15 Minutes With Maarten Baas

The Dutch designer channels his inner child to create art that plays with time and place

Carpenters Workshop Gallery opened in West Hollywood on Santa Monica Boulevard a year ago and quickly became known worldwide as a leader in art and design. I had the pleasure of speaking with Dutch designer Maarten Baas on his new exhibition, Play Time, which investigates aspects of youth and conceptions of time. A multifaceted creator, Baas designs interactive learning activities with children in the Netherlands to produce performance-based works that track time in various cities. In this show, he also showcases the astonishing Close Parity collection of furniture that appears to defy gravity.

Maarten Baas’s Play Time is open at Carpenters Workshop Gallery Los Angeles, 7070 Santa Monica Boulevard, CA 90038, February 14–May 26, 2023.

Maarten Baas’ Children’s Clocks consolidates the artist’s aptitude
for childlike creativity.

Courtesy Carpenters Workshop Gallery

LAMag: As your first solo exhibition in California, your works revolve around the concept of time in the Children’s Clocks series. What were you considering in terms of how your works correspond with time and locations worldwide?

Baas: Every work is entirely different and shows the result of 10 various children drawing the hands of the clock minute after minute. I chose time zones dispersed all over the world and the cities where Carpenter’s Workshop galleries are located; so London, New York, Paris, and L.A.

What is the decision behind having children draw, and where are these children from? 

My work often relates to my youth, and I’m always trying to balance skilled technicality and the purity children have or a child’s spontaneity. I like to see where those two meet. That’s what I try to achieve in my work in various collections. I wanted to include children’s drawings, having them draw for at least one minute to have all the variations of every child’s hand unspoiled by having an expectation or pressure. I gave them the briefing on where to put the hand of the clock, and the rest was free for them to decide. I work with an international school with many identities and backgrounds there. They are the future and the next generation, so it’s also interesting to let them make a clock together as they come from all kinds of nationalities. There are children from Turkey, the Netherlands, African and Asian countries, and Ukraine. We recorded just after the Ukrainian war started and made it a point to include Ukrainian refugees. 

The idea of keeping time is so ancient, from regulating cycles of planting and harvesting to organizing activities and traditions. Since your clocks burst with so many diverse pops of color, how do you choose these? 

Maarten Baas: We decided to make a limited edition of 101 clocks related to the infinity of the future and everything possible. I thought it would be nice to have an entire rainbow of colors to symbolize the variety of children. So it’s actually a gradient going all around, from blue to green to yellow to orange to purple.

It’s a cosmology of colors. I love the way it’s arranged in the gallery. I also enjoyed your larger piece, Real Time XL The Artist (2019), included in the Ca’ d’Oro’s exhibition “DYSFUNCTIONAL” during the 2019 Venice Biennale. What was the impetus for you to be visible inside the clock with the viewer viewing you from the outside?

Maarten Baas: I view them as self-portrait clocks. For the exhibition in the Ca’ d’Oro, I presented it as a self-portrait clock reflecting on my profession as an artist related to the concept of time. The work captures the momentum of this era’s perspective on time. I reflect on how time is already further than us. In the artwork, the hands of the clock are erased because the next minute is already there. It’s a constant loop of making something accurate, then deleting it, and starting over again. I deliberately reference Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (c. 1490), a nude man in a circle with the proportions of the human body. 

I also like the Close Parity collection. Can you tell me about the process of making these cabinets and the materials? 

The Close Parity collection starts with an illogical drawing that is either technically impossible to make or incomprehensible for people striving for perfection. I draw a wobbly line to create a much more natural asymmetric shape. The drawing of the cabinet would tip over in real life because it stands on those two tiny legs in the middle while sustaining an unbelievably top-heavy body, making it appear like gravity does not exist. It becomes a strange disconnection in my mind. 

Real Time XL the Artist by Maarten Baas, is a series of
12-hour films indicating time by erasing and re-drawing the
hands minute by minute.

I was told that it balances out through weights inside.

It’s quite a challenge, as the hinges and the doors are pretty heavy. The longer it is, the bigger the momentum and the heavier it gets. So, the balance between the hinge and the door length is also totally out of proportion. I chose brass as the material in this case to contrast the flimsy quick drawing and the severe monumental execution. 

I love the photos of it with the clouds around it too. 

They’re by Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf; he’s rather famous.

Where are you initially from in the Netherlands?

I grew up all over the Netherlands, but I ended up in Utrecht, and this feels like home, so it’s good. 

You also went to school in Eindhoven. I’ve been to the Dutch Design Week at the warehouse spaces where the Phillips electronics factory used to be. 

I still return to that time at the Design Academy Eindhoven and find inspiration. Sometimes even pictures I took at that time are illustrations of the work I’m doing today. It was the gold mine for my ideas.

As your exhibition is in Los Angeles, what inspires you from the city, and are there any connections you find to the Netherlands? 

The Netherlands is just as spread out, but if you take a car in the Netherlands for 30 minutes, then you’re almost on the other side of the country [laughs]. I am a tourist in L.A., and I do not have a car. So I take Uber, and it works very well. I was pleasantly surprised to have Uber drivers who are also actors, stuntmen, and scriptwriters. If you’re a driver, you meet all kinds of people, and they can be inspirational to your work.

I relate because, when I’m in the Netherlands, I tell my friends in places like Tiel and Twello that I’m amazed by how the trains function… Since you work with children, what would you convey to your younger self?

It’s an invitation to keep playing as long as possible, to feel free. In a way, I created my younger self in Grandfather Clock – The Son. I play with makeup and a wig and transform to paint the clock hands as my inner child. So I embody myself and the world of the “small Maarten.”

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