Robert Roest’s paintings of candid dog snapshots play with the absurdity that new media sometimes deliver, emphasizing the uncanny, unexpected aspects of visual technologies. Without clinching to a particular style, the artist instead suits his tools to the tasks at hand, and in this insightful interview explains the backstory of the images of loving pets turned demonic.

How would you describe the process of creating your artworks, be it from the idea to realization or technical execution?

My work is structured in series, and because of that every series asks for its own method. I don’t have one proven method or process from idea to realization. Ideas often come from looking at photos, images or videos I come across online, or video games (Meatware Ecosystem from 2019), but not always. Even a slice of cheese on my morning bread can be a starting point (CASUS from 2020). Sometimes a medium itself is a motivation to start a body of work, like the works I made with the very limited drawing tool on Samsung Notes (Fueling fire, don’t worship ashes! from 2018). Sometimes, the theoretical or conceptual ideas are quite finished before I start executing the work. But it can also be that I only have the visuals worked out. In that case, I don’t necessarily yet know what it will be about. I only know I am gripped by certain visuals. The image itself develops, but the ideas remain in a primal state. The idea grows on me while I execute the work. Sometimes, ideas or visuals ripen in my head for up to two years before I start the work. Other times, I get an idea and start the same day. Sometimes a series is born out of a previous series. Sometimes it appears out of the blue. I think the common thing among all these different methods is that it always starts with a certain visual intuition.

How do you choose the dogs that you portray? Are they dogs that you met somewhere and captured on your camera, or do you look for pictures already taken by their owners?

All of them come from snapshots and YouTube video screenshots I found on the internet. Some paintings are a combination of different images that I collaged together, and others are closer to one particular online image. I scavenged on the internet to bring a pack of seemingly evil or angry dogs together. Those images are lucky, amateur shots. You can’t really stage the kind of photographs I used for painting the dogs. Most times I have to cut the image into a better composition, find a better background, exaggerate certain features or leave some things out.

Are there any particular stories behind the aggressive dog expressions in your artworks?

The ideas behind them? It’s never one thing in my work. In the case of the dog series, the deception of the images is an important layer. Most likely all of the portrayed dogs are very lovely pets. They only appear demonic, aggressive and evil because of camera recording failures. Overexposed eyes because the flashlight was too strong. Or blurry maws and long teeth as if in motion, in action, because of a slow shutter speed and low light conditions.

The paintings are not what they seem. Instead of being aggressive, the camera may have captured a dog yawning. The paintings fool you. In that sense, they are about suspending judgment about what one sees, hears or experiences in the world.

I also refer to the dogs that roam the underworld in the myths of the world, the dog of Hades in Greek mythology, or Fenrir in Norse mythology. Instead of placing these hellhounds into a fantastical realm, I want them quasi-dangerously close to us, in our well-lit homes. On our carpets, on our doormat. On a more formal, painterly technical level I tried to combine an almost traditional academic style of painting and combine it with digital aesthetics.

Do your paintings have an emotional impact on their viewers? The animals on them look like they are attacking the spectator.

I think the emotional impact is different in the different series that I have made. Most series, so far, have not been very emotional. They are not particularly meant to evoke emotions, even though I would be totally fine with people having emotional reactions seeing them. They are about visual, perceptual or conceptual problems or ideas. From the series I have made, the dogs may have the strongest emotional impact on viewers. It really had one on me when I started painting them. A strong emotional impact or excitement was one of the reasons for me to start the work. But I’ve made quite a lot and been with them for a long time in my studio. They’re my friends now. For me, the abstract expressionist series (Fueling flames, don’t worship ashes!) is also emotionally impactful. Capturing emotions, or channeling my own emotions was meant to be the main purpose of that series.

Do you feel your style is developing? 

In my case, that is difficult to answer, because I use a different style in every series. The styles can be too different to speak of a development in them in a regular sense. I look at art history and contemporary art like a predator, and steal stylistic ways that are developed and used and alter them for my own purposes. Maybe there’s a little in the dogs, as it’s a mix of an almost academic, traditional style of painting with digital aesthetics with the blurs and flash light. Two styles that are very different from each other, but I forced them together. In my first series ‘Exorcise from a safe distance’, I used a digital style. I imitated painting a low resolution image. In ‘Images for deep relaxation and physiological hygiene’ I used a minimalist style. Style is to me a tool that can do certain things and can’t do other things. Every style has its limits and that’s why I like to have access to a whole toolbox, instead of using or developing only one style. With a minimalist style you can do great things, but not express, let’s say, emotions, as well as with an expressionist style. All styles have their usefulness depending on what you want to use them for. Maybe people can still see a common style in my work, just like actors play different roles and characters, but everyone can still see the style of acting of a specific actor. But for me, having a personal, recognizable style is not what I am after. I find it more interesting if people think that my work was made by 10 different artists. I don’t know if that’s possible, but for me, it’s an ideal.

Who are your favorite artists that you look up to, do they have any influence on your style?

There are quite a few artists I find very good and interesting, historic as well as contemporary. But there’s one in particular who had a big influence on me. Not necessarily because of his style. But because something more fundamental to me: his attitude. I am talking about the German artist Sigmar Polke. I find him to be a very complete artist. Intelligent, funny, daring, experimental, diverse, challenging, a master of many media. A crazy weirdo. An independent, original maker and thinker. A child instead of an adult, a fully developed, matured child, if that makes any sense. My work is in many ways very different, and I can’t stand in his shadow. But I try to embody the traits that I just mentioned, which I admire so much in him.

Are you currently preparing any exhibitions or projects we can look forward to?

Yes, there are some things up in the air. Follow my Instagram for updates about shows. 

Within the framework of our current theme “Who Let the Dogs Out”, what animal would you like to have as a lifetime companion, be it realistic or fantastic?

Let me go for a fantastical one! I would love to have one of the big black goat bucks that carry the wagon of the Norse god of thunder Thor on the dark clouds. Those stubborn looking goats with their mighty horns. I imagine them as a Scottish wild Goat. I love goats for their fearlessness of heights, their playfulness, and their somewhat bad reputation as scapegoats. Why did those beautiful animals have to be sacrificed in history in so many religions, cults and traditions? Let me give one a proper loving treatment.

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Robert Roest, born in 1992 in the Netherlands,, lives and works in Jersey City, USA. Roest has exhibited his work in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, United Kingdom, Italy and the United States.

Robert Roest’s practice of painting is rooted in both the contemporary world of new media and the history of painting. His work is structured in series of 5-15 paintings. In his work, Roest explores phenomena like perception, projection, illusion, and representation. It is about the interrelationship between reality and your senses. All his work briefly revolves around the questions ‘Can you trust your senses?’ and ‘Can you believe your eyes?’ The paintings are often about the physical and psychological experience of seeing, incorporating the stories and myths that occupy our psyche. They are about the impact images have on us, not just the ones we see online.


Artworks / Robert Roest @robert.roest

Interview / Markéta Kosinová @__maarketa__

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