In this interview with Stephan Duquesnoy, a Dutch artist and founding member of the Bloom Collective, we delve into the creative mind that blends technical expertise with emotional depth. Hailing from a background in concept and character design, Duquesnoy was inspired early on by the works of a diverse range of artists including William Morris and H.R. Giger, which helped shape his unique artistic vision.
As part of the Bloom Collective, Stephan works alongside a group of talented artists who aim to push the boundaries of generative art and NFTs.
Throughout our conversation, we explore Duquesnoy’s personal philosophy, which centers around finding the perfect balance between the technical and emotional aspects of art. Drawing on his experience as a university lecturer, Stephan discusses the complexities of being both an artist and a teacher, as well as the challenges of incorporating artificial intelligence into his creative process. Facing the persistent struggle with depression, Duquesnoy seeks to capture a sense of melancholic beauty and peace in his work, creating a refuge for both himself and his audience.
Join us as we take an intimate look at Stephan Duquesnoy’s artistic journey, his thoughts on the evolving world of crypto art, and his relentless pursuit of harmony between mind and spirit in the realm of visual expression.
BW: My first question was inspired by your personal bio describing your work and approach. I’m curious to know more about the ideals of the Pre-Raphaelites.
SD: The Pre-Raphaelites were a brotherhood of painters from the early to late 1800s. They were young, rebellious artists studying at the Academy and were exposed to the Renaissance masters.
At the same time, medieval art was seen as more barbaric or too simple. These artists, however, saw purity, energy, and vibrancy in medieval art. They wanted to create passionate, heartfelt art with high quality but not within the same aesthetic or storytelling ideals as the Renaissance.
They wrote a manifesto with four main points: expressing genuine ideas, studying and portraying nature accurately, simplifying art, and creating art for art’s sake instead of self-promotion. The Pre-Raphaelites were also involved in design as a whole, working with furniture, patterns, and other crafts beyond just painting.
BW: Do you have a design practice outside of the 2D work that we see on the screen?
SD: My work includes 3D, which I started three years ago, and digital 2D, which I’ve done most of my career. I also paint and draw by hand and know how to sew clothes, work with patterns, and fabrics. It took me a while to feel confident enough to pick up a new medium and just have fun with it. I do think that jewelry crafting is an important skill I want to pick up at some point.
BW: What is it about the works of William Morris that inspires you?
SD: William Morris, one of the later Pre-Raphaelites, had a mathematical underlayer in his work while also bringing everything together in an organic, lively way. His patterns don’t feel as repetitive as you’d expect because he understood the relationship between repetition, math, and our appreciation of it in combination with nature. As a poet, he had a deeper understanding of storytelling, emotions, and people’s feelings, which reflected in his pattern designs.
BW: Is the Bloom Collective the current-day corollary to the Pre-Raphaelites?
SD: I’m not sure. We don’t have a manifesto, but we are a group of 11 people who came together on Discord during the pandemic. We started talking more and more, doing our own work, and found that we have some similarities with the Pre-Raphaelite ideals. However, it’s not something we’ve specifically discussed. It’s more about our personalities and work styles meshing well together.
BW: Can you introduce the Bloom Collective for our readers and tell me a little bit about the experience of being in an art collective?
SD: The Bloom Collective is a group of artists that initially had 11 members, including Hans Hummel, Jenny Pasanen, and No_Creator, among others. We all come from different backgrounds within the digital art world, such as advertising, illustration, or commercial work.
We found each other in the NFT space, struggling with similar issues, particularly adapting our work to be personal and interesting. We decided to form a group to help each other grow faster and support each other during difficult periods, which artists often face. Being in a collective means you’re not alone; you have friends who understand your struggles and can help you through them.
BW: I’m going to pivot toward asking about specific pieces of yours. The first one is Blue Melody. There’s a lot happening here, with the title, the shape reminiscent of a violin or cello scroll, and the spikes covering the instrument. You also mentioned studying the golden mean and proportions. Can you tell me more about what we’re looking at?
SD: Blue Melody isn’t based on an exact golden mean proportion, but it is inspired by melody and harmony, as well as the theory of Pythagoras. The proportions within the curve could be translated into a musical melody. Blue Melody is an abstract exploration of visuals and how things function.
I’ve been drawn to using spikes in my work lately, though I’m not quite sure why. The color blue in Western culture is associated with rebirth, tranquility, and peace, while the flower in the piece is inspired by baby’s breath, symbolizing birth. Blue Melody marks the beginning of something new in my work, and it was created after a period of introspection and reevaluation of my creative direction.
BW: What was the order of operation for creating Blue Melody? Did you do preparatory sketches, decide on the title, and then the blue flowers?
SD: The process for Blue Melody was different from my usual approach. Instead of doing initial sketches and concepts, I focused on building the system and connecting it with other systems I had already created. It was a more playful and exploratory process compared to the traditional pipeline of having an idea and executing it. The actual creation of the piece didn’t take very long, but the development of the tools backing it up took much longer.
