Ever since Dutch artist Niels ‘Shoe’ Meulman‘s work has gone up in both White Walls and WW Project Space as part of his two exhibitions, Unism and Unpire!, we’ve become familiar with NSM’s celebrity. Both his longtime fans and NSM newbies stare wide-eyed at his latest paintings, which reveal the volatility of absolute words and images. Recently, we had the opportunity to interview the legendary artist, who shared his opinions on America’s national pastime, gave us the inside scoop on his collaboration with Louis Vuitton and Yasiin Bey, and talked about his motto, “words are images.”

Read the interview in its entirety after the jump, and be sure to stop by 886 Geary Street for the last day of NSM’s latest shows.

Even though you grew up in Amsterdam, American culture seems to play a significant role in your art, specifically in your show at White Walls Project Space, Unpire! How do you explain its place in your art? And more specifically, why baseball?

It’s true that I’m drawn to several aspects of American culture. I think it has to do with the adventure gene and curiosity gene that most Americans have, since their ancestors were brave enough to leave their home to seek a better life in this new land. The freedom that goes with that inspired a lot of creativity. Personally, my first interest was on a typographic level. You know the wood-type from those days, those big SALOON signs and REWARD posters? Type designers that moved from Europe to the US started working more freely, bigger and broke the rigid rules they were used to. Whilst laughing out loud, I imagine.

The same goes for modern art. Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Graffiti. You could argue that these movements are American inventions. Then again, I need to stress that I’m influenced by many other cultures too. Chinese calligraphy, Japanese calligraphy, Arabic calligraphy, Medieval scribes, French Art Deco, Swiss graphic design, Italian Futurism, Scandinavian fashion, Belgian beer and Scottish whiskey to name a few.

And as for baseball… Baseball is the essence of life in the universe. It’s uncanny how all the rules and measurements fit together like a glove. No pun intended. I love the way it’s a team effort but when at bat you’re on your own. Now that I think of it, it’s very similar to painting with a broom on a stage (yes, I do that sometimes). Anyway, I play a game every week if I’m not traveling. With the Amsterdam Pirates. Who?? Yes, I know, but it’s a mistake to think baseball is only played in the US. There are hundreds of teams in The Netherlands alone. And what about the rest of Europe, Japan and Latin America? Half the MLB players are Dominican, right? Well, it might be the same as with type design and calligraphy. For ball players too, coming to America brings a sense of freedom that inspires creativity.

 You’ve recently focused more on painting large-scale canvases versus in outdoor, urban spaces. Can you talk about what spurred this transition and the effect it has had on your art.

My long time motto is ‘A word is an image’. In the last two years I’ve been shifting from writing to painting. My earlier work is usually quite calligraphic, in one layer.  These days I’m painting only on Belgian linen and the work is multi layered, less readable, more abstract. The piece titled ‘Wordless’ deals with that. But I definitely still enjoy doing big murals too.

Your “Calligraffiti” technique, one that seems to embrace spontaneous splatter, texture, and abstraction, has been compared to the gestural works of Abstract Expressionists. Is this an accurate portrayal of your work and/or process? Or are your works more studied and calculated than they appear?

Most abstract painters come from a figurative background. Mine is calligraphic. Letters and words instead of trees and nudes. That’s a big difference. But I’m not alone in this. Look at the work by Cy Twombly or Christopher Wool for example. Basically I’m moving towards abstraction because I think imagination is the key to… well, everything.

Many of the works in Unism play with linguistic binaries, for example in your piece “Titled,” the word “Untitled” is vividly painted. Would you say that you strive to undo these oppositions or to reinforce them with your work?

There are no words. There are no images. Only everything in between. There is no truth, only opinions. It all swings and roundabouts. The abstraction in my work isn’t only visual, the words themselves also tickle the imagination.

In your artist’s statement, you touch on your use of “paint bombs” that stand in opposition to the rhythmic, methodic stokes to form the word “un.” Is it of a personally cathartic way of painting? What greater thematic implications does it have in your work?

The greatest opposites that I’ve found since collecting them, are Order and Chaos. The repetitive strokes were originally for getting in the flow before I started a piece. Looking for the perfect stroke, so to speak. A big surface filled with similar strokes gives a feeling of pleasant order but also is a bit prison-like. The paint bombs are like a big bang. The freedom of chaos. The exploding spheres (christmas baubles) on top of the strokes deal with nothing more (and nothing less) that that.

How do you make it so that visitors can appreciate the “graffiti” in “calligraffiti” without experiencing your work in an urban environment?

I try not to think about my audience too much.

Most of your works contain metallic colors like gold, bronze, and silver. What draws you to these hues? How are they strengthen the thematic implications of your art?

Silver and black dates back to my graffiti days. For years I only did silver letters with a black outline. Simply focussing on the letter shapes, not camouflaged by colored bits and bobs. The gold is a direct reference to the scribes that used illumination to light up the Dark Ages and eventually have a renaissance. The metallics are a natural result from both those ideas and are my way of adding color. I can’t think of painting bright multi colored paintings. Not now anyway.

In your piece featured in the I <3 LV group show, you created the work on the floor of a boxing ring, using a broom, for a tribute to Muhammed Ali where you worked with Yasiin Bey. Can you tell us a bit about this experience?

Louis Vuitton had a campaign coming up with Muhammad Ali, shot by Annie Leibovitz. Their ad agency in Paris pitched an idea to create a few videos with Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) rhyming the words of the boxing legend, and me painting the title with a broom on the canvas of a professional boxing ring. A battle between the spoken word and the written word. I don’t do many commercial projects but this one was a true gem when it comes to art and commerce. We did five videos in total and the canvas of the one titled ‘Word’ is up in the gallery. Wanted: very large indoor wall!



Dutch graffiti artist Niels Meulman, also known as Shoe, has been commissioned to paint six pieces inspired by the Lindisfarne Gospels as part of an exhibition celebrating the return of the medieval book to north-east England.

But what does graffiti art have to do with a 1,300-year-old copy of the gospels?

On a wet afternoon in Durham a flash of gold illuminates the grey. A 13-metre tall banner painted in shimmering colours is lying on the floor of a vacant shopping centre unit. It is here Niels Meulman has a temporary studio.

The impressive piece, ready to be installed at Newcastle upon Tyne’s Castle Keep, is a modern tribute to the incipit of St John’s Gospel in principio erat Verbum – “in the beginning was the Word.”

“That’s funny, because in the beginning for me there was a word too, and the word was ‘shoe'”, says the artist, referring to his graffiti name or tag.

He has been calling himself Shoe since the age of 11, when he drew a picture of a shoe but, as nobody could really make out what it was, he had to add the word next to it to make it more obvious.

