After interviewing much beloved artists like Futura, Ed Templeton, Vincent van de Waal and Nicolas Karakatsanis, I knew there would have to come a time I had to sit down with the man whose art is actually featured the most in both the KNOTORYUS offices and our private home.
A streetwear, pop, skate and sneaker culture favourite, Pieter Janssen aka Parra -originally meant as short for 'paranoid', a moniker he allegedly received from Patta co-founder Gee back in the day, for being a bit too on edge about getting onto certain parties' guest lists - is one of our contemporary artists with the most output in the entire world. In the first 5 months of 2015 alone, he has released a new clothing collection, made the in 2014 founded company 'Tired' he started with Skate Mental's Brad Staba the funniest and most genius thing in recent skateboarding history, recorded and dropped the first ever Instagram album (including nine 15 second animated videos) with his band Le Le, is being celebrated with a huge retrospective in Rotterdam, plus created brand new original work for solo shows both in New York and now at KNOTORYUS' favourite art spot, ALICE Gallery in Brussels.
The most compelling thing about it all is : the 39-year old Dutchman makes it look so goddamn easy. "How come no one did /thought of this before?" is a fair question that could spring to mind when you take a look at any of Parra's endeavours. But you know who else provoked those same thoughts? Marcel Duchamp. Roy Lichtenstein. Andy Warhol. Juergen Teller. Hedi Slimane -it looks like a simple chelsea boot, but is it really?
The fookin' Beatles.
So when ALICE Gallery owners, Alice and Raf, casually sent me the announcement of "Salut' by Parra, they knew very well their invitation would be answered with a 'could you please please please hook me up with an interview?'.
A couple of days before the actual opening, Alice -who has said the words "Yeah, but don't worry, Dominique is cool." to more people than I can ever thank her for- sent me a mail with : "Piet is not that into interviews, but just drop by the gallery at 4 to say hi and we'll see how it goes."
At 5 past 4, Parra walks in, takes a little bow when he introduces himself, which immediately prompts me to bow even deeper, after which he goes "oh no, no, no" and a couple of minutes later we find ourselves perched on the stoop outside the gallery.
The sun comes out and we have this chat.
('No More Sad' 2015, Ecoline on paper, currently on view at ALICE Gallery)
KNOTORYUS : Amazing work you have in there. How gorgeous is this gallery as well, right?
Parra : Thank you so much! Yes, this is a beautiful space.
KNOTORYUS : All new work?
Parra : All brand new. For every show I do, I make a point of creating all new work. I did a show at Jonathan Levine Gallery in New York recently as well. And the Rotterdam retrospective was actually something that came up in between planning these two exhibitions. No new work there of course, but a lot of turning my house upside down and calling all my friends asking them if I could loan their stuff that I made.
KNOTORYUS : How do you come up with the theme for these new shows? How do you get ideas for paintings?
Parra : Oh, it's a whole thing I have to go through : drawing, trying things out, hating it, binning, self-doubt, but also cracking myself up and thinking that I'm all that. The works. My dad who is an artist as well, (Dutch painter and sculptor Willem Janssen) works so differently. He can sit in front of a blank canvas for two days waiting for a big idea to hit him. Not me.
KNOTORYUS : Do you have to dig really deep while working?
Parra : Absolutely. It's a process.
KNOTORYUS : I'm really happy that you immediately mentioned your father, since I found this amazing painting he did of Ghostface Killah.
Parra : He did one of Public Enemy as well. I asked him to make me those, but the art he actually makes is completely different. He did a great job with my commissioned 'Supreme Clientele' and P.E. paintings, though, and I still have them at my house.
KNOTORYUS : Did you inherit your sense of humor from him?
Parra : I don't think so. My dad is a lot more serious than I am. I think my sense of humor and the jokes that you sometimes find in my paintings and drawings was something I cultivated early on with my skater friends when I was a teenager.
KNOTORYUS : The works you made for this show are not so much on the funny side, though. What I do find really consistent throughout your work, especially your paintings, sculptures and drawings is this particular mix of pondering and tenderness.
Parra : (Goes quiet.)
KNOTORYUS : Did that sound weird?
Parra : No, not at all. I think that's actually really beautiful of you to say. And you're right. Sometimes the jokey-ness has to take the back burner, because I feel some type of way.
KNOTORYUS : What I find completely hilarious, though, is what you have been doing with 'Tired'. I know so many people including my big brother who are completely making that team.
Parra : I am having so much fun doing 'Tired' with Brad Staba. I now have my own skateboarding company including a team and we don't even have to be in the same city to manage it all.
KNOTORYUS : (laughs) Yes, your ever growing pro-team of bummed out, completely out of shape skateboarders.
(Me being the earliest female Tired supporter. 43 weeks ago, whatttt. Also, thanks Flo, lol.)
