Ralph Roelse (b. 1984 in Eersel, the Netherlands) has refrained from easy fame in pursuit of a more thorough development. “We're better when we work illegally”, he says. The few curators aware of his work might have asked what he has been up to, for periods of years, time and again.
Observers may find it difficult to value and evaluate art that exhibits extreme minimalism, although perhaps less so in the Netherlands than elsewhere. However, in Roelse's case, we should bring back to mind the famous anecdote from James McNeill Whistler justifying the high esteem he asks for a work that he can seemingly knock off in no time: “I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime.”
When I saw a work of Roelse in a gallery context for the first time, at Onomatopee Eindhoven, he adhered to ethics of conceptualism that almost asked for forgiveness for existing. What was on display was not even considered the work. The work was, if I recall correctly, the idea and (f)act of bringing it there.
Next, taking on another cultural technique intrinsic to the practice of graffiti writers, who must take it on themselves to document their short-lived artworks, Roelse made a name for himself as a photographer. Known, and paid, for his pics from the party scene, fashion, and musicians, his more private, intimate eye was on graffiti writers and their actions. Before he could be sucked up by success and subsequently limited, he turned to painting, again. Painting graffiti.
Besides art, or rather before it, Roelse has continuously been involved in graffiti writing. Unlike many others, he never took the easy way out of keeping the realms separated and fulfilling the standard expectations of either field. Just like breaking the “Faith” (Norman Mailer, Cay161) of graffiti, the isms of art 'proper' could be bent and broken as well. Roelse enjoys telling the joke by Jan Verwoert: “Why are conceptual artists painting again? Because they think it’s a good idea.”
Departing from the ego of the underdog, he has kept his graffiti practice wide open for the influences of art and his 'legitimate' art practice still encompasses acts of illicit public painting. He is one of those who “see beyond what graffiti art is or is not, and towards what modern art might become if it were to follow graffiti art out into the street” in the visionary words of Joe Austin, if conversely.
Ever overthinking and meticulously overdoing, too, Roelse combines both notions of post-graffiti in his practice. He continues to paint graffiti in urban post-industrial surroundings, un-authorized, self-authorized while breaking the classic code, the faith of graffiti. No alias, no stylized letterforms. Minimalist abstract painting on a structure near you. In his paintings, on the other hand, even the most minimal lines and crosses – the x – remain inspired by elements in pieces of graffiti writing.
For a brief moment here, his interests in art, atmosphere, journeys, graffiti, painting, conceptualism, and photography fall into the same place. Although Roelse's search will not come to an end any time soon – and maybe it's not meant to be – his work has arrived at a sort of solution, however temporary, for the conflicting fields he has been navigating for so long. Both the studio- and the graffiti paintings are included in a more encompassing practice of land art-like staging and photographic exposure. Here lies one of the great potentials for graffiti as art: a dialogue between the painting and the situation.
~ Robert Kaltenhäuser, 2021 (Excerpt from “A Place Called X”).
2005 - 2009 Bachelor of Fine Arts, Academy of Art & Design AKV St. Joost, Den Bosch, NL
2000 - 2004 Visual Communication Design, SintLucas School of Art & Design, Boxtel, NL
2017 THEY JUST DON’T GET IT, Stedelijk Museum Breda, Breda, NL
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
2021 GLASHARD, Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, Schiedam, NL
2021 ANTIGOON x RALPH ROELSE, Dutch Design Week, Eindhoven, NL
2016 ABSOLUTE EVENT HORIZON, Schunck, Heerlen, NL
2016 FIRE SALE, Goodspace Gallery, Sydney, AUS
2011 TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT, Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven, NL
2011 ACT/OUT, Onomatopee, Eindhoven, NL
2010 MNEMONIC, Kelderman en van Noort, Eindhoven, NL
2021 A Place Called X, Oct. 16th, NL
2018 i-D Magazine, Jul. 17th, NL
2017 Glamcult, Jul. 4th, NL
2016 Our House, Aug. 8th, NL
2016 i-D Magazine, Jul. 18th, NL
2015 Juxtapoz, Jun. 19th, US
2015 VICE, Jun. 19th, NL
2015 Spraybeast, Mar. 5th, UK
2015 Juxtapoz, Mar. 1st, US
2015 VICE, Feb. 18th, NL
2015 SAM Magazine, Issue #2, NL
2014 VICE, Dec. 22th, NL
2014 Vltramarine, Aug. 8th, RUS
2014 Acclaim Magazine, Jul. 7th, AUS
LECTURES / PRESENTATIONS
2017 SintLucas School of Art & Design, Eindhoven, NL
FUNDS / GRANDS
2021-2023 Emoves, UC Masters, NL
2021-2022 Cultuur Eindhoven, NL
2021 Constant van Renesse Fund, NL
2021 Private Collection, Eindhoven, NL
2017 Private Collection, Eersel, NL
COMMISSIONS / COLLABORATIONS
VICE / i-D / The Creators Project / Dutch Design Foundation
Municipality of Eindhoven / Van Berlo / Kazerne / Powerhouse Company
Graphic Matters / TBWA / George & Harrison / OWOW / Studio DRIFT