Parra: Amsterdam's Most Wanted
- Words: Vivian Host
To find Parra, you first have to find an 18-letter street: Nieuwsijdsvoorburg. Hang a left and look for the sneaker freaks talking outside the Patta store on their high-tech Japanese cell phones. Go inside, past Gee caressing some limited edition Nikes and the sounds of Mr. Wix booming hip-hop in a backroom studio, up some narrow stairs and into a room cluttered with boxes and boxes of shoes, posters, a discarded CPU and a clothing rack booming with the purple and green t-shirts of Parra's four-year-old Rockwell clothing line. Sitting in the corner–surrounded by a to-do list, the new Three 6 Mafia CD and a PC with a giant Mac monitor–you'll find all 5' 9" of the kinetic, compact visual artist born Pieter Janssen.
Here on the third floor is where Parra has developed his distinctive visual language: a mix of hand-drawn fonts dripping with personality, eye-catching color combos, strange bird-like characters and lately, when the mood strikes, big tits and asses. It's hard to turn a corner in Amsterdam without seeing something he's done, whether it's the logo for the Kids Love Wax record store, a deck for Dutch skate company Color Blind, or one of the hundreds of cheeky posters and flyers he creates for clubs like Jimmy Woo and Bitterzoet (where you can often find him having an after-work beer...or five).
Parra's loaned his classy style to corporate projects for Ben & Jerrys and Foot Locker, but he wisely uses the money to fund pet projects like making custom Vans and releasing weird '60s loops and MPC hip-hop beats on his Records van Rockwell EPs. And with all this brewing, he still recently found time to rock the cover of Flaunt magazine, the flyer for Carl Craig's Demon Days party and design the new season for Rockwell. We asked this goofy-footed, short-attention-spanned, girls-and-typography-obsessed dude to tell us how he does it.
XLR8R: What was your childhood like?
Parra: My childhood was very nice. I lived with my father who is a painter and sculptor (check his stuff at galeriesilo.nl). I could always do what I wanted, everything but being bored–he did not like that. We made my first skateboard together out of some wooden board that was lying in the garden for a while and the trucks on a pair of rollerskates. It broke in about five minutes. We lived in a super small village, actually in about five of them–he always moved after about three years, then he would find a cheap house in the country with a barn or something and we started all over again. But I was never bored.
What was your favorite fashion look that you rocked growing up?
The purple, dumb, big Blind jeans and the striped polo on top, all XXXL–early '90s skate shit.
How did you get into graphic design?
I always skateboarded and that was a major influence: the magazines, the graphics, the clothes. I was [also] in a kind of a crappy high school that was about design and later, I got rejected from art school. I just waited until I could do an internship, then went to Amsterdam and worked at this tiny advertising company; the boss liked my style of thinking and taught me the basics of computer graphic design and concept thinking for clients. I stayed with him for a year and went to work for myself. Gradually, I left the computer-based design alone and started drawing my fonts and layouts, then scanning them in and redrawing them in Illustrator. That's where my style formed. The first things I did solo were flyers and posters for my friends' various parties.
What are some of your favorite color combos ever?
White and red, black and white, heather grey and navy.
What three CDs are you listening to most right now?
Golden Dawn Powerplant (Sunspots), Aardvarck (Rednose District) Cult Copy (Rushhour) and Abba Voulez-Vous (Polydor)
You did some orange, blue and white Nike Air Max that were hot but never came out. What happened?
I did them myself. The colorway was inspired by the plastic bags of an Amsterdam supermarket called Albert Heijn, then those idiots changed the colorways of their bags and logo. I wanted to sell the orange/blue Air Max in plastic bags on the street and stuff. That was not gonna happen anymore so the joke was lost and I decided to go with plan B. Nike called me three weeks ago saying that they were still thinking about releasing the [Albert Heijn Air Max], so who knows?
Humor is really important to your work. What are some things you find funny?
I find people funny–the way they act and maneuver themselves through life–and nearly all animals make me smile.
What's your favorite saying in Dutch?
Ouwe pik ouwe pijp! It means something like "What's up you old fucker," but it in a nice way.
What's a typical day like for you?
Wake up around 11 a.m., shower, watch some crappy TV, breakfast somewhere in the city. Arrive at the studio, check mail, stress the fuck out because I'm not doing what I should do and start drawing and scanning and drawing. A few calls here and there, chill downstairs with the guys from Patta (big up Gee, Edson, Mr. Wix and Benny!), get some dinner around six, draw some more 'til about eight or nine. Then go out for a drink or a skate or combined. Try calling a girl to spend the night with or cruise home on my own. Go to bed too late and wake up around 11 to start again...
Have you ever had to do a corporate commission that you didn't like?
A few, but I find that no trouble. It's a part of creating your own freedom. You need to make some money to keep everything rollin' and a concession here and there is not the end of the world. Sometimes you can even make something crappy look good.
Why are you called Parra?
Edson from Patta called me that about six years ago because I asked him about five times if I was on the guestlist for some party. I had just moved to Amsterdam and I was trying to get the hang of things and calling five times for the list was not the thing to do. He found it funny and paranoid, so Parra stands for paranoid, but I don't agree with it...
What was the last thing you were really excited about?
Seriously, I get excited about stuff everyday, but yesterday it was about kickflippin' a quite high roadbarrier.
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