The life of a graffiti artist who grew up in 1980s Amsterdam might seem far removed from the world of scribes copying religious texts in medieval England. But Shoe says it is quite the opposite.

“There’s a similarity between graffiti writers and scribes in the way they’re dedicated to playing around with letters and words. They both see words as images,” he explains.

Holding copies of the illuminated pages from the Lindisfarne Gospels, Shoe points at the delicate yet intricate script. The way letters melt into each other, forming words and pictures at the same time.

At first this might seem strange as we are normally taught that images and words are two different things. But when an artist draws or paints a word, it becomes an image, an abstract unit, he says.

This, explains Shoe, is the fundamental idea behind what he describes as calligraffiti. The form of art he says he conceived in 2007, which as the name suggests, is a fusion of calligraphy and graffiti.

Shoe says he feels a link between himself and the anonymous monks who worked on illuminated manuscripts for many years.

He recalls reading the Irish Gaelic poem Pangur Bán, which is thought to have been composed by an Irish monk working on a copy of St. Paul’s Epistles.

The poem draws a parallel between a cat catching mice and a monk “hunting words” all night long; a metaphor that deeply resonates with Shoe.

The result was a piece of art centred around the words “Turning darkness into light”, echoing the last line in Pangur Bán.

Shoe’s ‘Turning darkness into light’ piece of art was inspired by the Irish Gaelic poem Pangur Bán.

Shoe also feels, that like the monks who spent hours working on manuscripts to spread the word of God, so too are the graffiti artists dedicated to a cause.

“For people it’s really hard to understand why graffiti artists would go out at night painting, when they risk getting caught and they’re not even getting paid,” he says.

“Why [do they]? Because they’re dedicated to the cause. And what’s the cause? We don’t know, it’s a feeling, an internal thing, and I guess the cause was God back then, and in different groups the cause can be something else.”

Shoe also believes another similarity is in the wandering nature of the two communities.

“Graffiti artists travel a lot and wherever they go, they know other graffiti writers and stay with them.

“It must have been like that back then – if you were going from Rome to Ireland you needed somewhere to stay. And you exchanged styles. And that’s probably how these styles evolved,” he says.

Shoe admits he did not know about the Lindisfarne Gospels before this latest commission and says he approached the text from a non-religious perspective.

As well as a tribute to God, he sees in it a celebration of nature and of the beauty of contrasts between night and day, good and evil; which the medieval man would have been particularly aware of.

Shoe’s five contemporary interpretations, funded by the Arts Council, will also be tributes to Eadfrith, the monk credited with being the mastermind behind the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Shoe sees Eadfrith as a precursor to a generation of artists who are painting words.

The Dutch artist says he would love to organise a show on the painted word, where he could gather like-minded artists.

“It’s a shame Eadfrith could not be there,” jokes Shoe.



Can you tell me who is Niels Shoe Meulman?

Niels is the name my parents gave me when I was born in Amsterdam in 1967. Meulman is my grandmother’s name, and Shoe is the name that I gave myself in 1979 when I started tagging the school’s toilets.

How was you beginnings in graffiti? Can you tell me more about the “crime time kings”?

Amsterdam had a graffiti scene long before anyone knew what was going on in New York. Then we started hearing of big colorful letters, spray painted on subways. Images of this were scarce and this left a lot of room for imagination. Around the same time, some New York artists made the transition to the art world and were coming to Amsterdam to exhibit. I hung out with many of them: Dondi, Rammellzee, Futura, Quik. The scene started to get international, and not only transatlantic pacts were made, also within Europe I met some highly interesting characters; Bando and Mode2. When The Chrome Angelz (London) and the United Street Artists (Amsterdam) joined the Crime Time Kings (Paris) we set out to ‘convert’ all of Europe from silly scribbling to all out bombing.

Your style is called “calligraffiti”. May you explain it?

I coined this phrase in 2007 when I was visiting Eric Haze in Brooklyn. We both had been working in graphic design and advertising and were looking for ways to create without any client’s involvement. We decided to get a truck load of art supplies and give it a go in his studio. The passion I had for calligraphy back in the 80’s came back with a vengeance and at that moment Calligraffiti was born.

How do you work your composition? Do you have a special way to create?  Are these freestyles?

A chess player has to think ahead but a grand master moves on intuition. I’m starting to feel that my experience is incorporated in my intuition. Like a baseball player throwing a ball; you must never aim. Be loose, carefree and just throw!

Do you have any others activities aside the graffiti?

Graffiti is the art of getting up. I’ll do a mural now and then but I rarely go out to bomb. I’m focusing on the art world now. Not only as an artist but also as a gallerist. My partner (in everything) Adele Renault and I run Unruly Gallery. Together with Job Sanders we host monthly exhibitions in Amsterdam. Many international and local artists have exhibited at Unruly. Check out the facebook page or

What do you think about graffiti and street art?

If you’re a kid growing up and you feel the urge to create something visual, it’s only natural that you go out and do something in the streets. Today, around 90% of all young artists have roots in the asphalt. The different techniques and subjects make the different movements within street art; spray paint, stencils, knitting, postering, what have you.

Is there an artist you admire the work?

Yes, there is an artist I admire the work. His name is Andy Warhol. Or Mick Jones. Or Marshall McLuhan. Or Rene Magritte. Or William Shakespeare. Or Liang Kai. Or Malcolm McLaren. Or Jim Jarmush. Or Robert Motherwell. Or Albert Einstein. Or all the nameless monks that were writing scriptures in the Dark Ages.

What are your inspirations? It seems like you mixes many styles, arabic, gothic…

From 2007 until 2010 I’ve been experimenting with different brushes, different papers, different inks. And what I found is that arabic, latin and oriental styles are different, mostly because of these things. The way a human writes is quite universal. Just like a cat jumps on a table the same way across the globe. Of course, the different ways of writing are part of a specific culture and took centuries to evolve, so I chose the one closest to me. I strongly identify with the medieval monks. Not at all in a religious way though, I think those monks -traveling around Europe, painting their golden letters- were the graffiti writers of their time.

Have you encounter others calligraphie artists around the world?

When I was younger I wanted to design typefaces. But when I realised how much work that entailed, I became a calligrapher. And when I realised how much work that entailed, I became a painter. Now I realise that abstract painting is the hardest work of all. I am a painter who uses the skills of type design, lettering and calligraphy.

With this lettering work what do you want to express?

Words are images, Writing is painting. Everything has an opposite, even ‘everything’ itself. It is ‘neverything’.

What are your tests in books? If you were a writer, who would you be?

I hardly ever read books. For me, letters are images and this makes reading a slow process. I got no patience for it. I get most of my knowledge from television and via facebook. But that’s not uncommon these days. My last two books (Calligraffiti and Painter) are the type of books that I like; mostly visuals that are open for interpretation with factual information.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? 

