Niels Shoe Meulman

Netherlands 1967

Graffiti, Calligraphy

Niels Shoe Meulman
Niels Shoe Meulman
April 15, 2014
Jean is researcher and author for Widewalls.

In the world of art, there are several possible outcomes that every artist faces. First, the unpopular solution is quitting at some point; reaching the limits and working within them; surpassing the limitations and becoming a true master. Niels Shoe Meulman has done the fourth thing, revolutionizing the existing understanding of writing by combining traditional graffiti with calligraphy, creating a worldwide phenomenon called Calligraffiti. A technique that ultimately combined traditional and contemporary became visually quite unique and extremely popular. Now he works in a style he can proudly call his own and whose popularity pushed him to keep advancing.

Niels Shoe Meulman also works in design, and he created videos in 2007, 2009, and 2010 for a dutch brand international internet page
Niels Shoe Meulman – From Delhi to Nice I, 2016 (Left) / From Delhi to Nice III, 2016 (Right)

Who is Niels Shoe Meuman?

Born and raised in Amsterdam, Meulman joined the city’s graffiti scene, which was rooted in a strange mix of subcultures; punk bands, football hooligans and squatters. However, in the early eighties, he was one of those kids who made a transition from that scene when hip-hop came along and went in New York where he met some of the graffiti icons, including Rammellzee, Dondi White, and Keith Haring. That’s when it all started for him. He never went to formal art school, but he did get educated in graphic techniques like lead letterpress and silk screen printing. Speaking of influences, on a popular and conceptual level, Shoe thinks that is amazing what the bigshots like Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, and Andy Warhol have achieved. Creating an intellectual oeuvre that appeals to the masses isn’t easy. On a painting level, he loves the organic strokes, graphic boldness and visualized freedom of abstract paintings by artists like Cy Twombly, Pierre Soulages, and Christopher Wool. They are gutsy, yet sensitive at the same time. And, of course, there’s the art of writing – ancient Japanese and Chinese ink drawings, Arabic Calligrams and illuminated books from medieval times. Good artists from each of these locations and times have mastered their craft so well that it shows a level of easy, something the Shoe finds very appealing. There’s always some of that in his work, even without any conscious effort.

He joined the graffiti scene at the age of 12, and by the time he was 18, Meulman was already a legend

Niels Shoe Meulman experience in design includes videos for a dutch client, which he made in 2009 and 2010
Niels Shoe Meulman – Uncontrolled Substance, 2016 (Left) / Nothing is Unilluminated, 2016 (Right)

The Process and Unearthly Piece of Technique

In the early days of urban painting, he distanced himself from popular colorful graffiti and spent years only using silver and black. Shoe continued this purist approach in his Calligraffiti. But the color can be very seductive, so he slowly started to experiment with metallic and iridescent paints around 2012. Now that his style has become somewhat less (calli)graphic and is multilayered, he’s using color, but always in a way that it is unidentifiable. “A color is only an idea in a viewer’s mind. Colors don’t really exist in a way that shapes do. They are elusive.” In his recent works, the color of a pigment is defined by the viewing angle, the angle of light and creases in the unstretched canvas. As for the process itself – Meulman differentiate his artist work from his work as a designer. Without working with a brief of a proposition, the artist’s realm is solely his own, a state of mind where supposed opposites, such as madness and method, must merge. The painting generally begins with some sort of imagined visual (which is never anything like the result). Then, he lays out the canvas on the floor, sometimes pinning it down. If he’s not in a ‘winning mood’, he’ll not make the first move, sometimes waiting for a few hours or even days. After that, he uses his extended arsenal of brushes, brooms, fake plants, spray devices and plenty of acrylic ammunition to “give that woven rectangle a proper beating”. Basically, it’s a nonstop frenzy with lots of ups and downs, cursing, physical struggle and splattering all over the place. Fun and agony merged into one feeling.

The painting process is a frenzy feeling, where fun and agony are merged

Niels Shoe Meulman - Undivided unmultiplied, 2016 (Left) - Enter the exit, 2016 (Right)
Niels Shoe Meulman – Undivided unmultiplied, 2016 (Left) / Enter the exit, 2016 (Right)

Evolution and Most Important Works

In a nutshell, Meulman went from tagging to painting big pieces and experimenting with all sorts of letter styles. Then, through typography and lettering, he returned to his old love, calligraphy and started mixing this with urban tagging styles. When he discovered Calligraffiti and had his big show in 2007, he couldn’t have imagined it would become a worldwide phenomenon it is now. Recognizing that is an amazing feat he will always keep close to his heart, Shoe admits that its popularity did push him to keep advancing, so he now paint in a style that is completely his own. Some of the important milestones include the video of the Sweeping Beauty piece he did with water and a broom in Singapore. It has captured the imagination of many people. Also, he considers a fun experience the painting he did for Louis Vuitton – a Muhammad Ali tribute in a boxing ring with Mos Def . Meulman is also very happy with his new book, titled Shoe Is My Middle Name. Quite monumental and size and content, it shows a mixture of his paintings, poetry, theories, and many written contributions by people he respects in the world of art.

He is represented by GCA Gallery, Vertical Gallery, Vroom & Varossieau, and Unruly Gallery.

Niels Shoe Meulman lives and works in Amsterdam.

