The Graffiti Island. Happy March
Dutch graffiti writer IMTEK and more cool stuff, in your every-1st-of-the-month newsletter.
how have you been this month?
I’ve been working hard on the final draft of the book, but I've kept the promise I made last month, and here I am with the second article from my series on the evolution of graffiti and street art in Amsterdam. This month I'm sharing the story of IMTEK, who was particularly active in the streets and along the canals of Amsterdam between 2000 and 2014, when he quit graffiti out of the immense love and excitement he once had for it.
This is also the story of Amsterdam's legendary "Graffiti Island," an unspoiled island in the IJ River discovered in 2007 by IMTEK and AMOK during one of their graffiti sailing adventures. With the scrap wood they found on the island, they built a big wall in the middle of it and, over the years, they took many friends to paint onto that wall. Unfortunately, at the end of 2008, Amsterdam's big makeover plans kicked off, and the area surrounding the Graffiti Island was set to become a new residential neighborhood.
The story of Amsterdam's Graffiti Island has many similarities with the story I've been writing in the past month, except in this book the "graffiti paradise" is/was a former cement factory in Ghent, Belgium. Four different generations of graffiti writers and street artists have painted on that abandoned factory until the municipality tore it down to start developing a new residential neighborhood.
These stories are not uncommon: there are forgotten places claimed by the graffiti and street art community at the margin of every city. These places of artistic freedom allow graffiti writers to take their time to practice their lettering and try out new styles in a safe environment. Unlike in the streets or in a train yard, inside an abandoned factory artists have plenty of time to level up their aesthetics without anyone around. Moreover, artists who draw inspiration from the urban landscape are usually fascinated by the poetic of abandoned places -the atmosphere of decay suggesting the crisis of industrialization and the renaissance of the natural world.
All these stories also share the same ending: a new residential neighborhood. Nearly always, though: New York City's 5POINTZ building, which was destroyed in 2014, boasted on the building’s exterior street art and graffiti that were declared to satisfy the 'recognized stature' requirement under VARA (an US legislation that gives visual artists moral rights, including the right to prevent the destruction of their works), and so the Court awarded the artists $6.7 million in damages. The 5POINTZ building might be gone, but the street artists emerged victorious in their suit against the developer who whitewashed their work and destroyed New York City’s Graffiti Mecca. The impact of the suit may well echo far into the future, keeping on narrowing the gap between Fine Art and more unconventional forms of creativity like street and graffiti art, which have become an invaluable part of our culture.
I'm sure there is, or there was, a graffiti spot like these ones in your city too. If you want to tell me about it, or simply share some pictures, just reply to this email :)
Until next month,
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NEW on the Blog!
IMTEK and the aftermath of being a purist in graffiti.
IMTEK has always experimented with name-writing with the most uncommon mediums and in the weirdest spots, including along Amsterdam's canals –which he conquered during his glorious years of doing boat graffiti.
Handpicked by yours truly
Stuff I liked this month
What just happened in the graffiti world? The graffiti community organized a jam in solidarity with Ukraine. On Saturday 26th, graffiti writers all around the world painted a piece in blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukraine flag. You can see some photos by browsing the hashtag #BlueYellowJam
Many street artists painted a piece in solidarity with Ukraine, here is one by Seth in Paris:
Mural of the month: Spanish artist Escif painted a provocative mural in front of the Valencia store of the fast-fashion retailer Primark.
Titled "Fashion Victims," the mural features people -primarily women- working in conditions close to slavery to mass-produce at low costs clothes sold in western countries.
Pejac enhanced the imperfections of a crumbling wall in Madrid by adding tiny, hand-painted men. A minimalist artwork realized by adding discreet touches to the existing texture of the wall, thus charging it with surrealism.
Poster artist Ex-Voto Fecit pasted up once again his famous poster "Madonna Velocipedista" (Sprinter Mary) in Rome. Ex-Voto is known for his paste-ups, simultaneously sacred and profane; the Sprinter Mary is a tribute to all those who (bravely) use the bike to move across the city. The artwork was posted in Galleria PASA, an unconventional gallery of poster art on the walls of a tunnel ("galleria" in Italian, the same word used for an art "gallery") in Rome.
This short video from the Post Graffiti Symposium, an event that took place in 1983 in New York, was produced by Dolores and Hubert Neumann, two art collectors who played a decisive role in graffiti acceptance as a legitimate art form. The video features Keith Haring and many graffiti pioneers painting one next to the other during this groundbreaking graffiti demonstration.
More about Keith Haring: art curator Carlo McCormick, a friend of the artist, talked about the importance of Keith Haring's drawings in the New York City subway. Catch up this instagram live!
I'm terribly late to the party, but better late than never! This month I watched the first two seasons of Shameless, a tv show telling the story of alcoholic Frank and his shattered family. Now I'm hooked, and I owe it to the talent of the actors playing Frank's children, especially the youngest ones.
I'm reading "What's needed is magic," a book on writing by Haruki Murakami. I've only read one book by the Japanese writer, and that was many years ago. So I'm approaching this book with great curiosity and zero knowledge of his previous work. Rather than practical advice, though, this book is more like a meditation on writing, as the author conveys life lessons, for example about the importance of staying focused and getting into the flow, and an overall sense of calm. Anyway, now that I know more about Murakami’s process, I'd like to read one more novel by him. Any advice? (The one I already read is "Norwegian Wood.”)
What did you like in the past month? Let me know by replying to this email!
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Open Calls for Urban Artists
Urban Nation opened the applications for Fresh A.I.R., their artist in residence scholarship program in Berlin. Apply before March 31st!
Craft Ostia is looking for street artists from Rome and surrounding areas to paint large-scale murals in Ostia, the harbor city of ancient Rome. Apply before March 31st!
Pompeii Street Art Festival is looking for artists to create murals around the theme of "Rediscovery, as a form of rebirth and projection of an ancient civilization." The festival will be in September, but applications close on April 30th.
McLuc Culture is organizing "Sulle Tracce Delle Farfalle" (On the trail of butterflies), a graffiti event where four artists will paint on farmsteads sitting amidst the wood in central Italy. Apply before May 25th!