My greatest achievement is being who I want to be.

What is your final goal? 

To go to Mars in about 20 years, then stay there until we find a way to get back to Earth and then die at age 200.



You just got back from China, what did you do there?

During the Beijing Design week, Converse hosted a project called Off Canvas. They invited me and five other (typo)graphic artists to create art in the streets of Beijing. I did three experimental pieces located in two hutongs. A hutong is the Chinese equivalent of a favela minus the crime. One was on a flat roof (visible from another higher roof) where I did my Calligraffiti with a 120 cm wide floor sweeper and white paint, the type that’s unavailable in Europe because of its toxic components. I had done some street painting with a broom before, but the size made this one truly next level. Another piece, on a brick wall, consisted of my repetitive brush strokes that can be read as ‘unununun’, culminating in the word ‘uncompromising’, a casual reference to the strict Chinese regime that rejected another plan which involved me painting a 70 meter chimney. The third was called ‘ununderstand’. The reversal power of the flippable letter combination ‘un’ was the binding theme for all paintings. There’s a great video registration by Swedish film maker Petter Eldin online:

Workshops, events, projects, shows, running your own gallery and publishing a book – you sure are one busy artist… Is there any one thing that gives you more satisfaction? Which one and why?

I actually think of myself as being lazy. I never set an alarm in the morning. I watch TV a lot and often get drunk. Maybe that’s why I haven’t started a family like most people. Or is it vice versa? Anyway, I like my life how it is. Traveling, exhibiting and letting my art evolve is quite fulfilling. I’m working on a new book that focusses more on painting whereas the book Calligraffiti was more about my graphic design work. I run the gallery and its online webshop with my significant other, Adele Renault. I’m looking forward to the Calligraffiti tour we’re doing in Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland and Singapore beginning of 2012 and also expecting great things of my solo show in San Francisco which opens March 24th at 941 Geary gallery.

What’s the last thing you wrote/painted/created?

Most people value works of art that took a really long time to make. I think it’s the other way around. If something beautiful is created in a few seconds, it adds to the value. A big part of making a piece is done in my mind and sketchbook. Ideas for pieces can come to me when watching TV, taking a nap, in the shower or when drunk (see first question). So, in a way I’m constantly working on numerous pieces. The last piece I finished is a poem written by Rutger Hauer for an underground magazine done by creatives that used to work at Wieden+kennedy. I never knew he wrote poetry and I picked one that I liked.

On your webpage you give the simple answer to what Calligraffiti is, can I get the complicated one here?

I’ll try, though I usually aim for simplicity. Calligraffiti is the result of me looking for purpose in my life. I figured that I had enough life experience to focus on a specific thing, to experiment the hell out of it and to totally ‘own’ it. It’s as if everything before 2007, at age 40, was practice and now I’m executing my mission. To kickstart this mission, it was useful to name it Calligraffiti because it is self explanatory. It is also the name of the book that was published in 2010. I feel that I’m distancing myself from the term Calligraffiti now, though. I don’t want it to become a brand. Complicated enough?

What makes a good calligraffiti?

Directness in the whole, finesse in the details. An even balance between seeing and reading, word and image. I like it when letters, writing and language itself becomes an image or an abstraction. On the other hand, basic shapes and splats can become language. This is what my painting is about. But this also counts for my design work, for example in the piece ‘Less is More’. When you read it it says the opposite of what you see.

Tell me more about your Unruly gallery, when did you start and how do you pick and choose your artists?

It’s tiny space in a small but notorious neighborhood in Amsterdam. In the 80’s it was all squats and junkies, the cops didn’t even go there. Now it’s still far form being upscale but it feels right to have the gallery there. The owners, my dear friends in Ibiza let me use it as a studio/gallery. After a while I had the idea of showing work by my contemporaries besides mine. This year we’ve hosted five exhibitions: a group show with over 30 artists, Quik, Paul Du Bois-Reymond, Vincent van de Waal and Petro. Most of the work shows a personal, unique way of translating urban iconography to sellable art. I’m fascinated by the richness that appears when artists go from street to gallery. It’s an ongoing theme in my own work too.

Where do you prefer to see art? In galleries or in the street?

It might sound lame but I prefer to see a piece in a gallery or museum. Of course, nothing beats seeing a painted whole car pull into the station (especially your own) but after it’s gone, we end up looking at a photograph. Unique pieces are so much more powerful than prints.

Where does you own art belong and why?

I think my art belongs with people who appreciate it. And when those people explain their connection with it, that’s priceless.

What would you say are the highlights of your career? Why? 

My life has really just been a continuous flow so far. Even my years as a graphic designer and art director came and went naturally. Winning awards, getting that great job and doing that huge one-man show… These things might make me look successful but it’s the personal achievements that really count. Anyway, I’ll name three ‘highlight’ moments that pop into my head:
– In my twenties I realized that being the best in the world at something would be possible if I actually invent that something.
– When working for ad agency BBDO, I was asked to create a campaign for a brand of laxatives. I decided to quit.
– The first Calligraffiti exhibition in 2007 was a huge event but had no real plan behind it. Financially I went out on a limb, and it was heart warming to see that so many supported my art and jumped to the opportunity to finally own a real Shoe, ahah.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

If I had my time again
I would do it all the same
And not change a single thing
Even when I was to blame
For the heartache and the pain
That I caused throughout my years
How I loved to be your man
Through the laughter and the tears
(Mick Jones, Big Audio Dynamite)

Being part of the old-school crew, are you mainly approached on commission, or do you seek out fun projects to do? What do you prefer?

I get asked for a wide variety of commissions and projects and my initial reaction is often to go for it, but last year I decided my focus should be on painting. So no more ad typography, packaging, birth cards, tattoos, etc. It was fun and paid the bills but I find those things distracting these days.

Do you ever get tired of re-inventing yourself?

You get what you settle for. (Thelma & Louise). The thing is, that to create a piece, within my self-set boundaries can be fucking hard. Especially now that I understand that every truth comes with an untruth. My future work will be about just that.

If you were president for a day, what would you do?

Ban helmet laws and legalize drugs. Let people decide whether they think safety belts, smoking or snorting coke are good ideas. If this results in an increase of deaths, it could even help against overpopulation. Governments are taking away our freedom and it’s interfering with natural selection. Also, people shouldn’t expect the government to take care of everything.
Then again, less developed countries could maybe use some more regulation, for example on child labour or nuclear safety. See what I mean? With truth comes untruth. Shoe for Unpresident.



While neighborhood kids were playing with toy cars, you were exploring the art of lettering. Where did this impulse come from?

