Yorick Bergsma

It’s 1986. Yorick is born in Montreal, Canada. He lives here until he is 5 years old and then moves to the Netherlands with his parents.Yorick is now 26 years old but the bond with Canada still remains. Plans to visit Canada are made every year. Canada feels like home. Despite that, Yorick is just as much Dutch as he is Canadian. In the Netherlands Yorick enrolls in an illustration course at the Academy of Art in Zwolle (ArtEZ Hogeschool voor de Kunsten) in 2007. He completes this in 2011. Now, almost two years later (and with a Bachelor’s degree in his pocket) I meet up with him in café ‘de Vier Jaargetijden’ in Zwolle.

We’ve known each other since our time at the Academy of Art, where we graduated together. How did you experience your time there? Did you learn a lot in the years you studied there?

I always hated school until I attended the academy of art. Due to my undergraduate diploma I had to wait until I was 21 before I could do my entrance exam for the academy of art, but I am still very grateful that I got accepted. I never expected that I would enjoy it so much. Even the theoretical subjects were fun. I wasn’t very good at them in the past, but that changed during my time at the academy. I gained an interest in art history and philosophy, as a result I got good grades in these subjects. It came as a surprise to me, for the first time I didn’t mind going to school. From a practical standpoint, it’s amazing what I have learned. My ways of thinking, seeing and working have changed completely. Artistically, I have developed myself and gained a lot of confidence. When I look back at my work from before the academy I find it hard to believe it was created by the same person. I started off with a style not dissimilair to Ren and Stimpy, but that changed a lot after my study. It was the best choice I have ever made, and I would do it all again if I had to.

You’re now a year and a half further down the road. What have you been doing during this time and how is the illustrating going for you?

Since I graduated I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator and I do commissions for the VPRO, Vice, Gonzo, TC Tubantia, Oogst and publisher d’jonge Hond. Aside from that I try to regularly exhibit and sell my work at several comic conventions like the Haarlemse stripdagen and the Utrechtse kunst strip beurs. I used to be able to live on a government grant combined with the sales of my work, but that’s becoming increasingly difficult. Things have been moving slowly lately. I’ve been trying tirelessly to get new commissions, but it’s not really taking off. You need to keep ringing, e-mailing and looking around. It’s quite frustrating if nothing comes from this. That’s why I am now illustrating for myself. I would like to make graphic novels like I have done in the past with a short story called ‘Winter’. Telling something personal in a graphic style. However, to be able to do that, I need to make ends meet financially. That’s why I am now looking for part time work.

Can you tell us more about your short story ‘Winter’?

The graphic novel ‘Winter’, which I finished right before my final exams, is my first attempt to reflect on earthly and heavenly dilemmas, in the traditional style of Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar, without blatantly trying to imitate them. It’s a simple but clear story about someone, like myself, who can’t manage to begin his day.

The story is set on a summers day, but you end the story with the phrase ‘Winter is really just a frame of mind’. Does that line have a particular meaning for you?

It’s related to my memories of Canada. I’ve never been in Canada during the winter, so my memories have a certain tone to them as I was always there during the summer. Because of that, winter is like a mind-set to me. I believe it’s a combination of my memories and my association with them.

On your website you write that ‘Winter’ is the first paragraph of a graphic novel. How are you progressing with that and how are you looking to publish it?

I am not sure how I am going to publish it. I notice that I get bored quickly if I work on one thing for a long period of time, that’s why I haven’t managed to get my graphic novel project off the ground. I prefer to alternate between different things. I find fanzines and zines very cool, so I’m thinking of doing them as well. This means I can easily create several different things, which is more in line with what I want to do.

You mentioned Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar, two legends in the alternative comics world , as your inspiration. Aside from that I sense a bit of rock ‘n roll in your work. Dark , loose and free. Is that correct? And do you draw inspiration from music?

Definitely. I don’t know how much it has influenced my style or work, but artists like Nick Cave, Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart inspire me because they are not afraid to expose the darker side of humanity. This is what I do in my work as well. I love watching David Lynch movies for the same reasons. I also enjoy watching stand-up comedians like Doug Stanhope and Bill Hicks who have similar styles as well. They are quite pessimistic, but that’s what makes it so much fun. I’ve always had a weakness for the “anti-heroes” of society.

How does that express itself in your work?

For example, through my use of mediums. I use a lot of black ink and dirty ink. I think that adds an edge to my work, which you refer to. My work is, even though it’s sensitive, quite masculine. I achieve that through a combination of my loose linework with a harsh graphical use of black and white squares. The use of colour has been reduced to a minimum in my recent work. I look for the dark side mainly in the human condition. I like to highlight the medical side. For example, by creating illustrations about human conditions or anatomical drawings. I once created an illustration about the instructions that came with medicines for epilepsy and the possible side effects. That is something that affects me personally. I try to incorporate these experiences into my illustrations. Perhaps Ren and Stimpy had an influence on me as well, it often showed bodies being disembowelled and other grotesque scenarios, which can be seen in my work sometimes as well, haha.