Featured image: Niels Shoe Meulman working on Unrulyrics project in Amsterdam – image courtesy of Calligraffiti
All other images courtesy of GCA Galery

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016Uncontrolled SubstancesGalerie Gabriel Rolt, AmsterdamSolo
2016Nissa la BellaGCA gallery, Nice, FranceSolo
2016Brick to CanvasTinney Gallery, Nashville, USAGroup
2016Work in ProgressSt+Art, New Delhi, IndiaGroup
2015New York Meets The DamThe Amsterdam Museum, AmsterdamGroup
2015Abstract Vandalism: new work by Egs, Nug, Shoe. Curated by Niels Shoe MeulmanGalerie Gabriel Rolt, Netherlands (Amsterdam) Trio
2015UntitledUnruly Gallery at Dog and Pony, AmsterdamGroup
2014ShoegazingGermany (Soest)Solo
2014The Unearthly Paintings White Walls gallerySolo
2014The Shoe Must Go On (upcoming)Netherlands, Amsterdam Solo
2014Bando/Mode2/Shoe – Crime Time Kings (upcoming)Netherlands, Amsterdam Group
2014Alphabet Show White Walls gallery, SFGroup
2014Mural project (Upcoming)Italy, RomeGroup
2014Wall/Therapy, a mural project Rochester, NY, United StatesGroup
2014An Even ElevenWhite Walls gallery, SFGroup
2014Wu Tang is for the childrenLondonewcastle Project Space, ShoreditchGroup
2013Caleidoscoop, mural painting at the Dutch pavilion in Wynwood during Art Basel MiamMiami, United StatesGroup
2013Blooom art fairkoeln, GermanyGroup
2013TEDxBrussels: ‘Ex Nihilo’ painting performance on stageBruxelles, BelgiumGroup
2013Adobe XD: talk and workshopSan FranciscoGroup
2013Trimarchi, international design conference: lecture and muralMar del Plata, ArgentinaGroup
2013Graff-ik’Art festival: live painting with Mode 2, Part One, Jay One and othersLyon, FranceGroup
2013Bricks & Pieces – The New Politics of ImaginationAble & Baker gallery (Bürgerhaus Stollwerck), KoelnGroup
2013Calligraffiti 1984/2013Leila Heller Gallery, NYGroup
2013live broom painting on Spui squareAmerican Book Center, AmsterdamGroup
2013Unit 44: exhibitionNewcastle, UKGroup
2013Anglo-Saxon Calligraffiti based on the words and imagery of the the Lindisfarne Gospels, various outdoor sitesNorthumberland, UKGroup
2013Unism, new paintings by Niels Shoe MeulmanWhite Walls Gallery, SFSolo
2013LyricsGalerie Hélène Bailly, ParisGroup
2013MESSParis, FranceGroup
2013Repeatclub 02Witzenhausen Gallery, AmsterdamGroup
2013White Walls 10 year anniversary exhibitionWhite Walls Gallery, SFGroup
2013Directors Lounge 43Ewerk, BerlinSolo
2012Launch of United Nude collaboration ‘Unruly Shoe'Paris, FranceGroup
2012Miami Art BaselMiami, United StatesGroup
2012Pop-UpMusée de design et d’arts appliqués contemporains, Lausanne)Group
2012The Name GameHotel De Goudfazant, AmsterdamGroup
2012Made Creative wall (Mural project)NDSM, Amsterdam Noord, AmsterdamGroup
2012Moniker art fairLondon, UKGroup
2012Nuart festival: in/outdoor installationStavanger, NorwayGroup
2012Team RexUk, LondonGroup
2012&friendsGalerie Le Feuvre, ParisGroup
2012Untitled941 Geary Gallery, SFSolo
2012Shoe/United Nude collaborationSelfridges & Co, LondonGroup
2012UntitledSaatchi & Saatchi Gallery, AucklandSolo
2012Presentation/talk. In collaboration with Designers Institute of New ZealandAuckland University of Technology, AucklandGroup
2012UntitledRtist Gallery, MelbourneSolo
2012UntitledWedge Gallery, SydneyGroup
2012UntitledKind Of Gallery, SydneySolo
2012Pop-UpGraphic Design Museum, Breda, NDGroup
2011Le Lieu UniqueNantes, FranceGroup
2011Off Canvas (Beijing Design Week)Beijing, ChinaGroup
2009Where On Earth Have You Been?Bright trade show, FrankfurtGroup
2009Le Mirroir VivantTenue de Nîmes, AmsterdamSolo
2009Salon de l’AmitiéArti, AmsterdamGroup
2009Imagining MozambiqueMaxalot Gallery, AmsterdamGroup
2009GROUP SHOW & POP UP STOREAmsterdam’s Right Brainers Convention / Chelsea Market, New YorkGroup
2009GROUP SHOWSalamatina Gallery, Manhasset NYGroup
2009Imagining MozambiqueMass Market, Gallery space, New YorkGroup
2009SPEAKER at TEDxBrusselsEuropean Parliament, BrusselsGroup
2009GROUP SHOW & POP UP SHOPCorkstreet, Mayfair, LondonGroup

while you were sleeping
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while you were sle...Niels Shoe Meulman160 x 190 cm Paintings
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Fear itself Niels Shoe Meulman115 x 158 cm Paintings
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