Half a Dozen Questions with Graphic Surgery

graphic_surgery_13_webGraphic Surgery has been honing their brand of minimalism for quite some time now.  Their bold, simple, and striking marks in abandoned spaces and meticulously crafted work for galleries are increasingly drawing appreciation from patrons and peers.

Recently I sent over a few questions, half dozen to be exact.  GS is a duo of Dutchies, Erris Huigens, and Gysbert Zijlstra.   I sent each the questions independently, and asked them to answer them ‘blindly’ ..a kind of  The Dating Game ,  questionaire, just to see how congruent is the party line.  Turns out…pretty much on target.


Hyland Mather:  You work as a team. How often do you want to strangle each other?

Gysbert Zijlstra:  Well to strangle is a strong use of terms, but as you can imagine we have our different opinions and approaches. Every now and then we disagree, but that is keeping things fresh and on point.

Erris Huigens: 50% wanting to strangle, 50% wanting to hug 🙂


HM: Give us your superhero origin story, where did Graphic Surgery come from? Something a bit more of a story than we met in art school…I know that, but there must have been some moment of epiphany, right?

GZ:  Well the true collaboration started screen printing together during art school, but we really had a lot of fun going out at night and wheatpasting posters on the streets. Nothing serious or aesthetic just fun stuff. The whole internet  sticker and poster community just kicked off, and it felt great to be part of the movement early on.

EH: Living in Leeuwarden, meeting each other while going to similar places to drink, and dance to electronic music. Yes, worldwide there seemed to be an underground buzz going on about being creative outdoor and showing your, early, work outside for everyone to see. It made for a fun combination of drinking, printing, pasting and non-commissioned art adventures…


HM: As if it could get anymore boring than this, but describe what you’re trying to accomplish in your street / non gallery…out in the wild work?

GZ: Nowadays we like to search for remote abandoned places, which are hard to find unfortunately in The Netherlands, and find walls to experiment with in the surrounding environment as a testing playground for ideas. Almost like a graffiti writer would execute a sketch on a wall. It almost never really repeats itself, because it is partly very intuitive and partly quite strict with principals and rules.

EH: A mix of adventure and searching for a very interesting combination between fading architecture and painted architectural and industrial elements. I see most of these paintings as ‘samples’ from our slightly more complex studio/ gallery work. Abandoned places and spaces often don’t ask for more than minimal shapes creating a dialogue with it’s surroundings.

This is our way of combining the fresh, spontaneous aspect of graffiti painting with site specific minimal art. The energy that went in to these pieces adds something mysterious…


HM: How does the out in the wild work differ for you from gallery pieces?

GZ: The work differs in the amount of time spent on it, working outside the gallery limits that and increases the fun of execution actually. You have to play effectively so to speak. And the gallery work is a whole different game, there is a lot factors to be reckoned with. The studio work resembles the things that currently drive and inspire you as an artist, you have certain periods, and all the work that is created in this period sort of relates to each other, whether public art, wall paintings or small studio works. All part of the momentum you’re in as an artist duo. For instance the work in the current show is already a little old for us, we’ve learned so much by doing since, that they become sort of early versions of work we continually keep on digging deeper into.

EH: It is two different aspects of our entire body of work. Both important for us.


HM: More and more I’m fascinated with the tools that are available to artists that work outside of the traditional ‘paint and canvas’ pure pantheon…you know, laser cutting machines, 3d printing, CNC routers…I’ve also seen you guys start to use ever and ever more machine precision in your work.  What tools are you working with?  What role does automation play in the work?

GZ: We have always been working with traditional crafts and graphic arts as well as using digital media and the computer and software for our art.

I (Gysbert) am very interested in the machine like precision of execution by lasercutters, i know Erris also still loves to paint expressively. But i am not that interested in painting on canvas anymore, so from collages to assemblages and sculptures is a whole new dimension literally, a lot of new things to learn and master. You have to become almost as skillful as a carpenter suddenly. So now we also sometimes collaborate with carpenters and steelworkers to develop further.

I never really like to pre-design the work too much, so i prefer to control the lasercutter myself, and manually instruct it the file that was just created prior. Then when all layers are cut we like to puzzle around with the different layers and change the order and determine every piece till satisfaction. Automation is partly there because of the parameters we set up before making work. Certain rules and principles that define the work.


EH: I am also very much interested in that precision and technique. Gysbert controls the laser cutter and I make sure the pieces are assembled, painted and glued together. But, yes, I am also still interested in gestural and expressive paintings. Simply because it is the most direct way of visual expression. It is very honest. In some works we try and incorporate both. That is where the future lies for me. Machine like precision, combined with gesture, a human feel. There are new things to learn and master, but I also very much believe in making use of other people skills to execute future works. From building facades to large scale sculptures.

Also, in the near future I would love to create very direct ‘automated’ painted or collaged works in which me and Gysbert bounce off each other (go “back 2 back”).

We should go deeper into this way of working. Instead of Gysbert doing laser cutting and me assembling and finishing the works.


HM: Let’s say you could do a ‘dream’ project. A project where budget wasn’t an issue and you had say 6 months to do it. What would it be?


GZ: A very large steel ‘intrusive structure’ sculpture out in the public space on a square or in a park, or in the middle of nowhere on rural iceland or something. Or one that literally is on the moon and lighting up with solarcells at night.

Or a mosaic design for a huge square to view from google earth. A tunnel with a concrete basrelief all over, architectural stuff mainly.

Our work is heavily inspired by architecture and construction, so for us it is clear that our work becomes more and more constructed itself.

EH: Let’s look back in about 20 to 40 years. I know this dream project will be realized. Not going to tell you now what this dream project is. One thing I can say is that I am fascinated in creating the ultimate minimal work that sums up all of our work up to that point. I truly believe in less is more by the way.


Alright guys, that’s it.  Thank you both so much for your time.