Archive for the ‘Amsterdam’ Tag

Shaking Hands with a Legend….

It’s not often you get to shake hands with a legend. That’s the thing about legends: by definition, they tend not to hang out with us mortals. So imagine the thrill of being introduced to an honest-to-god legend of graffiti: Doze Green.

Doze, as many of you will know, is one of the original members of the Rock Steady Crew. He started putting up on the walls and trains of New York City in 1974; in the mid-80s his work was being exhibited in galleries such as Fun and Tony Shafrazi. And he is still working: check out his website HERE to see some of his recent activities.

Doze was in Amsterdam in June, collaborating with Fefe Talavera for an exhibition at K-Space Gallery. Fefe is a 26 year old Sao Paulo artist, who also has credits to her name of opening for Missy Elliott on tour. Her artworks often feature monsters and fabulous, vaguely terrifying creatures, like THESE. For the K-Space show, each artist produced some solo works, and collaborated on a huge piece, which blended Fefe’s monsters with Doze’s characters using a palette of rich, lush colour:

Check out some of the detail in this work:

The K-Space site contains many great shots of the artists working on this piece together. The exhibition opened with a big party, with both Fefe and Doze present. I had been standing around quietly taking photos, when one girl asked who I was and why I was taking pictures (she thought I must be a journalist). I explained about my research, and she asked if I would like to meet Doze and Fefe. Like to!!??!

And so I was introduced to them – one of street art’s new stars, and one of hip hop’s pioneering legends. And here they are together:

Also present at the party was Orlando Reyes, someone else with an illustrious hip hop career, and now running the 58 Gallery in New Jersey. While we were chatting, standing in the small area outside the gallery, Orlando’s attention suddenly was distracted by something happening inside the gallery. ‘Excuse me’, he said, ‘I have to go tag’.

And he rushed inside to join Doze, who was tagging the sound equipment set up for the opening. Here they are, hard at work:

As you can see, a fun time was had by all…  And if you are in Amsterdam, apparently Doze and Fefe did some works under some of the canal bridges too. What better reason to rent a pedal boat and head up and down the canals than to search for the work of a legend?

Good timing…

It’s always so great when, just sometimes, you are in the right place at the right time. I experienced a little bit of that when I was in Amsterdam in June this year, which is when several artists got together to paint a huge piece known as the Mikosa Mural.

Amsterdam is a small city with a long tradition of graffiti and street art, thanks to the radical politics of squatters and others throughout the last few decades. But in recent years the city has become more conservative. Although the red light district and the coffee shops are flourishing (and as such Amsterdam seems to be a liberal, progressive, hip city) political shifts have taken place which mean that there are tensions within the city about ethnic differences, about ‘anti-social behaviour’, and so on.  In such a climate, getting sponsorship for a gigantic graffiti mural to showcase the work of several artists is quite a feat.

The ‘Mikosa Mural’ was created through the efforts of the Mikosa Foundation, founded in Amsterdam in 2005 by Marco Galmacci, Rocco Pezzella, Claudius Gebele and Henk Kramer. Check it out HERE. Mikosa supports the work of artists ranging from graffiti writers through street artists, internet designers, and video artists.It organises exhibitions, has a clothing range, and produces a ‘magazine’, which as a term just doesn’t do justice to their extremely cool and classy publication.

But the Mikosa Mural was something different – a much bigger project than before, involving a lot of sponsorship – that is, basically schmoozing not only to get the funds to pay for a ton of paint and scaffolding, but also to get permission to undertake the project in the first place.

The site that was selected was at Baarsjesweg 200, in an area called Des Baarsjes, which lies outside the main canal belt where most tourists spend their time. The mural was to be on a wall at the end of a block of apartments and on the adjoining, lower, wall, and it overlooked a small (concrete) soccer pitch. Here’s the wall before the project began. As you can see, it had already received the attention of some local artists:

Painting the wall would take ten days. Its height meant that six levels of scaffolding were required (one of the things that Mikosa had to organise was insurance for the artists working on the scaffolding). The artists taking part were Zedz, Lordh, The Boghe, Morcky, Wayne Horse, and The London Police. Some had been featured in a 2006 exhibition at GEM, the Museum of Contemporary Art in The Hague, which was the first street art show in a contemporary art museum in Holland. All of them are amazing, and very different, artists.