The first lettering project I did was stenciling the logos of The Cure and The Jam on my jacket to impress the girls in my class without having to talk to them. You know what I mean? If you’re a shy kid, you need to find alternative ways to manifest yourself. The kids on the dance floor, the kids telling jokes might be popular, but subtle fashion statements and introvert doodling might attract more interesting people. Anyway… Whilst cutting the cardboard with a scalpel, I realized that it was really important to get the details right. The details make the difference. Around the same time (1980) I noticed that shop signs sometimes had mistakes in them. One of the wrongly placed letters that I kept seeing was the uppercase serif N. It would sometimes be placed upside down. In a way this awareness got me into art and design and a few years ago I started photographing them. Check out and you’ll see what I mean.

How did Project Calligraffiti come to life?  Which is the history of your nickname, how did you earn it and become a legend?

As a kid growing up in Amsterdam in the Eighties it was quite common to pick a name and write it wherever you went. I did a strange drawing of a shoe. Because nobody could see what it was supposed to be, I wrote ‘shoe’ next to it. After a while I dropped the drawing, the letters remained and Shoe became my name. In the years following I wrote it so much and with such passion that I became ‘world famous in Amsterdam’. But I always saw my graffiti-fame as a step towards other fields of expertise. I went from graffiti artist to sign painter to graphic designer to art director to creative director. And in 2007 I quit it all and decided to be an artist (again). I named my art form Calligraffiti and it’s been evolving ever since.

Last year we saw you in typography events such as Typo Berlin. What is your relationship with the design community like?

In the years that I worked as an assistant to graphic designer Anthon Beeke and after, when I ran my own studio Caulfield & Tensing, I really felt part of this Dutch (and global) design community. At first I really wanted to exchange ideas about typefaces and kerning. But after a while I realized that designers talking about design ang giving awards to other designers is narcissistic and totally uninteresting. Master Beeke called it ‘koekenbakkers voor koekenbakkers’. I found that the same goes for the advertising and I’m now discovering that it’s similar in the art world. But now that I have my own special realm I’m always prepared to travel and paint with an audience present.

Which is your biggest source of inspiration?

Television programs about nature and science.

Do you have a favorite super hero? Who are your referents, people you look up to and admire?

Elektra (Dare Devil’s girlfriend). Especially in Elektra Assassin by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz

There is somehow a new tendency for designers to draw more legible graffitis, how do yourself feel in this street art field? What are you able to find there that you can´t find in a sheet of a paper?

Designers drawing graffiti? Not sure what you mean, but the difference between a sheet of paper and a wall is -obviously- the size. The size dictates what part of your body has to do the work. When I do Calligraffiti it is either with a pen (hand), brush (wrist), spray can (arm) or broom (the whole body).

Your work constantly reveals the utilization of new tools to design typography such as sprayers, window cleaners and swabs, what have you been experimenting with lately?

In China you can see elderly people in the street doing various activities. Some dance, some exercise or do tai chi. Some do calligraphy with a brush on a stick and water. Inspired by that, I started writing on the street. The actual street, with brooms. And when I went to China for a project for Converse I decided to do a flat roof with an airport sweeper, 120 cm wide. It worked out nicely, if I say so myself. Of course, people are thinking what is next, but I think there is a limit to this because it is important to feel that the brush is an organic extension of the body and when I start using sweeper cars or snow ploughs it would be too mechanic. Would be fun though.

Ink holds a strong attraction for us, is it going to lose its importance because of digitalness?

There is room in this world for both paint and pixels.

We feel it in our fingers, we feel it in our toes, lettering is all around us… what has happened? Is it going to come back with even more strength?

When I was a teenager I wanted to live in a world like in the movie Blade Runner. The chaos and the information overload was like a dream to me. Now that I’ve been to Las Vegas, Tokyo and Guangzhou I’m getting used to it. But I always return to Amsterdam in the overly-designed Netherlands. I’m raised in a country where everything is designed, it’s even in my genes. But that’s why I also look for generic, organic, filth and destruction. That’s the paradox of graffiti: Create and destroy at the same time.

Which is your favorite cartoon?

Bugs Bunny.

What would you say to the boy that is opening a spray can?

Get a fat cap. If only someone had told me in 1979.

Three essential objects you can´t do without.

My brain, my heart and my right hand.



A teenager enters an Amsterdam bookstore, circa 1981. He’s shy, doesn’t talk to anyone, doesn’t dare make eye contact. He’s always looking down. At his shoes. He grabs a stool to reach the upper shelves. He pulls down some books, and sits quietly for hours, turning pages, absorbing the images. What’s strange, to the clerk, is the books…this kid is reading books on typography. Japanese logos. Vintage type. This was Niels Meulman at age 14.

“Yes, they thought (I was) a bit strange,” he recalls now.

And when the clerk wasn’t looking, he’d pocket some Letraset transfer sheets, and see what he could create at home. He was totally in love with Excoffon’s Antique Olive Nord and Compact, but also Optima and Avant Garde, to name a few. By age 16, he could draw entire alphabets out of the Letraset and Mecanorma catalogs by heart. This passion for letters might have seemed strange for a fourteen-year-old but the letters had purpose—they ultimately gave a voice to the kid who didn’t say much. Gave him a direction. And the skills to launch an identity.

To pass the time during long Amsterdam summers, teenagers would go out at night in crews and tag walls with various logos or symbols. His symbol was a shoe, but to make sure people understood, he wrote the word out. SHOE.

Drawing on his love of letters, and New York City graffiti, Shoe crafted the name in a variety of lettering styles, tagging his identity wherever his spraycan could take him. SHOE bombed the fuck out of Amsterdam, to use the parlance of the time. He was fast becoming the pioneer of a movement.

He also set out to meet some of the big names in the game: Rammellzee, Eric Haze, Quik, Keith Haring, and Dondi. He bombed other cities, and formed the Crime Time Kings crew with Bando (Paris) and Mode2 (London). By age 18, he was known worldwide in the graffiti community. Niels “Shoe” Meulman was a street legend.

But getting up wasn’t going to get him anywhere as an adult. He knew that. After a stint in the military, he considers himself lucky to meet Anthon Beeke, a respected Dutch graphic designer. Beeke gave Shoe an opportunity to apprentice, and Shoe learned from a master.

“It was a classic master/pupil education,” Shoe says. “I was introduced to all the mechanical aspects of design.”

The quick rundown of what happened next:

• Shoe started his own agency, Caulfield & Tensing,
• BBDO Worldwide bought Caulfield & Tensing, and kept Shoe on board to direct its international advertising efforts.
• Shoe started his own agency, Unruly.
• MTV hired Shoe to as Creative Director of all its brands.
• In 2007, while Shoe was visiting New York, he spent time with Haze, whom he had first met as a teenager. It was then that Shoe developed Calligraffiti, a fusion of calligraphy and graffiti. He showed his Calligraffiti at a solo exhibition in Amsterdam to much praise.

