In advance of the official release of Sebastiaan Bremer – To Joy, which is the latest book to be published by Frame, we caught up with the artist for an exclusive interview about his influences and inspiration, and to find out about his groundbreaking painting technique.

The US-based Dutch artist has a habit of discovering old photos and transforming them through his own artistic intervention, using a technique that he developed in the late 1990s. It came about through his use of photography as a sketch or model and his love of adding, changing, enhancing and – even – entering the picture. Sebastiaan Bremer is currently in Amsterdam for the opening of his exhibition at Galerie Ron Mandos on Saturday 5 September 2015.

What’s your artistic process? What are you inspired by?
Always different. I tend to back into solutions, like sideways glancing. It comes from life, and of course the preceding work. It is an ongoing chaos and I work always, always have. I need to record time it seems. I am inspired by all art and life – hard to draw lines.

How do you select the imagery to work with? Do you use 'found photos'?
All over the place: there is a deep need to feel affinity and connection. It is not arbitrary; it is a need it seems. I never really use found photos – it is always either shot by me or by loved ones – or a clear need to work with the body of work of someone else. And to replicate is silly I feel, then I prefer to work straight on the real thing, as I did with Breitner or Bill Brandt.

As your works often feature family members – like in Avila (2000) and Spetters (2003) – you are obviously confident in opening up this personal side. Does the public usually realise this connection do you think? How much is the background to your works normally revealed?
Not much, until now. The book is an attempt to lift the veil a bit, and when I talk in public I do relate these stories behind the works. Happily, I found that people fathom the meaning often, without me saying it all out loud. I am not sure I am confident about it but I see no other way – and I think other people can identify, even if these people are not known to them. Everyone has parents and siblings and lovers?

In Spetters, it is not only white dots that create the artwork but also inks poured over the image. This altering of the photo changes the atmosphere. Is that your intention, as with the process similarly used in Ilha das Cobras (2001)?
Yes, and it is another way on enhancing the work. I left chance to do a big part: I cannot control the ebb and flow of ink and water on those works, but I cannot improve on nature anyway. I did this since the photos were dominant and not 'open' I thought. I describe this in detail in the book – especially Ilha das Cobras.

The ultimate discovery I would imagine is unearthing an undeveloped stack of family photos. It is really no wonder that the 'freshly printed, brilliant slices of life' that can be seen in Schoener Goetterfunken (2010) (as featured on the book's cover) changed your mood from 'funk' to 'blissful' in the blink of an eye. Is that why you used coloured dots on this series of works? Was that the first time you'd used colour in this way?
Yes, there was a sublime quality to the works I could not 'enter' in my usual way of working up until that time. I realised I did a critique, and modulated the effect of the pictures. I wanted to open them up and explode the power inside, and by creating these marks I felt I would add a dimension to the pictures that would enhance Technicolor quality of the works, and make the people seem dreamily aware of the sublime place and time they inhabited. An ambition I think many people have, to know when you are happy in the moment.

The book To Joy is referred to as an illustrated guide to your imagination and partly a secret journal. When did you decide to share your secrets with the world?
I did not really divulge anything I did not show already in the works – and I am sure my secrets are banal and simple. But I felt that in the studio vistis I do that people get a lot out of this; it is sharing stories – everyone has the same in a way, but we all have a different take on it. I wanted to create the experience of the work in the flesh, and that is done by design, and text.

What about the works in your upcoming exhibition – can you describe them?
Three bodies of work; one – painted straight on antique book pages – a talisman I have had for years, I finally attacked and devoured. I felt it was a perfect vessel for our times, and super simple at the same time. That is a current in the whole show: economy of means. Pictures made with pen, knife, paper. Reduction.

The second is a layer cake of history: I wanted to do the still life/vanitas works, channelling and cutting and slicing Dutch Golden Age and Modernism together, and have the code explode into something new. Intersecting motifs that in the intersections create a new road which I exposed literally by removing the obstacle – the photographic paper – leaving just the paper underneath.

The other works in the show are created on exposed photo paper with no negatives, all drawn from memory and intuition; the eye as camera.

Following the book launch and exhibition in Amsterdam – what’s next on the agenda for you?

Chicago art fair, then Miami Basel, and a new show in New York. I also really want to go to an art residency again but I have to find the time.

Photos courtesy of the artist.


The book Sebastian Bremer – To Joy is available to purchase now; go here to order this large-format book – the first ever detailed analysis of the paintings of this contemporary artist.