The birthday of King Willem-Alexander is celebrated all around The Netherlands with huge street parties. On my first King’s Day, I was member of the crew of Kings Spray 2019, a graffiti culture event where national and international artists paint on containers-installations scattered all around NDSM wharf in Amsterdam Noord.
Because my colleagues were all busy with the museum, while I’ve joined the team only a few months ago, I was involved in Kings Spray festival at an early stage of planning and kept coordinating both the artists and the press until the last spray-can was emptied.
It has been an honour and pleasure to work with artists in the likes of BLADE, ZEDZ, Mick La Rock, and the Loveletters Crew, while some of the bloggers I invited to the press tour have since become my friends.
My colleagues gave me an orange tiara to wear on the big day (as orange is the traditional color of the Dutch monarchy), which counted as the sweet in our bittersweet relationship. Nothing could have ruined me that weekend, not even falling on the office floor on the first day of production and displacing my kneecap. (yep, once again).
The graffiti pieces made on the 4th edition of Kings Spray festival are still visible at what we just decided to name “NDSM Urban Art Square”, at the NDSM Wharf in Amsterdam Noord. Keep reading to find out more about each artwork:
Watch this video of Kings Spray festival 2019!
NDSM Urban Art Square: the King of Graffiti BLADE
All the way from New York, the ‘King of Graffiti’ Blade (born Steven Ogburn, 1957) gifted Amsterdam with a classic graffiti piece. Blade has been mainly painting for exhibitions since 1984, which makes the outdoor piece he made for Kings Spray festival extra special.
A fun fact about me is that, although I painted over 5.000 trains in New York when I was young -which is a big number and that’s how I earned the title of ‘King of Graffiti’- I have never went to jail for graffiti.Blade
Blade is one of the forefathers of the graffiti movement, which he definitely contributed to shape. He is credited with developing several classic graffiti styles, such as overlapping 3D letters and Blockbusters. His personal style, which mixes characters, lettering and abstract forms, has inspired generations of graffiti writers.
I enjoy being here at the festival, because it allows me to see the progress of graffiti over the last 50 years. I love the evolution of the movement, to see how it went from regular graffiti to muralist. There is a guy named Soy painting next to me, a great artist, he is dedicating a wall to me and my wife -he is making a big portrait. I’m doing a Blade bubble letter piece from 1975, so people can see the way lettering looked at that time.Blade
A Blade-inspired piece at Kings Spray festival
Blade’s piece is above a graffiti-style portrait of him and his wife Portia painted by his long time friend and fellow graffiti writer Soy, which is titled “Blade and Portia kings for one day”.
Soy has been tagging and painting graffiti since the 1980s, both in the Netherlands and in Switzerland, where he lives nowadays. He represents the Swiss graffiti crew R2f.
NDSM Urban Art Square: ZEDZ
Still very active in the art of writing, ZEDZ is known for having stretched the borders of graffiti to all possible directions, from abstract art to sculpture and architecture. A pioneer of Dutch graffiti, ZEDZ began painting in 1984 in his hometown of Leiden, at a time when most walls and trains in the Netherlands were still untouched.
In 1995 ZEDZ began experimenting with 3D typography and geometry by adding layers and complex 3D effects to simple lettering styles like the Blockbuster, thus developing his trademark abstract graffiti style. Eventually, the typography layer disappeared in the background and ZEDZ’s innovative visual language stood out. Letters became symbols, and symbols became music to the eye. The name ZEDZ was always there, although not always readable -at least not at a first glance.
From the end of the 1990s, ZEDZ’s graffiti evolved into objects sharing the same aesthetics, which eventually turned into sculptures first and, later, into actual architectures that people could enter. ZEDZ definitely pioneered this multidisciplinary approach in Europe, although he likes to feel part of a bigger movement by referring to the work of fellow graffiti writers from the States –such as Rammellzee- who also shifted graffiti to all directions.
Stylistically, the artwork he painted for Kings Spray 2019 is a condensation of all he learnt so far: overlapping abstract shapes, lines, transparencies and volumes, which give new perspective to the ship containers of the NDSM wharf.
NDSM Urban Art Square: MICKEY and JAKE
MICKEY (a.k.a. Mick la Rock) is one of the most influential figures in the Dutch graffiti scene. She began hitting the streets in the 1980s, when there were very few female graffiti artists around. She had an international career as visual artist, alongside curating many exhibitions and projects related with street art and graffiti, among which the recent renovation of Keith Haring’s mural in Amsterdam. Finally, all these experiences brought her to be part of Amsterdam’s ‘citycuratorium’: a commission of specialist safeguarding and promoting public art in the city.