Along the way he has re-invented himself, time and time again. “Re-inventing yourself can be a force in itself,” he says. “The feeling that YOU are at the wheel of your own life.” And LETTERS have guided him from chapter to chapter. Which brings us to 2010.

In 2010, Shoe’s book Calligraffiti was published, and Shoe supported it with a 22-city tour. This was the coronation of Shoe as the guy at the top of his game, the guy with an unparalleled ability to make letters—no matter the medium or the method. The stuff he was passionate about at age 12 had taken him all over the world and brought him back home, full circle.

The tour was a success. Shoe stopped in cities such as L.A., Boston, and Berlin. He smoked, drank, and made a ton of letters, met a bunch of new people, and re-connected with names from the past. He also sold thousands of books and Calligraffiti chiseled markers.

2010 was the year of Calligraffiti! and Shoe is our 2010 Letter Person of the Year.


1. I am a member of an Amsterdam terrorist group called SKG (Stads Kunst Guerrilla).
2. I still don’t understand why people can’t accept that there is no such thing as ‘god’.
3. All the events in 2010 wouldn’t have happened without the efforts of Adele Renault and Adam Eeuwens.
4. I am the catcher in a baseball team at the Amsterdam Pirates.
5. I just did two projects in New York: a T-shirt design for the New Museum and a poster project for the Type Director’s Club.



Niels Shoe Meulman’s design version of a midlife crisis started in 2007, during a month-long visit to New York and staring down his 40th birthday.

At the time the “Amsterdam-born, -raised, and -based” art director and artist had been heading up a small yet successful ad agency called Unruly; that February Meulman stayed with artist Eric Haze and began wondering what it would be like to pursue a career without clients. Riffing off artwork Haze had begun in his Williamsburg studio, the friends devised a technique marrying graffiti and calligraphy. Meulman returned to Amsterdam, took a cavernous space in a former Post CS building (the same that housed the Stedelijk temporarily), and emerged two months later with a solo exhibition introducingCalligraffiti to adoring audiences.

Meulman has largely worked by and for himself ever since, in more recent years from his Amsterdam home overlooking Looiersgracht. He reflects on Calligraffiti as a mash-up of all his previous phases as an artist. Meulman sprayed his first Shoe tag at age 13 and within a few years he, like Haze, had risen to celebrity status in the graffiti world; 16-year-old Meulman began learning calligraphy; in the 1990s he was running his own design studio Caulfield & Tensing; Meulman later worked for the mega-ad agency BBDO. His interest in letterforms has been unwavering.

Calligraffiti projects start as almost any professional gig, with doodling. “After a few sketches, I know how the words relate to each other—the descender of a g touching a capital F or something like that,” he explains. “Sometimes you get it right, sometimes it takes 10 times.”

Initially Meulman transformed rendering into reality using marker refill, a runny variety of ink that lent horizontality to his work, if only to prevent drips. In fact, he explains that choice of medium informs application technique, which then informs the final product. “The difference in letterforms is physically defined: With a pen you use your hand and with a brush you use your wrist. Of course I’m very used to doing bigger stuff with a spray can, in which you use your whole arm. And recently I’ve been experimenting with big brooms on the pavement. The shapes have the same starting point but the physical aspect really defines how it looks in the end. So many factors influence the final result; my personal will is only 10 percent of it—that sounds kind of Zen-like.”

Openness to possibility also landed Meulman one of his most recent commissions, installed during San Francisco Dutch Design Week. His solo exhibition “Throw-Ups,” which opened at the Los Angeles gallery Project Space on October 21, put Meulman on the radar of The Consulate General of the Netherlands in California. The consulate then invited him to conceive and execute a mural for the weeklong event feting its move from Los Angeles to San Francisco. “I’ve found that these kinds of opportunities are all about coincidences,” Meulman says.

Another series of coincidences inspired the subject of the San Francisco installation. Since seeing them in Los Angeles, Adele Renault, a graphic designer at the Amsterdam-based design studio Dog and Pony and Meulman’s girlfriend of two years, had been drawing pelicans almost obsessively. “It’s a pretty weird bird, but she was really into it,” Meulman says. “Then I was on the plane to San Francisco, not knowing what to write, and I put Dutch design and the birds together, and then I knew.

”??Meulman knew to use a medievel phrase that had been relayed to him once by Dingeman Kuilman, the former Premsela director whom he had befriended while both were working in the studio of famous graphic designer Anthon Beeke. It roughly translates to, “All birds have started making nests, everyone except me and you, what are we waiting for?” It is the oldest piece of Dutch literature, and it is attributed to a monk testing a pen. “The first time I heard the text, I was really touched,” Meulman recalls, adding, “I figure the oldest Dutch line of text also is the oldest example of Dutch design, because the moment you write something it’s already designed.” The references to nesting perfectly suited the location of the mural, too: Supernatural, a new San Francisco gallery selling European furnishings and locally made artwork.

Like the previous work at “Throw-Ups,” Meulman executed the San Francisco Dutch Design Week mural in acrylics and in color, a contrast to his predominantly black-and-white, inky body of work. Renault also painted pelicans by his side, which is only the sixth time she’s served as co-author. His choice of text also represents a change: “Once, I felt the need to do a lot of pieces that said coke & booze. With the work I’ve been doing lately, maybe being unruly isn’t that important anymore. As I get older, my next goal is to get wiser, and to share those insights.” Meulman’s take on Calligraffiti is a kind of barometer for the graffiti movement, which itself is experiencing a second wave of popularity. This time around it’s older and wiser, more aware of its history and more dedicated to a holistic legacy.



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.

You’ve coined the term Calligraffiti. When did you start merging graffiti with calligraphy? What has been the response?

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.



When and how did you start your first own business?

When I dropped out of school at 17 I tried graphic art school for a year. This is where I met Angel who would later become a good friend and partner in crime. I didn’t finish that school because together with Joker I was doing graffiti jobs and they kept getting bigger. Also, we were doing jobs for local coffee shops like Happy Family. Who needs an education when you have cash, right? Anyway, in 1986 I started my first company called 3D Design. We called ourselves commercial artists and besides the typical graffiti jobs we also did stuff like lettering for billboards and I did my first logo designs. The company stopped in 1988 because I had to do my military service. Can you believe they trained me as a dentist assistant? Ahah!

You’ve went through various stages in your career as a businessman. Which were the best moments and why?

