A sense of freedom sparks fanciful creativity.
Heads Lifestyle trips into Dutch illustrator, Maarten Donders’ inner world and discovers music, memory and the mystery of art.
You are originally from Holland. How did growing up Dutch inspire your work?
That’s a tricky question and I think it has more to do with music than with being Dutch necessarily. There is a great music scene in the south part where I grew up and that’s what I always related to most. It’s a friendly and accepting scene. Especially getting to know the Roadburn Festival when I was in art school was for me defining for my work. I was able to work with them when I was just graduating and by going to many concerts and festivals I was exposed to the universe and the art and people surrounding all of that. We also had another inspiring festival in our hometown called Incubate, and great concerts throughout the year. In general there is a spirit of curiosity and respect for art and music, and there is not a lot to rebel against, really.
Donders designed Roadburn Festival posters
In general there is a spirit of curiosity and respect for art and music, and there is not a lot to rebel against, really.
Who are some of the musicians and bands you’ve done illustrations for?
I’m proud of the collaborations I had so far, so I feel bad if I’m leaving out names here. Some of the artists I’ve worked with are Blues Pills, Brutus, Sturgill Simpson, The Riven, Maidavale, Insect Ark, Monomyth, Chelsea Wolfe, Goya, Blood Ceremony, Kikagaku Moyo, Birds That Change Colour. Some great Dutch bands too like Monomyth, Yama, Automatic Sam, Shaking Godspeed, The Machine. And indirectly I did posters for venues or festivals for Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Bohren & Der Club Of Gore, Uncle Acid.
Top left: Earthless X Roadburn | Top right: Sturgill Simpson | Bottom: Monomyth
When creating for musical artists, do you listen to their music? Does the music inform your creations?
Yes, for me this is a key ingredient to a commission. Whether it’s something found in the lyrics, or some kind of feeling that hits you that you can’t put into words. Sometimes listening to the music will give me kind of images or a mood in my head and I will sketch and research and try to translate those ideas into workable images. I need to know what their “world” is like and how I can use it to express myself visually.
Left: Heavy Head | Right: DALI Speakers commisioned work
Sometimes listening to the music will give me kind of images or a mood in my head and I will sketch and research and try to translate those ideas into workable images.
There’s a definite stoney vibe running through your work—lots of joints and mushrooms. Is the dreamlike quality of your art a result of consuming these plants?
In a way yes, and I guess it’s inevitable. My work is pretty inspired by the “inner world,” I think. When you are stoned, perception of time and defined ideas about things become blurry, more so with acid and mushrooms. I tend to draw from memory and don’t use too much reference images because I believe it creates a certain stiffness. I think it’s a subconscious thing that’s hard to explain, because a drawing usually comes together in very mysterious ways. But I guess I bend and twist lines and shapes to get a composition together that flows and has a movement, that doesn’t necessarily has to be “well drawn” in a traditional sense but brings forward mood and perhaps exaggerates certain elements to get that across. A bit similar to tripping.
Left: The Hermit | Middle: Stoner | Right: Being
I think it’s a subconscious thing that’s hard to explain, because a drawing usually comes together in very mysterious ways.
How does the original rock poster art from the ‘60s and ‘70s influence your designs? Are you inspired by people like Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley and Rick Griffin?
I am mostly attracted to the boldness and impact that these designs have; I am a big fan of these artists! The sense of freedom in those posters has always attracted me. There’s also a sort of re-imagining of Art Nouveau in a lot of these posters; shapes and frames and decorations that are stylized. Flowing elements of nature (drops, flowers, smoke, etc.), they are full of movement. This is something I also try to do in my work. My first introduction to that world I think was a magazine in the ‘60s in Australia called OZ, which a teacher brought to school once.
OZ Magazine covers from Australia
Graphical elements from pulp fiction novels and outlaw biker movie posters appear in your work. Care to elaborate?
Yes, many of those designs are a great mixture of illustration and bold shapes and movement—a time where artists were trusted with doing hand-painted work! They, along with other exploitation and horror movies posters, can be quite reminiscent of rock posters because they have to set the mood instantly. I can only assume that the designers of those covers and posters were briefed to make as much impact as possible; bright colours, strong figures or action, and huge—often hand-drawn—letters that convey the message as accurately as possible (like for example a horror poster with dripping letters for example).
Left: Egotrip 2 | Right: Egotrip
We’re big fans of Mad Magazine here at Heads Lifestyle. Are you familiar with the work of Mad Magazine illustrator Jack Davis? Especially the artwork he created for the 1972 album Motorcycle Mama by Sailcat.
I didn’t grow up with Mad Magazine, but I am familiar with what it was and some of the illustrators. I know Jack Davis’ work a bit but wasn’t familiar with this cover at all. Very Easy Rider, and especially I dig the monochrome, expressive illustrations inside! I love his cover for Johnny Cash’s Everybody Loves a Nut. A weird record with a child hanging himself on the cover, which is completely crazy!
Sailcat's Motorcycle Mama and Johnny Cash's Everybody Loves a Nut designed by Mad Magazine's Jack Davis
I would have loved to make a Captain Beefheart poster, something completely mind-bending and freaky.
If you could time travel and design for any artist from the past, who would it be and what would you design?
Oh boy, I could spend hours thinking about this. Artists like Zappa, Beefheart or Allman Brothers come to mind first. I would have loved to make a Captain Beefheart poster, something completely mind-bending and freaky. It’s hard to say exactly what I would make, but can imagine just creating a strange world full of abstract elements and creatures.
Listen on Spotify
We asked Maarten to curate a playlist of tobacco and beer infused longhaired rockers.