Mick La Rock painted next to Amsterdam’s graffiti artist JAKE, who has been active since the early 1980s.
NDSM Urban Art Square: Loveletters Crew
The international LoveLetters graffiti Crew was founded in 2006 by Nash and Does, quickly joined by Tumki and Chas. Over the years it expanded rapidly and today it counts eleven members. Each crew member is a master in his own expertise, and they all come together in impressive productions.
When they started out the crew, all the artists shared a similar idea of what graffiti should be: they used the same techniques and they had a similar style, based on a strong focus on details. As the years passed by and each member started to develop his own style, their unique mix of interests became what makes them stand out. Their deep passion for letters, though, is still at the core of the crew.
Since they live in different cities, and in some cases also in different countries, it is not so common that they produce massive pieces together, as they did for Kings Spray 2019.
With six members in full swing, the established crew painted an oceanic scenario that mixes name writing graffiti with two stunning characters – a pirate and a shark – standing out from the grim background of a stormy sea.
CHAS, Loveletters Crew
Being a true graffiti artist, letters have always been at the core of Chas’ work. Letters that have evolved, become transparent, and merged with the wild background they are painted on. Chas sees graffiti as Love for Letters.
NASH, Loveletters Crew
This Dutch graffiti writer has been active for over 30 years in the Netherlands and abroad. Nash’s work, with great shading and bright color highlights, can be described as a unique blend of realism and cartoons with a distinct B-boy flavor.
RESER, Loveletters Crew
Reser began painting in the summer of 1994, inspired by walls and graffiti that he saw on the railway lines in Amsterdam and Paris. Pioneer of the graffiti scene in Turin (Italy), Reser is now bringing his unique style all around Europe.
DATER, Loveletters Crew
In 1994, Dater made his first experiences with graffiti and breakdance. His letters are characterized by cleanliness and dynamism, always shaping his moniker in his own style.
PUAK, Loveletters Crew
The moment he painted his first piece in ‘00 he was hooked instantly and never stopped painting since. Puak focuses mainly on letter shapes and color combinations. He always tries to find the right mix between technicality and loose typography.
NILKO, Loveletters Crew
French graffiti artist Nilko‘s characters are heavily inspired by comics. Having arrived one day later than the other members of the crew, he got the trickiest spot of the installation and yet his shark turned out truly spectacular.
#Trezeforever: Malakkai x Karski & Beyond
Spanish artist Malakkai joined forces with the Dutch duo Karski & Beyond to paint a memorial to their common friend and acclaimed graffiti artist Treze.
The three of us –Malakkai, Beyond and me- were good friend of artist Treze, who passed away a bit more than one year ago. Here at Kings Spray we painted a tribute to him as a friend and a super-talented artist. We used Treze’s colours, our double exposure and Malakkai’s style, mixing it all with Treze’s typical bird and female face.Karski
Karski and Malakkai told me they first met at Treze’s funeral; when they found out they were going to paint next to each other at Kings Spray 2019 they had no doubt about the subject.
Barcelona graffiti artist Treze (1986 – 2018) used to paint female faces and animals. He harmoniously combined these iconic figures with classic graffiti lettering. However, his signature features were his soft-coloured palette and his delicate outline. Through these, he mastered a watercolour wash technique that didn’t disdain bold fatcap effect.
Malakkai has been fond of drawing since his childhood, but began painting graffiti ‘only’ in 2000. His favorite subjects are female figures and weird animals, which he paints in a colorful yet soft style recalling watercolors. His painted humorous yet melancholic works in many cities all around the world.
The muralists ‘Karski & Beyond’ specialize in realistic, highly detailed murals with a vivid color combination. With a background in graphic design, fine arts and graffiti, they have been depicting ‘visual’ stories onto walls since 2012.
NDSM Urban Art Square: Cix Mugre
At Kings Spray festival, Mexican artist Cix Mugre painted “Evolution”, enlightening a rainy Dutch day with his bright, psychedelic colors.
The piece is born as an exercise based on the subconscious: one shape led me to the next one, without putting too much thoughts into the ‘meaning’. However, once I finished the piece, I did look for its ‘mental evolution’ and noticed that the style evolved through pure surrealism, but with a structure based on circles.Cix Mugre
The artwork is also inspired by the psychological phenomenon of ‘pareidolia’, through which we perceive patterns and recognizable shapes within random data. Some people, like Cix, are more inclined to this than others –which apparently is a sign of good health of the human brain.