When I look back it’s funny to see that I switched from independent to employed about four times. First in graffiti, then in graphic design and later in advertising. I always made more money when I was employed but I did my best work as an independent entrepreneur. But during the jobs I had, I also learned a lot about techniques and about the system, how to get things done. All these different periods had their moments supremes. To win a pitch for a really big client is great and obviously a bigger deal when it’s your own company. It was great to write a bill for 40.000 euri for a logo design (Talpa) but nothing beats the moment when I paint a wall or Calligraffiti and I’m amazed by the result of my own piece. Hopefully now that I’m working alone I can have those moments a the same time. Ah!

If you’d have to give an advice to young Graffitiwriters who’d like to step into the design-world, what would that be?

At first, do everything, every project you can get your hands on. Flyers, posters, letterheads, whatever. And then, when you feel you are ready: specialize. And don’t talk too much. Listen and observe.

What can a Designer learn from Graffiti Art and what can a Graffitiwriter learn from the World of Design?

Most laws of graphic design and graffiti are universal laws. Balance, continuity, those kinds of things. In a way nature is our only reference. And on a more instrumental note: Graffiti artists have to let go of the idea that every space has to be filled and graphic designers should have more fun and do drugs.

What do Graffiti and Calligraphy have in common?

What don’t they have in common? Graffiti is basically modern calligraphy. Well, with a different (illegal) medium that is. Maybe a tag can be compared with the Japanese character calligraphy and a masterpiece is more like the initials that medieval monks would draw with gold in books. I’ve had this realization from the beginning and maybe that’s why I feel so comfortable with this Calligraffiti thing.

What’s the difference between a letter and a picture?

A few years ago I did a lecture and workshop at UCLA, California. My first statement was: A word is an image. I think a letter in itself is nothing. It’s about words. The sequence of the letters and the meaning of the word can create a picture. For graffiti writers this goes without saying. In my book I drop a line about it: A word is a tight unit of matching characters, ready to be dropped behind enemy lines. To me a word and the way it’s written can be a poem or a story.

Do you consider your works as texts or pictures?

I try to find the fine line between the two. My words are pictures but if I use too many words, they become text.

How important is the readability of your works?

Not really, but when it becomes unreadable there’s usually something wrong with the shapes.

It is said that Calligraphy has a meditative aspect. Have you made that experience?

For sure! I’m no new age freak and I’ve never meditated, but when I ‘attack’ the white paper with the black ink I have to be in a perfect mood. Which isn’t that often. I can’t do a Calligraffiti piece while doing 3 chats and a near deadline when the phone’s ringing, no no! And I can’t be too drunk either. What I’ve learned is that I must wait until the circumstances are right. Like a cat that waits at the mouse’s hole. Peace of mind and a certain optimistic feeling are required. I tried to do some pieces when I wasn’t feeling right and I ended up with a garbage bag full of torn up paper and inky hands. But when the circumstances are just right I can get in a some kind of trance a do many good pieces in one session.

Describe your Calligraffiti-technique(s)

My favorite is black Edding ink or On The Run ink on polypropene film, which is some kind of half transparent plastic sheet. When I did my first Calligraffiti show in 2007, I spent two months in a huge space -an old postal warehouse in Amsterdam- with all kinds of inks and types of paper. Those ones came out the best. I also like Indian ink because of its intensity and glow. I also like to work on a small scale with a calligraphy pen with metallic tip. It all has to with the size of the work. I’ve categorized my four main techniques like this: Hand (pen/Indian ink), Wrist (brush/marker ink), Arm (spraycan/wall), Body (broom/street). I demonstrated all these in a video made by the masterly blog

What will your next steps in the Graffiti/Calligraffiti/Art-World will look like? 


I go with the flow. Slow and low that is the tempo.



When did you first start to bombing? And Calligraffiti ?

My frist shoe tags are dated 1979. The real bombing started in 1983. The Calligraffiti style was first shown in 2007.

Who are the first writers in The Netherlands ? And when did they start bombing?

The first writers in Amsterdam were of the Punk variety. In the early Eighties graffiti writers like Ego, Dr. Air and Walking Joint were more of the hooligan type. In 1983 we started to see New York style bombing and then the movement really took off.

How were you introduced to graffiti and why did you choose to practice this art?

In school half the people of my class were writing their nick names on the toilet walls and in the streets. And I’ve always had a strange obsession with letters. So, it was kind of obvious, really.

Which old school writers did you meet in New York, Paris and London?

I had met a few writers from New York that did paintings and had exhibitions in Amsterdam. I especially  connected with Dondi, Quik, Rammellzee and we started exchanging artistic ideas and drinking skills. Soon after I met Bando and Mode 2 in Paris.

Which writers from your generation have you painted with in the Eighties?

Delta, Angel, Rhyme, Quik, Dondi, Jonone, Colt, Bando, Mode2 and many many more

Have you painted any subways?

I pioneered in the 80’s by painting subway cars in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Munich and Paris.

Could you please tell us about your Calligraffiti style?

Calligraffiti is my way of translating the art of the street to the interior of museums, galleries and apartments. The older I get the more I’m drawn to simplicity and directness. The kind of directness you’ll find in graffiti and especially tagging. I have always been fascinated by Eastern and Arabic calligraphy and I took these aspects —together with my experience in design and communication— and merged them into a personal style. Calligraffiti.

Are you running after a shadow like many creators?

Well, I don’t feel like my shadow is chasing me, so maybe it’s running from me. And I’m closing in on that sucker, with a little help from my art. But seriously, I am -like everyone else- looking to get some basic things out of life, like attention and intimacy. They saddest thing I can imagine is an unsuccessful artist. In a Peruvian jail.

What is your artistic desire now?

The realm I have created for myself with Calligraffiti is so big that I can evolve and expand endlessly. So, as long as I get emails like this (below), I will keep exploring it.
<< Hi Niels. Thanks a lot for the lectures at TypoBerlin this year. You really got me inspired me to start doing calligraphy for serious. I have attached another ‘N’ for your collection on – Toke Nielsen>>
<< Hello, first off I would like to mention the art work is incredible. The whole concept and notion of the art: amazing. I’m looking forward to purchasing a copy of the book, it’s great to see how a book on the artwork of Shoe is published. Question: what is your thought on other artists interested in learning the technique of Calligraffiti? Understanding that this has been created by Shoe, but its a lovely style of art. Once again, amazing work I’ll be purchasing a copy soon. – Rafael Mena-Cuesta>>
<<Hi. I just want to say that i admire your work. All your pieces are incredible and I went through your blog in one breath. – Oleg Uzunov >>



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?

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). 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.

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 start writing your tags on walls? Are you still active on the streets?

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 ‘worlds’ 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.

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 calligraffities?

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. 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.”

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?

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.

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?

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! Soon on



Let’s have a look at a time called back in the days. You already tagged walls in the late the Seventies. At that time I’ve seen that punk graffiti thing going on in Amsterdam. What have been your influences?