BW: In The Last Wind of Summer, you incorporate a corset designed by Evelien Goedhart. How did this collaboration come about?
SD: The Last Wind of Summer is a collaboration between me and a friend of mine, a former student, who started making her own corsets. She would go to thrift stores, find fabrics, cut up existing clothes, and make new corsets out of them.
Aesthetically, we’ve always had a good match in my work and her work, so we decided to collaborate on an NFT. I made the entire artwork around the corset, which was part of the NFT, and the owner of the NFT would also get the corset. But when it was sold, the new collector declined the corset, so I still have it at home, and I need to figure out what to do with it.
BW: That’s interesting. MakersPlace now offers a fulfillment path for, say, buying an NFT that comes with a print or a corset. If you’re interested in bringing a series of corsets to MakersPlace, we can make it work.
SD: I think that’s something I would love to explore, and I believe she would be interested in this as well. She’s one of those people who financed her entire schooling with her Bitcoin investments, so I think she would be very open to that idea.
BW: That’s cool. Are there other examples of these kinds of collaborations that you’ve seen in web3? Is the kind of art we see in The Last Wind of Summer perhaps the future of the catwalk, or a possible avenue for independent fashion designers to find an inroad and a new audience?
SD: I think these kinds of collaborations are always interesting for artists from different industries to work together on designs and utilize each other’s skills. So in that regard, there is a future for designers with different backgrounds to develop projects together and have different artifacts combined into one collectible NFT as a series with value.
In a digital time like this, where we have access to various production methods and our entire business depends on content, banding together with different designers is possible now. It’s something that we should have always been doing, but it would have been much more difficult 20 years ago.
BW: You have a similar project that incorporates a gown and train designed by Madame van der Taelen from Bruxelles. How did that collaboration come about?
SD: That project, called “Gown and Train,” is a historical artwork. I was asked to be a part of it by the Dutch digital fashion agency, Studio PMS, for a project they were doing for the Central Museum in Utrecht. They wanted me to turn one of the historical garments from the museum’s collection into a 3D artwork. The dress was already made in 3D, so I only had to do the texturing and other details.
The resulting piece reimagines the dress within the context of its time, using the dynamic aspect of NFTs to display the time period, weather, and patterns from when it was created. The NFT is programmed with the entire weather data of 1905, and the lighting is also attached to the actual sun cycles from that year. It’s a project that has historical value, especially for Dutch people, as the original dress is deteriorating and may never be seen again. This NFT preserves it in a way that provides a complete historical experience.
BW: In your work, you have an interest in painting flowers and often feature women, creating a classical vibe. Do you see a continuum between these two areas, or are they separate fascinations?
SD: For me, it all comes down to beauty and the underlying relationships between various elements. My fascination with women and flowers, as well as fashion, stems from an interest in harmony, shapes, and movements. I try to discover and showcase different moods and feelings through the women I create in my work. I think my fascination with these elements might ultimately come down to the S curve.
BW: I’m fascinated by the weird pieces in an artist’s body of work because it makes me wonder, why is there just one like this? One such piece in your body of work is R66 VOID #30 x stephanduq. What’s the story here?
SD: This is a collaboration with R66, a collectible series developed by Nikita Replyanski. He’s a toy designer and asked various artists from the NFT space to create artwork for his series. He gave us complete freedom to interpret the collectible base in our own way.
This particular piece is number 14 in the series, which had a total of 50 made and released on Rarible. For me, it was more about using my aesthetic to create something rather than incorporating a narrative. It’s a different piece compared to my usual work, but I still enjoy the result because it feels right in terms of design.
BW: That’s interesting, the concept of informal symmetry versus formal symmetry. I recently interviewed, Originalplan, who has a similar project called Bearbrick. He remixes a basic 3D toy image daily and hands it out to different artists to create their own versions. It seems important for modern artists to work on projects like this, where they can explore different takes on their own aesthetic.
SD: I agree, it’s crucial for artists today to work on projects like these to stay relevant in modern media consumption. The time when an artist could focus solely on one type of artwork is gone. It’s about finding an aesthetic that is undeniably yours and finding different ways to use it through collaborations, personal works, and explorations.
BW: Can you tell me about the Informal Symmetry Series? You describe it as an exploration of classical rule sets for proportion? I’m curious to know if you learned anything, and maybe interesting ways to break the rules or, or yeah, just walk me through that.
SD: Informal Symmetry is about exploring the balance in compositions, contrasting with formal symmetry. Formal symmetry is like icon art, where elements on the left and right sides have the same weight and precedence. Informal symmetry, on the other hand, is about finding balance with different weights on each side.
