Erik Kessels (Amsterdam, 1966) is an artist, designer and curator with a particular interest in photography and images that express his personal passions, whether they are a collection of found photographs, short stories or a celebration of unusual artworks. He likes taking risks, a constant in his work since he established KesselsKramer in 1996, an independent communication agency based in a 19th century church in the heart of Amsterdam, where they work for clients like Nike, Diesel, J&B, Oxfam, Ben, Vitra, CitizenM, or the infamous Brinker Hotel (the worst hotel of the world).
Kessels has gained the respect of his colleagues and clients by going always on his own direction. Who can say no to a brand that represents the 60% of the income? And what about firing a client? KesselsKrammer did it, shocking everybody and being featured in a trade magazine for that reason: “The week we were in the news, four or five people from other advertising agencies called me to ask if they could contact this client, as you know it’s a very opportunistic industry. People working there is very nice but there are not many companies with balls, you know. It’s a fight. You have to reinvent yourself constantly”.
He was honoured with the Amsterdam Arts Award (2016) and he is considered the most influential creative in the Netherlands. As an artist and curator, he has published more than fifty books with the images he finds mainly in flea markets: vernacular, anonymous and amateur. “We are submerged in slick, beautiful, highly-produced creative work. But perhaps, even more inspirational than this, are examples of ordinary people’s creativity. Their mundaneness makes them no less worthy of attention. After all, art inspires, regardless of whether it appears on a mantelpiece or a cinema screen.” Some of these titles are Missing Links (1999), The Instant Men (2000), In almost every picture (2001-2015) and Wonder (2006).
Kessels has also been editor of Useful Photography magazine since 2000 and worked with Marlene Dumas and Candice Breitz for the art project DVD Loud&Clear, and also taught in the Academy Gerrit Rietveld (Amsterdam), Écal (Lausanne) and in the Architecture Academy of Amsterdam. He has exhibited Loving Your Pictures, Use me Abuse, 24HRS of Photos, Album Beauty, Unfinished Father and The Many Lives of Erik Kessels.
Last week, Kessels visited the Spanish capital to participate in the IV edition of Design Fest: a festival of street art, live music, food design and talks at IED Madrid, a hotspot of creativity that proposed different activities and workshops in the historic Altamira Palace. Before attending his masterclass, Fascinations and Failures, we had a long talk about how failures can help us find new ways of thinking and innovative solutions, taking the fear out of failure and encouraging experimentation.