Every December, the Tate Britain debuts its much-anticipated Christmas tree. Designed by a different contemporary artist each year, the famed museum’s trees are both yuletide decorations and works of modern art. This year, Iranian installation artist Shirazeh Houshiary has quite literally turned the tradition on its head with her upside-down evergreen. Suspended by its trunk, the tree hovers above the main entrance’s stunning spiral staircase.
By mixing beautiful and traditional calligraphy with the rawness and grittiness of graffiti, Niels Meulman gives a whole new way of appreciating both art forms. Meulman, also known as Shoe, is an artist, designer and art director who was born in Amsterdam and who’s worked at international ad agencies like BBDO and television networks like MTV (where he was their creative director for a short period of time).
We were able to get in touch with Shoe to ask him about Calligraffiti. Read that interview below, after seeing some of his incredibly intriguing work.
Selection of Work:
Keep Your Eye on the Tiger
Thou Shalt Not Write Emails Whilst Intoxicated
The World is Yours
So Many People, So Little Purpose
Everybody Else is Wrong
Crime Time Kings. Spray paint on a wall at the Tivoli Jam in Dublin. Vulture by Adele Renault.
Shoe Gate: Spray painted mural in Altamura, Italy. Rats by Adele Renault.
Practice every day has made, Pangur perfect in his trade; I get wisdom day and night, Turning darkness into light. – Pangur Ban
Being superior to others is nothing other than having people talk about your affairs and listening to their opinions. -Hagakure
You’ve coined the term Calligraffiti. When did you start merging graffiti with calligraphy? What has the response been like?
Shoe: I got into both at a fairly young age. I started writing SHOE in the school’s bicycle parking at the age of eleven and did my first calligraphic sketches at sixteen with an older friend of mine who was working at an ad agency. A year later, I also got a few classes of calligraphy in art school but that didn’t last because I dropped out and started my first company. After that, I did all kinds of jobs in design, media and advertising. Until 2007. I was forty years old and decided to be an artist. It was only natural that I would go back to my early loves; graffiti and calligraphy. And I just didn’t want to choose. It’s like Yankees catcher Yogi Berra once said: “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Do most of your works have deeper, social meanings?
Shoe: My works are usually sparked by personal observations. Something that I see, hear or read in my direct surroundings, and then connect to the really big things like nature, the human condition and all the stuff that we don’t understand. This line from Hagakure explains it very well: “Matters of great concern should be treated lightly. Matters of small concern should be treated seriously.” I am a very logical person and I therefore understand that the inexplicable can only be approached intuitively. To me, that is what art is.
Which is your favorite piece and why?
Shoe: This I can not answer, it’s like if you would ask me which is your favorite child. I don’t have any children but I suspect that I couldn’t answer that either. Then again, if you are forced to choose, you know deep down what your choice would be. A friend of mine once asked me to write down my 10 favorite movies. You can only do that without really thinking. It is like the difference between looking and seeing. And it reminds me of that line from The Matrix: “You didn’t come here to make the choice. You’ve already made it. You’re here to try to understand why you made it.” Anyway, when I read/heard the question, the first piece that came to mind was ‘Unanswered Question’ from the recent Throw-Ups exhibition in LA. That’s probably also why I priced it higher than the others, at $7,000.
How has working for MTV helped or changed your creative process?
Shoe: In 2007, I organized the first Calligraffiti exhibition. In Amsterdam. This got a lot of international attention and I got a call from MTV Networks. They knew about my years in advertising and offered me a job as Creative Director for all their channels (MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and TMF). Even though I had just decided to be a full time artist, I tried to combine the two. But I really didn’t fit in the corporate world anymore with all its meetings and internal politics, so I didn’t last. What I did pick up in the advertising and media business is how to spot a good idea. Everybody is looking for ideas with directness but that also have mileage. That goes for design, art, advertising, architecture, even politics and science.
Who are some other graffiti artists that you admire?
Shoe: Dondi White 1961-1998, Rammellzee 1960-2010, Dr. Rat 1960-1981, Keith Haring 1958-1990. It’s ironic that the artist from Amsterdam is the only one I never got to know.
Where do you think the street art/graffiti movement is headed?
Shoe: These are exciting times. First there was the internet bubble that exploded, than we had the banking system that collapsed and now I feel that post modernist bullshit artists and their elitist galleries and museums are being taken at face value. And there are so many great artists with roots in the urban asphalt emerging at the moment, it’s not even funny!
Are there any tips you’d give to aspiring artists?
Shoe: Make sure that other people don’t value your work more than you do.
Shoe is currently showing a new series of work called Throw-Ups at Project Space in Los Angeles. It is inspired by his love for baseball, mayhem and cosmic unconsciousness. Make sure you catch it before it ends on November 21st.
Thanks for the interview, Niels, looking forward to seeing more of your work both in art galleries and on the streets!