  

Where does that fascination with the human condition stem from?

I think it comes from my upbringing. My father is the director of a company selling neurological apparatuses, and my mother worked in a lab. They met in a hospital in Montreal, where they both worked at the time, so I grew up in a medical environment. It subconsciously worked itself into my art.

Another element that stands out in your work is the criticism you have on the world around you. You don’t spare yourself from that either. Maybe criticism isn’t the right word, but you like to poke fun at clichés and emotions. Perhaps in that way, you resemble a stand-up comedian, whom you previously referred to. For example, you made an illustration about the font choice used by other illustrators. In this illustration you expose the cliché about handwritten, elongated words, and it depicts a sad looking character, to make the whole thing more sensitive. Is that an internal struggle you experience as an illustrator or storyteller? On the one hand you want your work to be personal, but sometimes you deflate it a bit to prevent it from coming across too dark or too serious.

Some people found it hypocritical when they saw the illustration, but some illustrators found it funny. I mainly made it for that reason. The whole point of the drawing revolves around hypocrisy. Like an inside joke to illustrators. It’s one of those clichés that illustrators, including myself, use all the time, and afterwards you think “Gosh, that was a bit lame”. I think it’s important to be able to mock yourself. It’s a good defence against becoming arrogant. It’s certainly not my intention to hide behind my feelings. I think that if I was only to make serious or moody work, I would get bored with it. It is not who I am or how I wish to portray myself as an artist. Creating art and being philosophical can get a bit much sometimes, so I lighten the mood through humour. Otherwise it would get boring and pretentious.

I am curious to know how you envision your future? Do you have plans or ambitions? Would you like to return to Canada for example?

I would definitely like to live in Canada, even if it’s just to see what it’s like to live there for a longer period of time. I never really felt at home in the Netherlands. When we emigrated to the Netherlands, I got really homesick. My brother didn’t, I don’t know why exactly. Maybe because he was older. It seems like the homesickness never really went away. I should just try and live there for a while and see what it’s like. However, I would like to be somewhat self-sufficient before making such big plans. I’m afraid that if I do it now, Ill end up over there, alone and in trouble. Like I said earlier, I have a somewhat incomplete image of living in Canada, due to the fact that I was only there in the summer. It would probably be easier to forget it if we hadn’t gone there so often, and I would have felt more at home over here. Although the temperature might be a problem if I was to live over there, haha.

But to get back to your other question, in terms of my illustration work, I don’t have any real plans or a certain goal, no. For me it’s about the process. I don’t think this applies to every artist, but that’s the way it is for me. As an illustrator or artist, you don’t really have any other choice.You have to, it’s in your nature, you don’t know any different. I think I was born with this. As an infant I was always drawing, and it’s never been any other way. It was the only thing I liked, along with other creative processes. Movies and music have had a big influence on me and they still have. Whenever I’m not doing something creative, I can feel myself becoming unhappy. I think most artists feel that way. So a goal or ambitions? No, not really. Except that I do it to get to know myself better. It works a bit like a vicious circle. I have all these thoughts, which I need to put in perspective by drawing for example, purely to be able to understand them, and so it goes on and on, haha. Maybe that’s the ultimate goal, understanding, get a grip on the how and why.

Lastly, I want to ask you about the work you did for this project. The American Soundtrack asks other illustrators to contribute in the form of an illustration based on the theme ‘America’. For this, you made two illustrations; can you tell me more about them?

In 2011, I went on a road trip for about a week through America. I took a car along the east coast. The journey started in Montreal and ended in Pompano Beach, Florida. Along the way I made stops in New York City, Washington DC, Alexandria, Jacksonville FI, Florence and Charleston. The little towns and villages- many of which the name I have since forgotten- have left a bigger impression on me than the over the top spectacle that is NYC. Also the journey itself, the truck stops, the conversations with people. Especially the small villages along the way are bizarre. I drove through some very nice towns, but I could just as easily end up in a desolate, decaying ruin of a city. It’s a land of extremes, and that’s what makes it so interesting.

I encountered the clichés of the south in the shape of road sings, pawn shops, gun stores, rodeo’s, hillbillies etc. At the same time, I found people in the South e.g. North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, a lot more helpful, authentic, hospitable and interested than in NYC or DC. To depict these two sides of America I picked two extremes. The amazing road sings along the highway, next to the quiet streets of those small towns, where the madness isn’t nearly as present.

Many thanks for your wonderful illustrations and your story.

You’re welcome.

For those who are interested, you can view Yorick’s work on the following sites:

http://www.yorickbergsma.nl/

https://www.facebook.com/yorickbergsmaillustrator

Translation by Peter Kamperman, Dublin

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