As the art director, editor and publisher of magazines such as BUTT and Re, the Dutch designer JOP VAN BENNEKOM (1970-)has emerged as one of Europe's most influential magazine designers.
When Jop van Bennekom launched Re-Magazine as a graphic design graduate in 1997, he did so with the intention of developing a new form of personal communication. Having cast himself not only as designer and art director, but as editor and publisher, he has since conceived and executed each issue as a single story line from broad concept to the tiniest typographic details. Since launching BUTT, a gay culture magazine - or "fagazine", as he calls it - in 2001, van Bennekom has applied the same intensely personalised approach to that too.
Born in Scherpenzeel in the Netherlands in 1970, Jop van Bennekom studied graphic design in Arnhem and the Van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. As well as redefining the graphic and editorial roles at Re-Magazine and BUTT, he has created a new community by working with a small team of mostly Amsterdam-based writers, artists and photographers to reach readers all over the world.
Learn more about Jop van Bennekom at re-magazine.com and buttmagazine.com
Q. What were your early design influences? What drew you to graphic design and in particular to magazines?
A. When I was 17, I went to a bookstore near my parents’ house in the country, and saw a book with work by members of the Dutch design association, the BNO. It was really experimental in its design, to me it seemed counter-cultural. I didn’t really know about graphic design at the time, but through this book I discovered graphics as a means of expression.
At high school and art school I read a lot of magazines and also put together my own. My favourites were the English music magazines such as NME and The Face. To me the counter-cultural quality of the magazines was identical to that of the music of bands like The Smiths and the Soup Dragons. Peter Saville was also a major influence. I knew his designs for (the bands) Joy Division and New Order, but it never occurred to me that there was a person behind them.
The most important influences on my work have been Karel Martens, who taught me for five years at art school in Arnhem and Mevis + Van Deursen, Armand and Linda, who later became good friends. I have also been influenced by other Dutch designers such as Wim Crouwel and to a lesser extent Jan Van Toorn.
Q. You spent a period doing postgraduate research at the Jan Van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. How has that experience influenced your work?
A. It was a terrible institution at that time. It was all about the institute, not about the students. I was searching for a new language, one that was not about theory, but about the everyday. I got so sick of design that was all about design. From that point on I didn’t want to be involved in the small and incestuous graphic design world. Nowadays I look at design almost as an amateur.
Q. What prompted you to launch Re-Magazine in 1997?
A. I wanted to redefine communication, not from a design point of view, but a personal point of view. I wanted to make a form of media that was as direct as possible – or, at least, as direct as possible for me.
Q. Who else works on Re-Magazine?
A. Re-Magazine started as a one-person mission, now it is a collective of five. The way we work together changes from issue to issue, it is constantly evolving. How we work together forms a large part of the outcome.
Q. You started a second magazine, BUTT, in 2001. Was this a natural step from Re-Magazine?
A. Yes, it was. Through Re-Magazine I already knew how to do it, for instance, I already had a distribution network. In order to make something you have to have a system of working, to know what you are doing. We worked on BUTT for nine months before its launch, to perfect the format. I would like to have lots of magazines under one umbrella. I’m now thinking of launching a fashion magazine.
Q. You don’t have clients in a conventional sense. Are there any disadvantages to this?
A. I try not to have clients. If you are making your own stuff all the time it is really hard to enter the designer-client hierarchy. I am so used to being 100% responsible for things. For example, if a text is bad, I want to rewrite it.
Q. What would be your ideal job?
A. I can only think about an ideal situation, a situation in which things would work, one in which I could delegate and there would be money to hire people.
Q. What is your favourite piece of your own work?
A. The Information Trashcan issue of Re-Magazine. I would like to revisit the theme of that issue, the idea of bringing voices together. It’s a piece I am still thinking about, it’s unresolved.
Q. What is your favourite piece of graphic design in general?
A. The 12 inch single of Blue Monday/The Beach by New Order and designed by Peter Saville. It is less about good design than doing the right thing. It is a perfect move in a game.
Q. What are you working on right now?
A. The new issue of Butt has to be finished next week. The new issue of Re-Magazine has to be finished at the end of next month. Apart from that I am designing a catalogue for artist and photographer Joke Robaard. She's doing a show at the end of November at Secession in Vienna.
Q. Re-Magazine has change considerably since its launch. Will it keep on evolving?
A. Yes, I think so. The next issue is coming out as a tabloid. It is a good format, it is easy and cheap. Of course it will keep evolving, but I have no idea where it’s heading.