Cix Mugre has been painting graffiti since the 1990s and he now travels all around the world to create pop-psychedelic murals strongly influenced by Mexican art. His artworks are often inspired by his mixed roots: his father is chinanteco, while his mother is zapoteca. He also draws from his personal experiences, which he mixes with the misticism of Mexican and pre-hispanic symbols.
Self-tought urban artist, Cix Mugre focuses his work on surrealism, mysticism and pre-hispanic culture, using bold textures and colors. When he is not travelling around the world to attend street art festivals, he works as a tattoo artist in Mexico City.
NDSM Urban Art Square: Graphic Surgery
At Kings Spray 2019, Gysbert from the abstract art duo Graphic Surgery painted “Glitch”, a black-and-white monumental artwork of lines and angles.
Even without the other half of the duo, Gysbert managed to create a massive piece in the Graphic Surgery’s characteristic style.
As usual, the artistic process was very spontaneous: it was the unusual surface that defined the grid and the size of the diagonal shapes, which started from the edges of the containers. With a tape, he sketched lines that form shapes, and lines that convey the construction within the shapes.
The image cut the container parts in half in the middle, creating a glitch like image. While Gysbert was repeating the same canvas two more times to cover the 3-sided structure, we began singing ‘Happy Birthday’ and surprised him with a cake :)
NDSM Urban Art Square: Balstrøm
At Kings Spray 2019, Danish graffiti artist Balstrøm -with the help of his English colleague Omaw– painted a fantasy piece based on the Aruba’s folklore story of Keito and Catiri. It’s a pirate story about a ship that becomes fireball.
Coming from Copenhagen’s epic commune “Christiania”, Balstrøm is a graffiti artist well known for his vivid style and realistic characters. His murals always convey a strong energy that unfolds from the wall to the viewers.
NDSM Urban Art Square: United Painting
In the midst of Kings Spray’s installations, the socially active collective United Painting realized a floor painting with the help of refugees.
I really enjoyed having our participants from the asylum centre here to celebrate creativity together with a lot of ‘big names’ of the art scene. What we did at Kings Spray is what we call ‘The Welcoming Carpet’. Through the workshops that we gave and the experience that we had with different communities, we develop certain patterns from different cultural backgrounds of people. As a result, we share multiple cultures together in the same art piece. The Welcoming Carpet gives attention to the refugees situation. It allows people to connect and integrate together in an art form.Sidney Waerts, United Painting
With the goal of creating painting projects to change the social environment of difficult communities, United Paintings is part of a bigger community art project called Favela Painting. Favela Painting started in 2007 when the founders –Dré and Jeroen- painted a large artwork in Rio de Janeiro with members of the local community.
After many organic art interventions abroad, Favela Painting was invited to work on the surrounding wall of a former prison in Amsterdam. The Bijlmerbajes prison was set to host more than 1000 refugees.
The project marked the beginning of United Paintings. Together with Bijlmerbajes’ residents, the artists transformed a huge grey building and its iconic six concrete towers into a work of art. Most noteworthy, this artwork was designed and realized by the people living there.
A similarly multicultural group joined Kings Spray 2019. They realized a beautiful carpet of intricate geometrical patterns, which shows off a bold orange color. Orange, in fact, is the traditional color of the Dutch King.
NDSM Urban Art Square: Pipsqueak Was Here
Pipsqueak Was Here painted a heartbreaking memorial piece at the 4th edition of Kings Spray festival. Well know for their colorful stencils, which often represent animals, the Dutch duo painted a bear next to a child and titled the artwork “In loving memory of Kahuena”.
The stencil represents the son of an American friend of the couple, who sadly passed away. Painting this powerful and definitely emotional portrait of Kahuena was a special experience for the artists, who were still visibly touched by this loss.
Recurring guest of Kings Spray festival, the duo Pipsqueak Was Here was founded in 2003. Their trademark, a girl and a bear, is a metaphor for humans and their relationship with nature: ‘Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you’.
Their meaningful observations on how the urban environment is prevailing onto the animal kingdom is never undermined by their colorful and playful approach. Often starting from a personal story, through art they magnify their ‘own little voices’ to encourage critical thinking by raising awareness.
The artworks created during Kings Spray graffiti festival are still visible at NDSM wharf in Amsterdam Noord. If you are eager for more street art in Amsterdam, check also my Amsterdam Street Art Guide and download my Amsterdam street art map: