“I will not draw as I am told…”

I’m typing this in bed, where I’m supposed to be resting up, after being sick with a thoroughly unpleasant combo of sore throat and flu symptoms plus upset stomach. Lovely! I’ve spent a few days feeling too unwell to do anything, and today is supposed to be a day of doing nothing except more lying in bed resting up. But…

…that can get boring, so I’ve been reading other people’s blogs, and eventually the desire to write even a short post got too much for me. And in this little moment of not-doing-what-I-should, I wanted to write about an unknown artist in Amsterdam, whose work I saw all around the city in June. He or she writes: ‘I will not draw as I am told’.

Sometimes these words are written, in looping cursive script, as when I first came across them on a wooden hoarding on Bloemgracht, near where I was staying:

A few days later, I saw another inscription, outside a branch of the ubiquitous Albert Heijn Supermarkets. This time the letters dripped paint, the words running into each other.

Were they painted in greater haste, perhaps? Or was the writer deliberately seeking a particular effect? (There’s a genre of graffiti known as ‘drippies’, made when the writer fills a squeezy plastic ketchup bottle, or some similar container, with paint, and writes drippily on the ground or on a wall…)

Some time later, after my partner and daughter had arrived from Melbourne, we spent a day at Artis, Amsterdam’s wonderful zoo. As we made our way towards Artis’s cafe, hot and longing for an ice-cream, imagine my surprise and delight, when I spotted the same words, written upon a metal container box. The paint was peeling, and the remains of someone else’s paste-up obscured some of the lettering, marking the words as done some considerable time ago.

A few days after that encounter, I was sitting outside the Cafe Belgique in Gravenstraat, carrying out an interview with an Amsterdam artist. The walls outside this tiny bar tend to get covered with paste-ups, stickers, pieces: the bar’s owners are fond of street art and make the walls available to local and visiting artists who in turn use the bar as a kind of unofficial club, meeting there in the evenings for a drink. As I asked my questions and listened to the artist’s answers, my gaze drifted across the alleyway and settled upon a sticker on the wall opposite: “I will not draw as I am told’, it read.

Whoever the author may be, these words seem to encapsulate something about graffiti and street art. Anyone who ‘puts up’ on the street without the property owner’s permission is, by definition, committing a criminal offence, and in doing so, they are refusing to draw as they are told (which would be on canvas, in a studio, for a gallery, with permission, and so on). I’m not trying to claim that graffiti and street art has intrinsic value because of this, but the persistent refusal by its authors and artists to do as they are told seems worthy of remark. In a time when Victoria has just passed some fiercely repressive laws with the potential to criminalise many artists (the Graffiti Prevention Act 2007, about which, there will undoubtedly be more to say in this blog), I find myself to be quietly admiring of the determination to make art on and for the street.

6 comments so far

  1. Magic Professor on

    May I ask what Cafe you were referring to?

  2. imagestoliveby on

    Hi there, not sure which part of the post your question is referring to: I mention two cafes, one of which is the cafe in Artis zoo, the other is the Cafe Belgique in Amsterdam…. ? Were you meaning one of these or a different one?

  3. Plien on

    I’ve been to club Trouw several times and in on of the bathrooms my eye catched an interesting sentence:


    Intrigued, time after time, I decided this morning, after another night in club Trouw to find out what the meaning behind this words is. The first hit I got was this blog. Nice to know that more people found these words, all over Amsterdam. But still no information about the author?

  4. erik on

    I first noticed these tags two years ago in Antwerp, where I had moved from Amsterdam to study at the Royal Academy of Art. I figured it was an Antwerp art student. Till I started seeing the same signs in Utrecht, where my girlfriend studies art. And only yesterday I saw an IWNDAIAT-sticker by the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague.

    Prolific and intriguing: who is this guy and where is he from?

  5. Pablo on


    i saw one of those in frankfurt last year, and took a picture of it, as well… i was just now searching for the author (thinking, it probably belongs to a famous paintor, or writer), and got here…

    i really loved the sentence, and the “handwriting” as well…

    i’m going to have it printed on a t-shirt, actually

    if you ever walk past a guy with such a t-shirt, tell me ‘hi!’

  6. imagestoliveby on

    Hi there, thanks for your comment. I’ll definitely look out for your T-shirt!

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