Parra : It's doing the complete opposite of everything the culture stands for. Fucking Awesome and Palace do amazing things, but you will never be part of their team and that's why you wear their clothes (points directly at me sitting there sheepishly -pun intended- in my grey Palace jacket, he doesn't know nor should he that I was already at it 2 years ago). With Tired it's the other way around : you make the team when you are +35 and don't know anymore how to or can just barely land your tricks.
KNOTORYUS : Just talking about it cracks me up.
Parra : We are working on the follow-up to The Tired Video and I think it is going to be really good. People are sending and posting so much material. I know a lot of the old heads who maybe have or had their own company or wanted to start one are jealous and like : how come we didn't think of that?! Because it seems so obvious. Who is crazy enough to target that 35+ audience that is looking back at their skateboarding glory days in a very emotional way? (laughs)
('Tired Landscape' and 'Life Landscape', Parra, 2015, currently on view at ALICE Gallery)
Above image : 'Give Up', fiberglass sculpture by Parra, produced by Case Studyo, currently on view at ALICE Gallery.
KNOTORYUS : I interviewed a lot of younger artists as well and for most of them, you are the model. When I ask them : what is the level you want to be at? They go : work like Parra. Which means : having your own successful but independent output, namely apparel and artwork, but also being able to close the big deals with their favourite big brands. And I completely understand, but it's not that easy right? The thing I keep getting from you is that you are really consistent.
PARRA : It's all about quality and commitment for me. If I agree to do something, it is going to get done.
KNOTORYUS : But what was the turning point for you? Was it getting an agent? Building a really great site and webstore?
PARRA : Getting my agent was huge for me. I haven't been without a day's work since. On the contrary, it's back to back and on top.
Being able to save for and build a good webstore has also proven to have been a very smart decision. But who has 30K to 50K lying around to do that? Because that's how much it costs. I could make that investment because for a couple of years in the early 00's, I did nothing but commercial work and I saved up most of the money I made. I don't tend to spend a lot.
And you're right, being consistent. What good is a webstore if people buy your stuff, but only get their package delivered two weeks later, if at all?
KNOTORYUS : Exactly, send me that shit the next day!
KNOTORYUS :How many people are currently working on the "Parra" brand?
PARRA : Oh, we are only three people. One on the business side of things, one for the webstore and me of course. The thing is, I always think : "So after this is done -whether it be a show or whatever- it's going to slow down and then I'm going to take a little break." But it just never stops.
KNOTORYUS : Speaking of music, congratulations on the Le Le Instagram album release. I'm assuming the IG headquarters contacted you to congratulate you on your pioneering work?
Parra : No, how would they know about me?
KNOTORYUS : I am sure there are fans of yours working there. Your agent should give them a call. These were only 15 second animated snippets you dropped, are you planning on posting the full album on Instagram? Because I'm not quite sure people understand that the full album is yet to follow.
Parra : I'm positive nobody knows. But no, 4 or 5 minutes of animation seems so boring to me. Also it takes a lot of work. Each IG snippet took me more than 5 hours of animation. But we had a lot of fun making this album. For Faberyayo it's a nice break from his work with "De Jeugd Van Tegenwoordig". What we do is so much more absurd.
KNOTORYUS : How absurd do you find the fact that your Nike Air Max 1 x Patta x Parra 'Cherrywoods' pack was valued at almost € 2.500 at Sneakerness in Amsterdam a couple of days ago?
Parra : It's crazy. But, don't you think it's all hype, though? I will be happy if people even remember that sneaker in 20 years.
KNOTORYUS : How big is the pressure of bringing out a new shoe?
Parra : I've gotten quite good at saying no these past couple of years, but that doesn't mean I am not waiting for that great next offer that really excites me. I don't think I will ever put out a Nike again, though. (Points at my Tubular Moc Runner Suedes, it's 2015) adidas is pushing it so much more nowadays, I feel. Don't you agree?
KNOTORYUS : Absolutely.
Parra : And to go back and click a colour on a computerscreen or fill in the gaps of an already set and designed sneaker as is the case at Nike? No, I don't feel like doing that anymore. I did a collection with Viktor & Rolf a couple of years ago, which was super interesting to me, because I learned about working with the most high quality fabrics. I had never worked with satin before. But it is funny how that collaboration did not really get onto my usual fan's radars. I'd love to do something good with Stüssy, though. That was one of my favourite brands when I was a kid.
KNOTORYUS : Can I ask you my final question?
Parra : Sure!
KNOTORYUS : If 14 y.o. Piet could see Parra, the elder, right now. What would he be the most proud of?
Parra : (Immediately lights up) At 14? Most definitely having my own skateboarding company. At that age, I was obsessed. Skateboarding was my life.
(Points at all of the beautiful "Salut" works behind him, of which the most expensive ones have already been sold before the exhibition even started)
All this right here? 14 year old Piet wasn't concerned with any of that. Too busy skating.
(Parra, Me being super awkward as always, Stefaan.)
More PARRA here