Each worked on different sections of the wall, but the aim of the collaboration was to create a unified piece that would not look ‘bitty’ to the spectator. Here are some of the different sections worked on. The bull with gaping mid-section shown here is by Wayne Horse:

Easily identifiable behind the scaffolding is the work of The London Police, of course:

In the next image, the amazing hand puncturing the balloons is by Morcky, and to the sides you can see some of Zedz’s intricate geometric work:

For more of Zedz’s work, check out the adjacent wall:

For me, the timing was so good because I got to observe the mural as it took shape. I turned up at the site several times during the ten days, and watched the artists paint, and paint. And on one day, I turned up to discover them repairing the images, which had been heavily tagged during the night (the scaffolding of course made it easy for anyone passing to climb up and tag over the work).

While something like this on the one hand is part and parcel of graffiti, on the other hand there were a couple of things that made it seem so frustrating. First, the mural was clearly the work of artists at the top of their game, and tagging over it just seemed so… so… disrespectful. And second, the guys who had bombed the mural had stopped by the site during the day before to chat to the artists and in fact came back the day after the tagging to say: ‘nothing personal, it’s just graffiti’…. But it seemed to feel pretty personal to the artists who were now forced to repaint their work.

Anyway, the tags got painted over and the work repaired. If you want to see ten days’ work compressed into a three minute video, watch this:

And here’s what the mural looked like when it was finished. Fantastic!

“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.

Street memories…

I spent a few weeks in Amsterdam recently. I was there to meet artists and take photographs of art on the city streets (Amsterdam is one of the cities I’m studying as part of my research on street art). One day, I was walking along a street when I suddenly came across this:

In addition to the usual pleasure that I experience when I come across a new piece of art in the streets, I felt an incredible shock of recognition. The calligraphy, the allusive style, the signature…. I realised that I had seen the work of this writer when I had been in Amsterdam two years before. On that trip, walking around the area known as the Jordaan, I had wandered down a little street and seen words on a hoarding which read: ‘As she dances in the widescreen of her existence’.

Something about about those words had really moved me at the time (and still does). The idea of there being a ‘widescreen’ to existence… and the image of a woman dancing. It embodied, for me, a sense of a way of being that bespoke lightness and joy.

I had no idea who the writer was. I felt surprised and delighted that the writer inscribed his or her words in English rather than Dutch, and, over the next few days, I came across a few more of the writer’s words upon other walls: the distinctive black lettering and the short phrases and sentences, the signature of ‘Laser 3.14’.

But I’m used to the idea that street artists and graffiti writers come and go. They move city, they stop writing on the streets – one way or another, the words left by a writer often disappear and don’t get replaced. So to come across another of Laser 3.14’s texts, two years after my first encounter, seemed like an amazing piece of good fortune.

After that, throughout my 3 week stay in Amsterdam, I saw more and more of the writer’s work. I photographed everything I could see. Some of the texts appealed to me more than others, but all were interesting. Almost all were written on temporary surfaces: hoardings, screens, sheeting. I came across one text, faded and almost too faint to read, painted on a wall (it read ‘When the streets are wet/ the colours slip into the sky’). The others had all been granted ephemerality by virtue of their host surface: they would appear, be present in the city for a while, and then be ripped down.

One day my sense of this writer’s gift to the city intensified into an even more personal encounter. During my visit, I was staying in a studio on Prinsengracht, and each day would leave the studio, and turn left down a small street called Runstraat. On this street there was construction work being carried out on a building; a hoarding covered its lower floor. And then one morning, the hoarding looked like this:

I loved the idea that, while I slept, Laser 3.14 had passed by this hoarding, on the street around the corner from where I lived, and inscribed these words. My pleasure at seeing them made me feel as though I was ‘dancing in the widescreen of my existence’, indeed.