Shoe builds a framework and tears it down

Shoe builds a framework and tears it down

Oct 25, 2012 |  by  |  Art
About the author
The name's Ciaran, a 27-year-old guy who loves the idea of a discovery, even if it actually isn't one. Among many other Sherlock Holmes adventures, searching for art and music is what keeps me going. High Five!

An email went round to the editors, asking if anyone was interested in doing an interview with artist Niels “Shoe” Meulman. Within a matter of seconds, I hit reply-all. Trying to keep my enthusiasm as discreet as I possibly could, my answer read: “MINE, MINE, MINE!!”

Just to start everyone off on the same page, can you give a brief introduction of, for the love of cliché, how it all started?
“Haha, I’ve told this story many times before. So in a nutshell, ok? I started out with graffiti in the early ‘80s. I went to New York a lot and was introduced to the pioneers in the scene. I spent a lot of time working hard on my own projects and the name Shoe started to grow and became very well known. Quite quickly after that I wanted more than just graffiti and started doing graphic design. In the mid ‘90s I even started my own firm. After that I started working as an art director for FHV/BBDO. It was great to just be creative, without all the other bullshit. That was taken care of for you. Fast-forward to 2007 and my Calligraffiti project was born.”

I mean, what gets started up out in the countryside? Not too much if you ask me, culturally speaking.

That’s quite a nutshell. You’ve just brought out your second book, Painter. On these well-designed pages you study the connection between street art and modern art. What characterises these two styles for you?
“Whether you call it urban art, street art or graffiti art, it’s all the same: art made on the street. But the specific characteristic that signifies street art is that it is an art form that has its roots on the streets. In that sense rap is also street art. These days everything’s being started on the street though. I mean, what gets started up out in the countryside? Not too much if you ask me, culturally speaking.”

“Modern art is something I was never that interested in to be honest, but it’s something that’s grabbing my attention more and more lately. I went to lots of international art conventions; Art Biennale Venice, Art Basel, Art Basel Miami and Frieze London, just to name a few. Gigantic amounts of money are paid for art, but there is no street art to be found anywhere. I had the feeling that street art had become a part of modern art these days, but that wasn’t the case. Since pop-art you haven’t really had that many serious movements within the art world.”

Does that disappoint you?
“If I compare it to music, then yes, it’s disappointing. The consumers of art are very elitist, high-class. The consumers of music, well that’s pretty much everyone. People just don’t consume visual arts the way they do with music.”


By bringing out books though, you can make it more accessible to a broader audience, right? Are you then doing it for yourself or are you doing it for the sake of street art?
“I’ve reached a certain level that puts me in a league of my own. Everyone says that they don’t fit in a box. I don’t fit in a box either, but I’ve built a box for myself. And that box is Calligraffiti. My box evolves in all different directions. I made that box myself, so I can decide how big it is and in my box I feel comfortable.”

When I look at your work, it’s almost neurotic. The precise handwork, as if it were pin-point laser printed. Do you build a framework for yourself through the style you’ve created?
“The repetition is something I do to mess it up again afterwards. If one is different, then it’s a failed piece of work; I’m a perfectionist. The tension between order and chaos, that is something that returns throughout my work. In this new book, and my last book also, I place two things, two subjects opposite one another. I’m very calm, but I’m also very aggressive. It’s that constant use of two opposites together. Eventually that’s what it’s all about for me. Bringing those two extremes together, that is what beauty is for me.”


Do you have any literal boundaries in your work? For example the size of your brush with Calligraffiti, is that a boundary for you?
“We’ve once thought about using big combine harvesters and figuring out a way to incorporate them as a type of brush. At Schiphol you also have the big floor cleaning machines with their huge brushes. But the problem with all these existing machines or brushes is that they can’t move sideways. So it’s impossible to then write or paint in the style of my Calligraffiti. But big, bigger, biggest; at the moment I feel good using painting as my medium. Using a canvas or some other type of surface, so that I can use an object as a brush myself. In that way I myself can feel a part of a very old tradition in painting.”

That was literal, but what about a philosophical take on some sort of boundary in your work?
“I actually wouldn’t know. I don’t even want to think about that. A boundary is something you bump in to. I don’t search for any boundaries; I don’t set any boundaries in my work or in my approach to a project. But I definitely hit a wall from time to time.”

My paintbombs are the ultimate execution of wrecking.

Before this interview, I was going around and telling all my friends: Guess what? I’m going to interview Shoe! I’d show them the video of the deck chairs you made for Pluk de Nacht. You have to tell me, how does it feel to throw one of those paintbombs?
“Haha, it feels great! Like I was saying earlier with my quest for the perfect stroke, that is creating a sense of order and structure. That’s the designer in me, the clean and neat side of me. But I also enjoy breaking stuff. That’s the paradox of graffiti also. You create something, and simultaneously you break something else. My paintbombs are the ultimate execution of wrecking.”

This Saturday is the book presentation of Shoe’s latest book: Painter. It will be held just across the water at Hotel de Goudfazant from 15:00 – 20:00. There will also be a performance ‘The Name Game’ and Shoe will personally reveal one of his latest works ‘Unpark Avenue’.

Photos courtesy of Adele Renault.

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