The series consists of three artworks, each exploring different compositional techniques. The first is a perfectly balanced, symmetric image of a woman looking straight at you. The second is a woman looking to the side, with slightly heavier elements on one side, balanced by lighter elements on the other. The third piece is about creating chaos and then slowly moving elements to find balance without following specific rules.
The three works are connected but use different compositional techniques to explore the concept of informal symmetry.
BW: It reminds me of a friend who does a lot of very geometrical work. I asked him when he knows he’s finished with something, and he has this very intuitive approach to it. He just waits for it to feel right.
SD: That goes for like 99% of the artists out there; this is their approach. I just had the challenge of being a teacher for this kind of stuff. I’ve been teaching for 15 years, and it took some time to get to a point where I could confidently explain why something feels good or doesn’t because you need to explain it to a student who doesn’t necessarily have that feeling yet or doesn’t recognize it. It took a lot of time and analysis of work to get there. I still like exploring that because I think one of the beauties of visual art is that there’s just so much to see and discover in an image.
BW: That’s interesting, how the demands of teaching are kind of a demand for clear thinking.
SD: Yeah, it does take a lot of the romance out of art. You need to see everything from why you use blue and red here, or why you change the red to orange there, and everything needs to have a reason. It can make it very exhausting.
BW: Can you walk me through your creative process using AI? I feel like AI artists who rely on AI as a tool have been pretty clammed up about how they do what they do recently.
SD: It’s such a big debate. I’ve had a lot of debates on Twitter as well because I’m not necessarily a pro-AI guy, at least not in the way it’s used. This is also tied to my university background. I’ve been exposed to a lot of academic research on art, and back in the 60s, they were already dealing with ideas about the relationship between an artist and a machine, when it’s still an artwork, or when the machine created something. A lot of that discussion over the last 40 or 60 years doesn’t feel like it landed in the new contemporary AI art wave.
When working with AI, it’s important to consider where you fit in your process, whether you’re still responsible for the idea or the space being explored by the idea. For example, if you have an AI trained on fashion photography, everything you feed into that network will be fashion photography. But if you didn’t curate that dataset yourself, is it still your vision, or are you just going for something that seems close enough or cool enough?
In the relationship between artists and AI, there’s a lot to think about regarding what you do as an artist and if that’s enough to say, “Yeah, this is something I created.” It very much depends on the artist and the kind of work they create, and where their ideas of creation and expression are. Jenni Pasanen and Bas Uterwijk (aka Ganbrood) are two completely different AI artists with different work and methods of working with AI, and they both have just as much merit in how they create.
BW: Are there any quirks to your creative process that you’ve noticed as part of your process, that might not be something you would prescribe for anyone else? Something that you yourself consider a personal hang-up, or something you get caught up in? Or maybe there’s a moment where you start to fuss over things in the most minute way?
SD: For me, it’s probably the generative parts of my projects. I really love tinkering and building the systems, sometimes more than actually creating the art. That’s not necessarily the most beneficial thing if part of being an artist is getting work out there and seen.
From that, it also leads to a couple of problems. When you think of generative arts, you think about a system that creates lots of art in a short time. However, I tend to lose interest in generating more once the system works.
I want to fix the system more and improve it, so I make really slow generative art, which isn’t necessarily smart. I think the biggest thing is finding the balance between the technical side and emotional expression side and figuring out where they can connect together and be in harmony.
BW: Yeah, you have to get the balance between mind and spirit.
SD: Many technical-minded artists struggle with the same thing because our work is so technical. We keep learning and expanding, wanting to take all that knowledge to our next work, but every time, the hurdle to get technically better is higher. It takes more and more time, and it’s tough to break through that.
BW: Are you now a full-time crypto artist?
SD: I tried it, but I think the crypto space might be too small for most artists to be full time. Even though I’m doing quite well, it is too small for me to go full time. So at the moment, I’m setting up a more web 2.0-oriented business, looking into high-quality prints, finding interesting collaborations outside of crypto for my work, and building up that business alongside the web 3.0 business.
The NFT and crypto works I make are becoming the flagship projects, the ones that go to interesting events and are seen in galleries. But you need to have a side income, a way to merchandise your art to be able to work in this full time. That’s something I’m exploring now.
BW: Bring all your merch to MakersPlace.
SD: Yeah, it’s a really cool thing that you guys are adding physicals. It gives a lot of opportunity to do that.
BW: What do you hope that people take away from your art? Is it a feeling or a concept?
SD: A lot of the reason I started refocusing on creating my own work has to do with therapy. I had a few burdens that I had to get through, and that had severe effects on my mental health. I was diagnosed with persistent depression disorder at some point, which comes down to being consistently depressed. It’s not debilitating but more like a consistent down feeling.
For me, that’s something that has apparently been with me my entire life, and it’s just a part of who I am and how I work. I still need to find beauty and happiness in my life in some way. In my work, I always try to capture that feeling of persistent melancholy combined with beauty and being at peace in it. That’s what my work gives me – a place where I’m peaceful and can create.