States, but I really like New York the best. The band Cypress Hill bought a piece, which was cool, and it’s always good to have someone famous buy something because you get more exposure.

Tell us something unexpected about you: I’m really bad at playing games, though I guess everyone already knows that. But I basically always lose, and it’s always embarrassing. But I still play because of the cosiness.

Words by Hayley Daen | Photographer Michiel Stock | Portrait I of Michiel Folkers