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Interview with Maarten Baas

Interview with Maarten Baas

How would you compare the Maarten aged about 12 to the Maarten of today? Have you been able to realise your dreams?

“Yes, mostly. I can remember being exactly 12 and was asked what I’d like to do when I grow up. Actor or unemployed was my response. Well, I have managed both. When I was a child, I created music, drew, wrote, renovated my room, my bike, my guitar, and whatever else you can think of. I had no idea that you could become a ‘designer’ and I didn’t see myself as an artist because I thought that was just for painters and sculptors. In the end, after my course that the Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE), I became a conceptual artist and the cap seemed to fit.”

What is the most important thing that you learnt at DAE?

“The DAE was always critical of everyone. If that’s your only reference, you have the sense that it’s never good enough. So, the I learnt my most important lesson when I was an exchange student and spent three months at another academy. Suddenly, there was more appreciation for my work and I thought: ‘aha, there are people who like what I’m doing.’ Then I went back to my training at the DAE with renewed self-confidence.”

What was the most important moment in your career?

“CLAY Furniture was the first collection after Smoke Furniture. Even closer to me, even more vulnerable and the first step towards the overwhelming start of Smoke. The fact that the successor was also a hit is more important than the start.”

Alongside talent and creativity, what is important in your work?

“The balance with the practical world. In the end, you need to earn money, the things have to be made, you have to deal with customers and a whole range of other issues. Talent and creativity are like the steering wheel in your car; they’re essential but just a small element.”

What do you hope to achieve with your designs?

“When I see great work by other artists, I sometimes feel an almost physical switch in my head. I can just be going about my everyday life and suddenly, ping, things seem different. Something falls into place or I see something that I’d never seen before. That’s what I hope to achieve with my own work.”

Which labels would you apply to your designs?

“I’m continuously trying to avoid and remove labels. Usually subconsciously, sometimes consciously. The slogan on the front of my studio is: ‘Maarten Baas BV: for all your solutions in the context of art, or actually somewhere between art, design and theatre and also where these disciplines overlap one another or unite in a certain way.’ If someone could come up with a label that’s a bit more succinct, I’d love to hear it.”

Do you consider that a design hasn’t worked if it doesn’t evoke an emotion in people?

“Every designer has his own criteria. For me, function is secondary to what it does to someone. That is why I’m not a real designer.”

You are world-famous and lauded for your work. How nice is it to be Maarten Baas?

“I can recommend it to everyone.”

Job Smeets from Studio Job said, during our interview: “The thirty people who work for Studio Job have my dream job. I have to keep the whole thing running. And that’s not quite as much fun.” Do you have your dream job?

“Yes. And if Job wants to, he can come and work for me. I’ll keep things up and running.”

How are things going with Dutch talent with respect to design?

“It’s all going a bit ‘by the book’ at the moment. You have the Keep an Eye Award for the best kid in the class. There is a great deal of enthusiasm for that and it creates a somewhat respectable atmosphere. That’s why I created the Kick That Ass Award, for talented individuals who are a little more autonomous. There are fewer of those, but they are around.”

Do you see yourself in the role of mentor for the coming generation?

“I have given lessons but I don’t think the academic system works very well. People often come out less confident than when they went in. I’d like to really shake the system up properly, as a head teacher or similar. And also, isn’t every form of mentorship like taking coals to Newcastle?”

What advice would you give to a student who is about to set out on a course at DAE?

“The advice that co-designer Daniel White gave me prior to my exams: ‘Take it seriously’. It helped me.”

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