Hey, its Hope here! Let me tell you a cool story…
Once upon a time, I lived in the liberal, bike loving country of The Netherlands. While yes, I spent a lot of time taste testing Dutch craft beer (YUM) and attending free music festivals (SO FUN), I was also hitting the books and working towards my second degree focused on International Marketing. I struggled for a while before I realized that the natural fit for me was studying the ephemeral effects that street art/graffiti can have on an urban landscape. Through photo documentation, interviews, anonymous surveys, attending events and following tour companies around, I suggested that there is a strong, thriving subculture of street art in the capital city of Holland. I’m now a self proclaimed expert (I’m kidding, seriously) on the street art culture’s history to present, unique characteristics of this art form in the Amsterdam area, and I can recognize most Dutch artists’ work.
Nowadays, the academic world is actually acknowledging the study of street art, with numerous studies based on larger population epicentres such as London, Paris, Berlin, Bogota, and Seoul. But for Amsterdam, there was not a lot of content written about this glorious city. At first sight, I found that spaces of ordinary life, like an alleyway, could be considered ordinary or banal with an untrained eye; but by looking deeper, the context of street art within space was able to tell a much more complex story. In fact by studying the writings on the walls, it has been said that this is another way of experiencing a city, another way of living. My favourite thing about street art, is that it really is a conversation, usually about hard topics, with many different, creative layers.
So what is “street art”? Well, I basically wrote a book about how street art differs and blurs together with graffiti, urban art, urban interventions, and public art. To sum it up, street art can be anything from a stencil, sticker, a mural or wall painting, or even non-commercial images/posters on a sign post or wall. It can be made with spray paint, brushes, rollers, palettes, stickers, mosaics, and stencils. Street art must be created in an outdoors environment. One of its main components is about having the freedom to paint outside the boundaries – thinking outside of the system, such as a canvas or gallery. There is also entertainment element with it, by providing a space with personal meaning, or connecting to the energy of a city. Street art is usually an illegal form of art found in private and public spaces. Messaging of this art form can have a variety of stories, from political and confrontational, to simply being a creative venture. The artwork created in a moment is unique and can not be replicated in the exact same way in that exact location by the same artist. It could be added to by another artist, lost to weather conditions, or covered up by a municipality worker. Therefore the city becomes a product where the locals and visitors take part in the production of its space; and the city itself becomes a realm which hosts a symbolic value and an ability to generate a sense of common civic belonging. My favourite concept about street art is the idea that it is not simply just one piece on a wall, but a flowing, lively conversation from an almost unseen community.
I like to think of it as a one-time visit to a free, open air museum for everyone and anyone to enjoy.
A’dam is considered to be one of the greatest small cities in the world, as this historical port city is home to over 180 nationalities with different perspectives and backgrounds. Unique architecture of gabled rooftops and tall, thin, brick buildings immediately springs to everyone’s mind. It is a city known for a presence of tolerance, diversity, and liberal concepts – but also, a home to resourceful minds incubating creativity. In a way, street art is way for local artists to keep close to their roots while also conquering other popular images of this world class destination, such as Rembrandt, Anne Frank, the Golden Age, and canals.
Street art and graffiti is said to have originated on the streets of the Bronx and Manhattan in the late sixties and early seventies, with famous artists like Keith Haring and Futura 2000. Nothing was left untouched, from sign posts to benches to subway cars, ink was seen everywhere in an underground conversation. From there, a self sustaining culture was created and built upon with leads into a psychical gallery setting. During this same time period and across the Atlantic Ocean, The Netherlands was growing a strong punk rock scene and was idly unaware of what was going on with its American neighbours, until an Amsterdam gallery owner invited American graffiti artists to display artwork in his gallery and these two scenes began mingling together. Quickly, Dutch artists began imitating this graffiti style and growing it into something much more, like the Dutch artist, Shoe, who coined calligraffiti. Quickly, artists began creating their own styles, their own zines, halls of fame, and much more.
Fast forward to the present, and Amsterdam is still charging ahead to be the home of various galleries focused on street art, graffiti, and urban art, a street art themed cafe, the world’s biggest street art museum, and many different groups and non-profit organizations, including Amsterdam Street Art.
I had the pleasure of working with the amazing team at Amsterdam Street Art to help them work on a marketing plan and attended the first ever Dutch Street Art Awards in 2016. This was a grassroots celebration focusing specifically on Dutch artists, organizations, galleries, and all that, from across the small, eccentric country. Super cool!
I also found that artists from across the globe are connected, virtually, but also psychically, and often meet up with their crews. This particular cityscape is a hotspot for layovers to a next destination, and the iconic imaging of a liberal holiday in the Red Light District leads to many international artist visits and their works seen across the city centre and outside areas.
Street art is one of those art forms that will endure, as humanity has been writing on walls as far back as recorded data goes. I could really write about this forever, so I’ll just close with my researched theory that street art is now a popular, emerging lifeline of every cityscape, despite if it is recognized and encouraged, or heavily discouraged by outside sources.
List of Photos – In Order Shown:
Selfie at Street Art Today‘s free wall in the NDSM neighbourhood
Mural by Rotterdam Duo, Last Plak (Ox-Alien and Edorath)
Tag by Dutch Artist, Laser 3.14
Mural Inspired by Vincent Van Gogh on a Shopfront
Stencil by American Duo, Faile
Selfie at Amsterdam Street Art‘s HQ
Throw-up by Italian Artist, Alice Pasquini