That old chair that you’ve neglected for a little bit too long or that bed that you think is only fit for the bin could be turned into a work of art in the hands of Diederick Kraaijeveld.

Diederick Kraaijeveld is a Dutch artist that creates truly unique, photo-realistic collages from salvaged wood. He takes planks and scraps of wood of all sizes before cutting them into different images. Images that include icons of contemporary culture from the Converse Chuck Taylor to the Ford Mustang and the VW Van.

However, it’s not just a process of picking up any old wood. What tree the wood comes from scarcely matters to Diederick as he only uses wood in the colours that he finds it. But, given that a single work can include over a hundred pieces of wood, this process is as visually important as the actual assembly of the materials. To unravel the artistic process behind each piece - and to pull him away from salvaging more wood from abandoned buildings in the Mojave Desert and 16th-century Dutch mansion floors - we had a quick chat with Diederick Kraaijeveld to discover more.

Let’s get the obvious question out the way to start with; what got you into sculpting, how did you start designing and creating stuff?

I have been ‘making stuff’ my whole life. I made entire villages for my collection of ‘SMURFS’ when I was very young and arts and crafts classes were my favourite times at school. As a university student, I would build the scenes of our yearly theme parties. I went for a ‘creative’ job after graduating - a Major in History at Leiden University - before moving into journalism.

As a newspaper reporter, you do not have to be creative in making up stories but you have to be creative in how to present the news in a lively way. After a few years, I started working as a TV reporter and more dimensions of creativity came into play: how to paint a story in images etc.  You even have to be creative to get a story especially when I was an investigative reporter for a while.

But my own artistic creativity really began when I was on my holidays in the south of France. I would just relax, read books for a few days and then start ‘making things’ and experimenting with different resources and shapes.

We read that you have two important rules when it comes to art. One is that you only use found wood and the second is that you don’t use paint. How did those two rules come about and how hard is it to stick to them? 

As a young boy, I would go to the beach after a storm (I lived really close to the sea in The Hague, Holland) and look for stuff that had washed up on the shore. It was my dream to find a piece of wood with the name of the ship on it. Unfortunately for me, and fortunately for the men at sea, I never found such a piece of wood. But I did find other distressed pieces of wood, and it felt good thinking these pieces could have come from the Americas or Africa…..

Beyond childhood, I have been looking for things my whole life. As a reporter for television always looking for news I would be on the road a lot and see kippers filled with old planks, sitting in front of old mansions. Those planks had seen so many things so I thought it was such a disgrace to throw them away. I wanted to create new things with these old planks and so it all began from there.

Today, I am usually looking for painted wood as the colours of old painted planks are so unique. The patina, the different shades are just so fascinating. But, since I have over 50.000 kilos of painted wood, sorted colour by colour, I do not need to use paint myself. I prefer the natural beauty.

Have you ever been tempted to move away from those constraints and work with other materials?

I have had enough ideas over the years to remain working with wood but finding rusted tin roofing along the shores of the Chattahoochee River in Alabama did inspire me to do a series of skulls. I have done skulls in distressed wood and also a few in wood from a century-old oak coffin, but the tin one, in particular, was so beautifully corrugated, rusty and stained, that it remains one of my favourite pieces.

What makes wood so special to you as an artist and sculptor?

Every piece of wood that I use breathes history, it tells its own story. I do not know all these stories but usually, I am able to feel the history of each piece of wood. As a historian, I try to use wood that has something to do with the subject. When it is a portrait, I try to use wood from the life of that person: the hockey-stick of the woman that died too early, the handle of the rifle of the man that hunts, a wooden piece of the house where someone did hide from the Germans during the Second World War, for example.

So with a lot of wood to work with, how do you decide on what to create? You have recently recreated Manhattan – how did that come about?

When having drinks with a new friend in New York, a few years ago, he told me ‘Diederick do you realize these water towers on every roof, are made of wood?’ I did not realise that, but of course, a seed was then planted in my head. I had to have a few water tower beams to create something that had to do with New York.

To make a long story short, two years later a sea freight container arrived in Holland, filled with 1281 beams of NYC water towers. Beautiful wood that would have been thrown away. But thanks to the Special Projects man at the Rosenwach Group, Wigens Lindor, I received this treasure. I gave half of the beams to the Dutch Designer Piet Hein Eek. He built some amazing furniture, I did my 10-foot Manhattan sculpture and some other New York inspired pieces. And we still had almost 1000 beams left!

You’re best known for reimagining icons, such as Converse, VW and even Jean Michel Basquiat – what makes you choose these ‘icons’? 

It’s quite simple, really. As I like realistic art, I like to create pieces that people can recognize instantly.

Do you believe that in today's world it is hard to stay unique and original to yourself?

It is always good to be open to what happens in the world and also the art world. Every artist is inspired by everything, also other artists. So when you travel a lot, I see a lot of other artists I get inspired a lot. But of course one has to keep your own signature. I know I am inspiring other people too with my pieces, so that is only good.

What is the best piece of advice that you have received on your journey as an artist?

He did not tell it to me directly – even though we had a short conversation at a show in Rotterdam – but I think the motto of American artist Chuck Close sums it all up: ‘Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up every day and get to work’.


Follow Diederick Kraaijeveld on Instagram, @oudhout.