Dutch artist Rosalie de Graaf – known to many as RoosArt – is taking the world by storm with her sensational street art and mind-blowingly real oil paintings.
Rosalie took time out of her busy travel schedule to chat with Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge about following her dreams, turning heads in a male-dominated profession and angering Trump supporters.
Q: You started painting at 14. What helped spark that initial interest?
A: I saw a video on YouTube when I was 14 years old. The video was about a lady who painted a portrait with oil paint. It was so fascinating to me because the artwork almost looked like a photograph. I watched about 100 tutorials and other art related videos on YouTube the following week before I decided to try it myself.
I gained so much knowledge about painting and the “science” behind it (just by watching those videos). You can learn anything from the internet these days. The first painting I made was a self portrait and it turned out pretty good. My family were really surprised and they showed my painting to everybody.
That’s how I started doing commissioned work at 14 years old. I haven’t stopped to this day.
Q: Was there a specific moment where you decided to leave the security of your medical education and pursue art?
A: Yes. School was always “easy” for me. I had good grades and loved to learn. When I started medical school I was really excited, but after I few months I noticed that it took up all of my time. I didn’t have enough time left to paint.
Painting is my way to relax and escape from the busy world I am living in. University puts a lot of pressure on med students. I reached a point where I was very stressed out. I realised that it just wasn’t for me. I wanted to start my own business, so I did.
I only live once. I want to do the thing that I love most in life: making art. You will not be happy if making money is your number one goal in life. I chose my passion, put all my energy into it and now I’m earning money with it too. That’s the jackpot for me.
Q: It might be my own ignorance, but I always think of street art and graffiti being a space mainly populated by young men. Have you found that to be the case and how have you settled into the culture?
A: Yes, that’s true. Street art and graffiti is definitely a man’s world.
I attended a meeting for street artists and writers in Holland almost a year ago (February 2018). Such a meeting is called a ‘jam’ and it is a place where around 100 artists come together to paint for a day or two. It was my first time doing something like this. I had never painted on walls or anything before – only little paintings on canvas.
I was surrounded by old school writers from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, which I had something to prove to. I was the only woman there and only 18 years old at that time (19 now) so you could probably imagine that I felt a bit intimidated at first. I grabbed my gear and started painting a wall. What happened then was amazing.
All the older men came to watch me paint and they started conversations with me. They couldn’t believe I had never painted with spray paint before and that I was so young. This was the moment they accepted me.
I met so many creative people at the jams. I really like the fact that I’m a female street artist because it’s rare. People will remember you. A lot of men (and women) love it and are really supportive. I can learn a lot from them and I’m really grateful for there help.
To a lot of people, graffiti is scrawls on the wall and defacement of property. To me it’s a form of artistic expression. It’s a way to shine a light on larger issues that stretch beyond my city’s borders – like the mural I made of Putin and Trump kissing. I want to help remove the stigma of the medium. Being a “normal” girl with a past like me (med school) helps show that street art is not only the work of unruly hooligans with a disrespect for the city they live in.
Q: What would your advice be to a youngster who wants to pursue or experiment with street art?
A: Buy some cans and start painting! If you like drawing or painting, chances are you like making street art too.
Nowadays you have a lot of legal places out there where you can paint. I also watched a lot of videos on YouTube where people show some tricks with spray paint. You can learn a lot by it. One of my favourite YouTube channels is called KIPTOE. Watching other people paint is really inspiring, at least to me.
If you like to make (realistic) murals, I suggest watching tutorials on how to paint with acrylics or oil paint. I know, oil paint and spray paint are two very different mediums, but once you get the hang of both of them, it will improve you skills as a street artist. You can learn a lot about colour theory, composition and stuff like that.
Q: You recently did some wonderful work in Thailand. How was that experience and how important to you is the travelling aspect of your work?
A: One of my dreams was to travel to Asia on my own. I combined painting and traveling, which is amazing! Because I am my own boss I can do and go wherever I want to.
I think a lot of our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them. I decided to go on a tour for a couple months and paint everywhere I go. It’s a great way to meet other artist from other countries and collab with them. As an artist, I have the power to change the face of a city street. That’s what I love so much about my job.
Last month, I painted a wall in a local neighbourhood in Bangkok. Although I do not speak Thai, the locals kept saying and shouting Thai words to me. They smiled at me and brought me food and drinks while I was painting. They really liked it.
A couple weeks later, I went back to the neighbourhood in Bangkok to show my family from Holland the piece and the locals still remembered me. It was really cool! This inspires me so much to keep making more art.
I also made a mural in Chiang Mai last month with artists from Chiang Mai and Singapore. Next week I will fly to Kuala Lumpur to paint with the famous Kenji, which I’m really excited about! I love to collab with artists from other countries. It’s a fun way to learn about different cultures.
Q: Earlier you mentioned your painting of Trump and Putin kissing. What was your thinking behind this piece?
A: I saw a clip on TV where someone explained the current world situation. I was so surprised to hear about the amount of power the world leaders of today have so I decided to make a painting about it. It was inspired by the Putin-Trump summit.
The mural went viral on the internet. I received so many comments. Most of the people loved it, but I also got some comments (most of the time) from Americans or Russians who thought is was terrible. Most of them were Trump and/or Putin supporters. I think humour is a good thing.
My goal is to evoke emotion with my art. It worked pretty well with this piece.
Q: I am a huge fan of your pop culture works of figures such as The Godfather, Bob Marley, Tupac, Iron Man and others. What goes into putting together pieces like these? What is your typical process?
A: Thank you. Most of the time I’m really inspired by, for example, an artist like Bob Marley. I had to travel a lot during my first trip to Asia, of course. Bob Marley kept me company during those long train or bus trips. I decided to make a big mural of him.
For me it represents my traveling, it’s a way to remember. So it’s not only a image of figures such as The Godfather, Tupac, Iron Man or others, but it’s also a way for me to remember stuff that happened in my life
Q: Do your oil portraits stimulate you in a different way creatively to street art?
A: Yes, absolutely. Most street artists like to draw before they start doing graffiti, but there are not many street artists out there (that I know of) who are into classical figure painting with oils, like me.
It’s a completely different skill. I learned a lot about the anatomy of a face through oil painting, for example. I also think about things like colour theory, mixing colours, composition of your figures and other stuff like that.
I learned a lot through oil painting. I can also transfer a lot of this knowledge when making big portraits with spray paint.
Q: What are your plans and ambitions for 2019?
A: I’m currently touring in Thailand and I’m traveling to Malaysia next week. I am going to paint some murals there with local artists.
After that, I will go to Holland again to film an episode for a local Dutch TV show, which I’m very excited about. I have a lot of commissioned work that I have to do in Holland these next couple months. I’m collaborating with some companies and foundations. I’m going to give my first art workshop in March. I will give workshops to people, who want to learn how to paint with acrylics, twice a month in two different cities in Holland.
My goal for 2019 is to make as much art as possible in as many cities as possible. I would like to go touring in Europe to paint in countries like Spain, Italy, Germany, France and so on. How cool would it be to make a piece in every single country in Europe, Asia or perhaps the world… I like to dream big.