Yes, the first Shoe tags are from 1979. We’d steal those small spray cans of fluorescent car paint and tag the old center of our city. Especially in 1980 with the squatting riots and the crowning of queen Beatrix, old Amsterdam was in complete anarchy. A wonderful environment for a kid growing up and doing graffiti. Before I had seen any subway graffiti from New York my biggest influence was Dr. Rat. After my first visit to New York in 1982 and noticing graffiti in galleries and museums my biggest influence was Dondi. He really was a kind of a mentor when I first started to do New York styles.. Sadly they are both dead.

Did you ever got busted or were your “shoes” always faster?

Oh man, I got caught so many times. I used to be proud of the fact that I had seen almost all (20+) Amsterdam’s police stations on the inside. Back then, they would make you spend a night in jail and sometimes you’d get a fine. My ‘shoes’ were actually pretty fast (I used to play baseball) but I was just taking these ridiculous risks. When I look at some old pieces I sometimes wonder how I could have done those super dangerous spots.

Did you recognized the German scene in that times, for example Chintz?

Well, to be honest when we (Crime Time Kings) made some trips to Germany and other European countries we were mostly interested in each other. The interaction between, say, Bando, Angel, Joker, Cat22, Mode2, Colt, Delta, Gasp and me was the focus at that time. And I can’t forget those CTK bombers like Sign, Lino and Tabu. But I remember Chintz and Loomit for sure.

So what about the Crime Time Kings – how come that you have been involved in this first international crew?

Basically it was like this in the early eighties: In Amsterdam you had us, the United Street Artists. In London The Chrome Angelz and in Paris the Bomb Squad 2. Bando united us all in Crime Time.

How did you start turning it into biz? And tell us for sure first about “Happy Family”.

In the eighties Amsterdam walls were pretty badly bombed (Ego, Dr.Air, Mano, Trip, etc) but our crew appeared a lot in the media because we were doing it differently, bigger and more colorful. It was a real ‘happy’ story for newspapers, magazines and tv. All the doom and ‘no future’ made way to a more optimistic (read: opportunistic) state of mind. I was determined to become a designer and my cremate Joker was a real businessman about it. He always said he wanted to be a millionaire with a swimming pool before 25. Ahah! Anyway, we had this mob-type scheme where we would tell shop-owners and housing projects that we could paint their walls for money or we fuck everything up with tags. Plus if the USA painted the wall, nobody would fuck with it. Also around that time we did some paintings for the infamous chain of coffee shops called the Happy Family (and the Bulldog). The owners were some of the toughest criminals around, moving huge amounts of dope all over the world. We would go for a drive with one guy in his BMW. Then he would point at spots, saying: ‘There? Can we have one there?’ And we would say ‘Sure. 500 guilders’. That night on that spot it would say ‘Happy Family’. The dolphins costed extra. Ahah!

Tell us more about your professional works. You worked e.g. for BBDO and MTV Europe. What is your experience in these fields?

In a nutshell it went like this: The graffiti turned into a business but that ended when I was 20 because I had to join the military service. After 14 months of sabotaging the Dutch army I got a job as assistant to Anthon Beeke, who taught me the graphic design trade. After 3 years of working very closely with this diverse autodidact from Amsterdam (like me) I started my second business: Caulfield & Tensing. We had many employees and pioneered in design, websites and advertising. We sold the place, including ourselves to BBDO in 1999. There I worked as an art director for 2,5 years, creating campaigns for huge accounts. My third company, Unruly, tried to do marketing, but on my terms. That worked for a while but when my business partner decided to become a cop (really) I felt I was ready to become what I never dared to call myself: an artist.

Nowadays your work can be seen in Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art? From street fame to museums, what is your basic attitude on this?

Actually the work in those museums is more graphic design related. Dutch Design, you know. My Calligraffiti still needs to grow before it can really be picked up by the art world.

You did commercial calligraphy work for e.g. Bols Genever. Did you learned it in a professional way? When did you named the term Calligraffiti. Did you planed it than as a concept?

When I moved away from the commercial world I went to New York for a while. Together with Eric Haze I started experimenting with inks and brushes. The idea of Japanese calligraphy really appealed to me. One word on a piece of paper. Very direct. An ode to (letter) forms. Meanwhile I also kept doing words (logo’s) for reproduction. To me those two are within the same realm. And for that realm to exist it needed a name. I really like naming things.

I’m a huge fan of that 1979 live action video of Dr. Rat. Did he invented this Calligraffiti style, or where would you say are the related roots?

I think I had seen that great video in the eighties -I think it’s by Rogier van der Ploeg-, and I have a feeling that it stuck with me unconsciously. My first Shoe that wasn’t a tag, had these gothic letters. That was in 1982

What about Unruly – why silk scarves? By the way I love the “Scarfface” pictures we had in our mag, issues ago – is this your work too?

The Unruly scarves are a side project. I’m not a fashion designer but like fashion, so silk scarves seemed like a nice product to create. I art directed all the Unruly photo shoots. They are done by befriended photographers that I met during my advertising years.

When I opened your new book yesterday the first thing I noticed was the missing space type on page 11. Haha. Dear reader: Forget that. It’s really a fucking good book. Okay, I know a lot of your works, but often it was setting a question mark to me. Now the books gives me the answers and the last pages were the most interesting for me. What’s your relationship to Adam Eeuwens, who wrote the introduction for the book?

Ahah!. That missing space was one of the first things that I noticed too. Damn! Anyway, I’m glad that the book succeeded in giving some background to the work. In my head everything has a natural place but that isn’t always clear to the viewer. The one-liners and quotes on the spreads can sort of point you in a direction and the index in the back shows a bit more of what the hell I’m talking about. Adam Eeuwens and I spend two weeks creating a rough outline. He than went back to Los Angeles to write the essay and I started designing the book and writing the index. I know Adam has been a good friend since the nineties when he was still living in Amsterdam. We’ve done numerous publication projects together.

Your last words in the book are “save the planet – kill yourself”. Now you get the chance to give us some more positive last words and some on your future plans?

Well, what I’m saying there is ‘Stop making me feel guilty for living!’ But it was meant to be funny too, I am really a very optimistic person. A few weeks ago I stumbled onto this text: Everything is amazing and nobody’s happy. That line has the same kind of power. It’s deep and light at the same time. In the future I will try to keep uniting more opposites with more Calligraffiti.


European street art pioneer Shoe blends ancient calligraphy with worldwide graffiti style

In the 1970s and 1980s, Amsterdam had its own graffiti movement before the New York variety had fully arrived. Anarchists, squatters, punk rock, Ska and names like Dr. Rat, Ego, Dr. Crack, Weed-Freak and Survivor were all over town. The 12-year-old Neils Meulman loved it, took on the pseudonym ‘Shoe,’ and began to write graffiti in a Gothic font, just like Dr. Rat, one of the pioneers of the Amsterdam graffiti scene.

