With their hand-painted wallpaper, Snijder & Co are taking the Netherlands by storm. And not without reason! Marcelo Gimenes and his partner Jaap Snijder use their craft with love and attention to every detail. Another thing these two gentlemen are good as, is talking. Lots and lots of talking. That is what I found out when I visited them in their magnificent new studio that is housed in a former school building in Rotterdam. What should have been an informal chat of – oh, let’s say – thirty minutes, turned into a rollicking conversation of over two hours about everything that makes Jaap and Marcelo tick.
Do you want to meet Snijder & Co? You can! On Sunday 30 September, Jaap and Marcelo tell everything about their work during at Kunstuitleen Rotterdam. You can also admire one of their works and even order a beautiful reproduction.
What a lovely studio space you have here!
Marcelo: “There is also a practical reason we decided to move here. For some clients, we paint wallpaper that can be up to five meters high. This old classroom is one of the few spaces in the city that allows us enough space to stand and sit in whatever way we want.”
You paint wallpaper by hand. How come you don’t paint on a wall directly?
Jaap: “Painting on location doesn’t do it for us. Believe me, we found out the hard way once. Every time we got into it, a cat would walk by or the owner would come and ask if we’d like some more coffee. Here in our studio, we can totally focus on our work. We really need that focus as well, since we put a lot of hours in one panel. Besides, we actually like the look of a seam between the strips.
Suppose I want to work with you, how do you go about it?
Jaap: “Of course, we check out the space first and meet up with the owner. That part hasn’t changed ever since our craft was invented in the 17th century. It is a truly Dutch phenomenon that was born when people realized that hand-painted wallpaper was a much more affordable and fun solution than putting up expensive tapestries. Research has shown that there was a dip in the art market by the end of the Golden Age and that many artists were looking for a different source of income. When hand-painted wallpaper reached peak popularity, there were about 17 ateliers where it was produced. I guess you can say it was the first example of mass production in the Netherlands. In Amsterdam alone, almost every canal home has a room with painted wall panels. We love stories like that.”
To what degree can a client determine what the final result will look like?
Jaap: “We go through every single detail before we start. We talk about the client’s family, examine plants that you see from the window and take all the elements to create a unique story together. First, we make a clear drawing of what we have in mind for the room. We use the same age-old visual trickery, such as perspective and vanishing points. By doing so, we guide your eyes from one corner of the room to the next. Our clients can be a bit careful at first, especially when we tell them our work only serves as a background for their paintings and furniture. “Don’t use too many leaves, I don’t want things to get too dark!” – We get that a lot. After we finish, however, our clients understand how we work. In fact, some of them even wanted more! Painting takes a lot of time. We start with a rough version of the background and then gradually make things more refined. That process takes days. The last thing you want is for someone to ask if you can add a plant or a giraffe when you’re halfway done. Don’t be surprised if we say ‘no’ when that happens, because we do!”
You seem to work together so well. How did you guys start out?
Jaap: “My background is in graphic design and so, I’ve always had a good eye for detail. In my free time, I developed an interest in 17th century paintings. I would read the artists’ biographies and love to find out everything about the hidden meanings they would put in their work. When I started painting myself, I quickly realized that by looking very carefully, I was able to paint on an almost photo-realistic level.”
Marcelo: “I am from Brazil originally. When I was 18 years old, I moved to Lisbon and became acquainted with the world of interior design. At one point, a friend of mine told me about the high quality of the art academy in Rotterdam. That’s why I decided to move to the Netherlands.”
Jaap: “When Marcelo and I met, he was on to me. He was able to understand the hidden symbolism in my work, which is something no one had ever done. At the time, I painted a lot of shells. I never thought about why I did so. Marcelo told me what I did not see for myself. He’d say, ‘For millions of years, shells have refused to evolve. And when things get difficult, they hide!’ That was exactly how I felt at that point in my life.”
Marcelo: “I continued doing interior design in the Netherlands. I traveled all over the place and even worked with trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort. That was a very hectic time, especially because I’m a true perfectionist and want everything to be just right. Not long after Jaap and I met, I had a cardiac arrest. That was as clear a signal I could get that I should slow down. I started painting as well, although I have to say it was a lot more colorful and minimalistic than what Jaap was doing. Art became my new career.”
And how did you start working together?
Jaap: “We found out that we both enjoyed working on paper. One of our first jobs was to make bespoke wallpaper for the window of Depot, the famous interior design store here in Rotterdam. I made the first designs on my computer. Our wallpaper designs did not have a repeat, which made them stand out. We figured that with today’s technologies, we didn’t need one. There would be up to 300 insects in a single panel. I’d spend so much time working on the computer, that we started to ask ourselves at one point if it wouldn’t be nicer if we started painting the designs instead. We also decided to start our own company. After all, we’re the ones who are best at explaining our work.”
What is your collaboration like?
Jaap: “If I had it my way, I would use lots of curls and things would probably end up a bit too kitschy. Put me in a rococo room and I go bonkers. Marcelo, on the other hand, can get teary-eyed from looking at a beautiful Rothko or a work by Jan Schoonhoven.”
Marcelo: “Jaap often paints the foundation and then I continue with all the details. We can have arguments about the tiniest things. I can be a real pain in the ass when it comes to details.”
I love the way you work together. But don’t you run the risk of becoming too dependent of each other?
Marcelo: “I could drop dead again at any minute. Of course, I’m kidding – but still. A few years ago, that almost happened a second time. I had a stroke that left me partially blind in both eyes. I can only see through the right half of each eye. That made me make an even clearer choice about what I wanted to do with my life. No more crowds or parties for me! My partial blindness doesn’t bother me when I’m painting, you have to concentrate anyway. What has changed, is that I now work from right to left so that I don’t run my hand over the wet paint. After all, we work with water-based wall paint.
With all your experience, wouldn’t you want to go back to doing complete interiors?
Marcelo: “People ask that a lot. But what we’re doing now, is more than enough. Our painting is what people judge us by. We’ve learned to stay true to ourselves. And we don’t mind if things take a bit longer that way. We enjoy what we do anyway. Authenticity is always rewarded.”
Next Sunday, we’ll meet again during the Kunstnijverheidssalon at Kunstuitleen Rotterdam. What are you going to present there?
Jaap: “We have painted wallpaper panels that are a bit more out of the mainstream. They feature tree ferns and also a lot of butterflies and insects. We’ll put up the result in separate strips, which should be interesting. Visitors can also purchase a copy at a reasonable price.”
Bonus tip: See Snijder & Co’s work at De Kok en de Tuinman
If you’re in Rotterdam and looking for something quirky and original, why not have a bite at De Kok en de Tuinman? This restaurant is housed in the same old school building as Snijder & Co’s studio. And who knows? You might even run into Jaap and Marcelo!