The Campaign

Mr P. My Way: Mr Aten Molly

The Amsterdam-based artist on living life at his own pace and dressing according to his own set of rules

Mr Aten Molly’s primary concern is capturing beauty. “I guess you could say I’m an aesthetic person,” muses the 28-year-old artist as he reclines among the artworks scattered across his apartment. “I like to paint the pretty things in life.”

What qualifies as pretty in Mr Molly’s eyes? His canvases reveal a love of colour – of warm pinks alongside cool pastel-greens or the dark red of a flower against the off-white of a silk shirt. Much of what he paints, he says, is inspired by daily life. If he spots a particularly pleasing combination of colours while strolling the streets of his native Amsterdam, he’ll take a mental snapshot and commit it to canvas when he returns home. “Ultimately, I just want to make something that’s lovely to look at,” he says.

Mr Molly came relatively late to painting, only picking up a brush in his early twenties, motivated, he says, by a desire to probe the limits of his own creativity. He has since transformed his small ground-floor apartment into a makeshift studio where he spends his days surrounded by art. “I wanted to see how good I can get at the things that interest me,” he says. “To do that, I needed a space where I can express myself creatively.”

Home is in the Spaarndammerbuurt neighbourhood, an old working-class area of Amsterdam on the banks of the river IJ, which benefits from a convenient location – it’s a 14-minute cycle ride to central Amsterdam – while still managing to retain a sense of isolation. Cut off by the railway tracks that splay out westwards from the Centraal station, it feels like a slice of suburbia transplanted into the heart of this bustling city. “Once you’ve crossed the tracks, you can suddenly hear the birds sing,” he says. “The silence here is such a beautiful thing.”

Half-Croatian, half-Surinamese and named after Ancient Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten, Mr Molly is a singular character. It’s hard not to envy the life of peaceful solitude he has carved out for himself here, or to admire the boldness he has shown in choosing to eschew traditional life goals in favour of forging his own path. And, as we found out when we visited his home, his sense of style is every bit as offbeat and idiosyncratic as the man himself.

What appeals to you about clothes?

“I’m really into imperfections, you know? If I’m wearing an oversized sweater, I like one sleeve to be pulled down over my hand and the other one rolled up. Or, for instance, I’m looking at these boots [a pair of Jacques full-grain leather brogue boots from Mr P.] and imagining how they’ll look in six or seven years’ time. That’s my kind of style.”

Most shoes don’t last for that long.

“Yeah, but I like to balance that by choosing clothes that are essentially very high quality, and then wearing them till they’re nearly falling apart. It’s the same way I like to approach my art. The execution of the painting itself can be quite messy, but the colours I’ve chosen have an underlying aesthetic quality.”

So hard-wearing fabrics are a big part of your style?

“Not just hard-wearing fabrics, but fabrics that age well. I think there’s a difference there. That’s why I’m into leather and wool. At a certain point they become yours. When I wear a pair of boots every day for months in a row, they take on my shape. They adapt to the way I walk. They become mine – totally different from another pair of the same boots that haven’t been worn yet. The same goes for jeans that get a rip in them, or maybe get splashed with paint. Authenticity, I think, is the most important thing when it comes to dressing myself.

What kind of colours do you like to wear?

“I wear quite calm colours, such as navy and black, which is strange, because when I paint I like to use really bright colours. Having said that, I love to wear cobalt blue.”

What do you wear to paint?

“I have old corduroy overalls, so I guess look quite stylish when I paint.”

What do you think of Amsterdam style?

“There are certain people who are really stylish, but it’s a small town. You actually end up recognising them. I have them in my head right now. In general, though, it’s not a fashion city. It’s not the mentality to dress up or peacock here. Compare Amsterdam with Tokyo, for instance. I went there and walked along Harajuku. It was like being in the middle of a fashion show.”

You live an unconventional life here. Do you ever feel pressure to conform?

“No. Maybe my attitude to life is a little anti-establishment, but I feel that we put too much pressure on ourselves. People set objectives and then work as hard as they can to achieve them. And I know this sounds like a cliché, but in my opinion, it’s true. When you work like that, you forget to enjoy what you do.”

And that’s not a problem you share?

“Right now, I’m completely content. And that’s a satisfying feeling.”