Some weeks ago, I presented the “Calligraffiti” book by Niels Shoe Meulman to you and described it as a very interesting art book because it contains a lot of amazing and very exactly and detailed artworks. Some days ago, Shoe agree to give my an short interview and I tried to get as much as info about his personal background as well as about the ideas behind Calligraffiti. I hope you’ll like it…
uac: Although you are an internationally known designer, art director, and graffiti artist, I’ll ask you the same questions as anyone else – Who are you? Where are you from? And What are you doing?
Shoe: Ahah… yes, I’m known by some, but a total unknown to many others. I was born in 1967 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. My father was a film maker and my mother a law teacher (later: unemployed and judge).
Graffiti was the first way that I expressed myself…
Growing up in Amsterdam in the 80′s was really great. Freedom ruled and culturally there was the unlikely combination of British anarchy and American consumerism. Since then I have applied my visual talent in various ways (graphic design, advertising, web design, calligraphy) Recently I felt I learned enough over the years to call myself an artist and named my art-form Calligraffiti.
uac: In the last weeks, you published your book Calligraffiti, which shows a mixture of graphic designs and tags you did under that label. How and when did you started writing your tags on walls? Are you still active on the streets?
Shoe: Graffiti was the first way that I expressed myself. Well, after Play-Doh and Lego. The streets were my first medium. But it was something many kids at school were doing. Later, when we realized that they were doing it on trains in New York it really became a world.
In the following years I became part of other world like graphic design and later, advertising. Now I’m focussing on the art world, even though I don’t really belong to any of those scenes. Whenever I start focussing on another “world” I try not to look back too much. So for me there is really no point in starting again with bombing the streets and getting up. I can never get to the level I reached at the height of my graffiti days in the eighties, so there’s really no point. Sure, I go out tagging sometimes, but it’s usually when I’m drunk or high.
uac: From your book I’ve learned that Calligraffiti, a combination of calligraphy and graffiti, is a real new art form. Please tell me about its characteristics and the ideas behind it. Could you explain the difference to normal tags? Are there any famous examples of artists, except from you, who create calligraffiti?
Shoe: The term Calligraffiti isn’t new. If you google it you’ll find some interesting results besides my art. And yes, there are of course many other artists that are influenced by calligraphy and graffiti. Eric Haze, Jose Parla, Retna, The Boghe, to name a few.
It’s constantly evolving. Like an organism, really.
Even before I made a name for myself as a graffiti writer I was interested in all forms of typography and calligraphy. Maybe this quote from the book Spraycan Art by long-time friend Bando explains it well: The first day someone invented a letter. And the first day someone made an effort to make a letter look good. That’s when it started. I mean, that’s what it’s all about.
uac: For me it’s hard to comprehend how you develop new handwriting styles. Where do you take your ideas from and do you have any calligraphy idols?
Shoe: I have a few handwriting styles. And variations on them. And then there are the letters that are drawn, not written. They are usually based on handwriting styles but are designed as outlines. All in all there are so many styles that I use, but if you mean the one that I use mostly in my art since 2007, I can tell you that it is in constant flux. Whenever I see an old postcard, an Arabic book, some 17th century tile decoration or the Book of Kells, it can influence me in a way that I try a new variation in my handwriting. It’s constantly evolving. Like an organism, really.
uac: In the past you created pieces (please correct or complement me) outside by the use of paint rollers, ink tanks, and spray-cans, or painted beautiful handwritings by brush for inside. What’s the ultimate tool for a calligraffiti artist? Are their any plans for the near future – New projects, new shows, new books? What’s about some action on the streets of Berlin?
Shoe: Just as I don’t like to limit myself to just New York graffiti letters, I also like to try different techniques. They are usually driven by the scale of the work. If I use a pen in a sketch book, the movements and shapes come from my hand.
If I use a brush on a big piece of paper, it’s all in the wrist. And using a spray can on a wall or canvas is mostly done by my arm. Lately I’ve been experimenting with brooms. They are basically big brushes and, just like a roller on a stick, I have to use my whole body. It’s my hand-wrist-arm-body theory. Together with a befriended film maker (who also directed the ink-tank video) we’re talking about an experiment using one of those cleaning cars with the big rotating brushes. So maybe after body we can add car. Ahah!
uac: Thanks for the interview and the nice questions!
For more info about Shoe and his calligraffiti artworks, visit calligraffiti.nl.