Erik Kessels says: “Confusion is a really good state of mind.”
For Erik Kessels, the right state of mind to create is confusion and not being confident. The founder of the agency KesselsKramer in Amsterdam is always on the go. The restless artist, creator and designer talks about good advertising, why you don’t need a system to collect things and why a good night’s sleep clears your head.
Interview by Catherine Hazotte
You are traveling to different countries and cities on a regular basis. How does that affect your work life?
The traveling is additional in a sense. It often happens at the end of the week or the weekend and it goes along with promoting a book or things like that. In Europe, on the other hand, I have quite a large group of friends who live literally everywhere. It is nice to combine work with leisure. Traveling is also part of my inspiration. For my work as an artist, I re-appropriate images that I find all over the place. I love going to flea markets, stores and shops. For example, in Vienna, I found something really nice in a random shop.
What did you find?
I found some interesting photographs – wherever I go and whenever I have some time, I try to hunt for these things.
How do you collect and sort the things you find? Do you have a system for it?
I mostly collect family albums and I like to keep my favorites quite close to me. By now, I have 15.000 photos that I keep in a storage. Usually, I categorize them by the place where I bought or found them. There is not so much of a system and I don’t see myself as a collector.
What would you consider good advertising?
I think good advertising is advertising that goes against advertising. For one thing, because everybody who grew up with advertising and especially the younger generation knows all of the systems and tricks. They can tell exactly when it is fake advertising or advertorial, when it is cheesy or when it is creative – so in that sense, it is quite nice to create advertising which has a certain irony on advertising itself.
The other main thing, of course, is that a good ad is essentially different from everything you’ve seen before. Maybe it is also a combination of both and of course, originality is important as well.
But advertising itself is full of stereotypes. Everything is quite stuck. It needs people trying to do it in a different way to make something exciting happen.
How did you position yourself in a radically different way back then?
First of all, I am not a big fan of advertising in general. I mean, I quite hate it. For me, it is very important to dislike certain things which then trigger uncomfortable feelings. This is also a way to fuel my anger and energy in order to do something different.
Humor and irony have a big part in your work. But they differ from country to country for example…
The Germans. They have no humor.
… do you consider the difference of humor in your work?
Well, it is always a cocktail of things that make your work good. The two points I mentioned earlier should be combined with a third point: Your work should be successful and it should work for the client.
In terms of humor, you should break new ground and use it for your own purpose. Stay open for new discoveries and you will get there.
Would this be a piece of advice for young designers?
Yes, I personally think that you shouldn’t specialize in anything and be inspired by everything. Especially when you work in advertising or graphic design, it is not good to get inspired from your own discipline. You should always go out on the street, look around and go to all kinds of places that are not directly linked to your work. Because that is where you find new ideas. Then you can connect them with some job, briefing or idea you already have. At least, then it is not made within the same discipline.
What is the most interesting part of your work for you?
The possibility of thinking about a project without a deadline looming. The possibility of working on something craft-related for a long time at the edge of my capabilities.
How do you clear your head?
I sleep very well. Not long, but good. Some people think that when you do a lot of different things and you’re always on the move that must be exhausting. But for me – I get a lot of energy from it.
How often do you check up the internet for inspiration?
Do you think the internet is becoming the main place to look for inspiration?
I think it is a combination. For me, it is really important to experience certain things myself for example at the flea market. I think it is very interesting how the sellers talk and how they arrange things on the table. Like they put five different things that don’t belong together on top of each other. I think that is very interesting. I like it because it is not perfect.
What should the audience at Forward Festival take home from your talk?
Most of all: Confusion. I think this would be good. To me, confusion and not being confident is a really good state of mind. I am a very confused and vulnerable character myself. And I think it is good to think about the bad things first in order to come up with something good.
This interview got published and printed in Forward Magazine 2018.