09 February 2020
‘The King’s stamp is my worst-earning job ever’
Quote hung out for afternoon in the studio of the artist, designer and performer. “The last purpose of spending money – I think – is to get money back.”
There is a small wonderland in a warehouse in Tilburg. A studio, a playground of color and shape, a kick against gray life. It is sung by Nina Simone, by James Brown, on a radio that clearly wants nothing to do with death. A quiet house is terrible, says Job Smeets (50), who walks around quietly on the trumpeting of Papa’s got a brand new bag.
He wears a bowler hat, sunglasses with yellow glasses and lights a cigarette. In the corner is a grotesque chess set, cheerful and dark, with children’s candy colors and bombed-out towers. Ahead a dove that spreads its wings like an eagle.
Here, a Swarovski disco ball with 500,000 crystals. There, a bronze fountain that cannot spout, but drips. “A lot of hassle for a broken tap.”
Smeets has been floating between art and design for twenty years and has put his chair on the world stage. He now lives in Milan, the capital of design, but returns regularly to walk through his studio as a director. He misses it when he is in Italy, as if he left his lover home alone. “Or does that sound strange?”
Another cigarette, a cloud of smoke. “The work in the studio all has something to do with each other, but I don’t know exactly what. Life, I think, the years. “We throw in a word: it seems bombastic. “No, I don’t like that word. Unless it’s intended to be carnivalesque, like a fanfare. I think it’s rather dramatic, spectacular, overwhelming, a lot of information, not clear at all, maybe bullshit, maybe genius. I have become very good at this, but I don’t know what this is exactly. This is this. A kind of tiny simultaneous society, in which nothing is what it seems. Half a dream, a nightmare now and then. Coffee?’
His head is an effervescent tablet of ideas. Job Smeets founded his own company in the late nineties: Studio Job. “I made things that no one asked for. The worst marketing ever. It started with icons, such as a coffee pot, or a shovel, cast in bronze, making it unusable. There was no market for that, people thought it was strange. But other designers, who took the safe route, were also certain. You will be trained to make something, to knock on the door of Philips, and to hope that your product will be sold. Then you earn on the royalties. That model is doomed to die because there are too many designers and if your product doesn’t sell well, it will be taken off the shelves immediately. Then you have worked for free for six months. In short, there is no dry bread to be made in it. I saw that twenty years ago. I thought: a prototype is a unique piece, so it could also be a work of art. That’s how I turned simple icons into my own haute couture. ”
Smeets was discovered by the Groninger Museum as the founder of art design. “Nice, because you need a helping hand. It doesn’t help when people call you a jerk all day long. “And he went abroad, along with Nynke Tynagel, his wife and art partner at the time, to sell the first works to a gallery in Milan. “I remember very well that they threw the money on the table in cash and that we got back on the plane with 30,000 guilders in our pockets. We couldn’t, but we weren’t caught. “He got on magazine covers and got a foothold in America. “I worked for years with Galerie Moss, a famous design gallery in New York. That has helped me a lot. If a European spends ten euros, an American spends a thousand dollars. ”
Smeets continues to walk through the studio. “You know, designing an interior is like writing a symphony. It evokes emotion, just like music. “And there may be a false note in there. “I can make something ugly, but it must also be one hundred percent ugly. Not half the battle. “He stops at the royal stamp of Willem-Alexander. Studio Job was allowed to design it. An honorary position. “You’re a dick if you say no, so I got to work. But I had to give in a lot, plan for six months and meet five hundred times. I don’t like endless bullshit. “The stamp was printed over 40 million times and sold for one euro each. “But I hardly left a cent. It’s my worst-earning job ever. ”
In his early days he had to squeeze every dime, but the choice for the higher segment, in which his work flew out of the studio for several tens of thousands to tons, worked out well. He shrugs. “Money is not dirty or tasty; it is a tool. Five euros is a plank, a hammer, a brick. You need it to make something, you know? I would never buy stock from it in my life. ”
He was advised that by his accountant. “I was best off buying and renting properties for a good return. Or stocks, huh? What kind of stupid system is that? I wanted to spend my money, buy a beautiful work of art, so that I was stimulated every day. But no, wrong, I had better give it to a stock exchange wizard, who made figures from my pennies, to return after half a life with full wheelbarrows. Quatsch. I think the last purpose of spending money is to get more in return. ‘
He knows the stories of famous artists like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst who earn big and then drive into a hole. He also gives his views on money and artistry, his agreement with Quote 500 members, why Donald Trump would be a fantastic artist, what his magnum opus will look like and much, much more.