To a Californian, Gothic lettering in graffiti is a gang thing, but as Shoe explains, “that term ‘Gothic’ doesn’t really mean anything. You can also associate it with newspaper logos or even your ‘We the People’ declaration. I think the Cholo association has to do with tattoo lettering.” He did his first ‘big’ Shoe piece in 1982, and hip-hop graffiti arrived in Europe barely before his paint had dried. Shoe would become one of the continent’s early pioneers, painting in the wildly influential ‘Crime Time Kings’ crew with contemporaries Bando, Delta, and Mode 2.

Formal calligraphy entered the mix, and at age 18, Shoe started a lettering company. “Then, at 20, I learned the graphic design trade from the master, Anthon Beeke. Then I started a design agency, sold it and became senior art director at BBDO and later creative director for MTV. Now, that was all very nice but in 2006 it was time for me to use all that experience and go back to the source; my real passion.” In early 2007, Shoe went to New York for a month, hanging out with his old friend Eric Haze, whom he had met in the early 1980s on a graffiti-infused New York vacation.

“I made the first Calligraffiti works in Haze’s basement in Williamsburg,” Shoe recalls. Calligraffiti is his combination of traditional calligraphy (“Japanese ancient brush characters, Arabic pictorial scripts, illuminated mediaeval books or swirly quill writing”) and the worldwide graffiti style perfected in New York City. “The fairly new art of graffiti has very old roots,” he explains, “and I wanted to look further back into the history of writing. Thus resulting in Calligraffiti: traditional handstyles with a metropolitan attitude.”



From bold, quick throw ups and tags to the slow and delicate proces of creating the Rich emblem. Has Shoe finally softened?

Emblem, I like that. It’s too complex to be a logo, isn’t it? Anyway. Yes, I have become more soft. Let me share my theory about softness: All are born soft. When you grow up, you become curious and start asking questions. The more questions you ask, the tougher you become. Youth is for practice, experiment, input. Creating as much chaos as you can handle. This I did and the softness got going. Now, having seen the seasons change fourty times, I feel it is time for output, time to consolidate. I even find myself using the word ‘harmony’ now and then. But it’s all good, the wide vision of the angry (careless) young man has transformed into a smooth sailing (still careless) artist with a zen-like focus… No, haha. Just kidding! But my point is, that although the creative process will always be a struggle, I now grasp the idea that it isn’t only me and my silly brain that’s doing the creating. There are many unnamable things that influence the process. Some call this intuition, or worse, oneness. I know what you’re thinking… He’s not gone soft, he’s gone completely bonkers! Well, check this out (off the record): When I work on a calligraphic piece -like the Rich graphic- there’s this continuous question: how do I so swiftly decide which curves are good and which need tweaking? This then triggers the notion that my goal is to uncover the secret of life. But I guess that is what every artist aims to do, right? No? It’s just me? Whatever. Soft is good. Hey, I haven’t been in jail for over ten years. But that’s not counting DUI arrests… A shoe will never be a sandal… Understand?!

What do you enjoy most: assignments or autonomous work? Why?

Good question. Again. They are practically the same. The only difference is that one type of job has a client called ‘them’ where the other type of job’s client is ‘me’. There is no essential difference between a window-down whole-tram by L’Oréal and one by Shoe. Multinationals think and operate in the exact same, primitive way that a fifteen year old angry (careless) young man does. An organization of 100.00 people has the same structure as a person. You know; board of directors on the top floor telling the others what to do, etc. But I don’t see any CEO that realizes he really doesn’t decide shit and subsequently transforms into a smooth sailing (still careless) artist with a zen-like focus… Whatever, I created a situation for myself where my work either fits a campaign for ‘them’ or ‘me’.

How important is recognition for you?

Recognize me, respect me, love me, never forget me and say my name. Especially after I’m dead.

What do you think of graphic design in Dutch advertising?

Read the weekly columns in Adformatie by Dolf Hell. Those should be published in deluxe format. Otherwise I’m just happy that the Futura Extra Bold Condensed is back.

What?s the main reason for you to get up every day and do the things you do?

Now, that is a terrible question.

What if Rich asked you to join them as an art director?

Do you think that before the word ‘carpenter’ was invented, the guy’s profession was called ‘arranger/attacher of dried tree pieces’? Maybe. My point is that I haven’t been able to find a word to describe what I do. And that sucks. The best I can do is: ‘typographic design / creative direction’. Maybe it’s time to choose art over power and the ‘creative direction’ has to go. Exemplary is my time at MTV Networks as Creative Director. All aspects of the diverse job went really well but after a few weeks I had commissioned myself and Paul (Machine) to spray-paint the building’s interior with extravagant looking words like ‘campaignability’ and ‘the logo isn’t big enough’. Pretty much the same thing happened in my time at FHV; all my campaigns were based on graphic word play. I coped with the numerous meetings, presentations and office crap, only because the execution would be so promising. If I join Rich as an art director can I have ‘artdirector’ on my business card? Spelled as one word.

What can we expect from you next?

Unexpect the expected.



Niels Meulman, 38, is a man of few words. You won’t hear him saying designers have an important social duty to fulfil. Meulman, who puts out his work under the simple name of ‘Shoe’, gets his pleasure out of making beautiful things. What kind? Well-crafted letters, for instance, that instantly appeal.

He gave himself the name ‘Shoe’ as a street artist. “In one of my graffiti drawings there was a symbol that looked a lot like a shoe,” he says. Although by now he’s grown up from an obnoxious kid (“I was one of those guys, everyone used to say, ‘What’s going to become of him?’”) into a successful, congenial designer, he’s kept the name ‘Shoe’. It’s typical of his attitude that things that work well don’t need to be changed. Yet that doesn’t mean he’s always consistent. He’s switched employers with great frequency, and he started his fifth company three years ago and has changed business partners several times since then. Meulman just wants to do something new from time to time.

And thus it happened that while working as a senior art director at the Netherlands’ biggest advertising agency, he became an ‘adbuster’ – someone who defaces advertisements, subtly changing the pictures or letters so that the original message takes on a whole new meaning. “Adbusts are a fun game,” Meulman says. “But I’m not against advertising. On the contrary, I embrace its visual violence and try to distill out of it the elements that work. As an ad maker, I learned that simple messages still come across best. And if I give the message a nice design, I know it will appeal to people.”

Master and apprentice

The biggest constant in his work is his passion for well-made letters. Whether he’s designing an advertising poster or a skateboard, Meulman throws himself with total dedication into making a good typographical whole. Art nouveau-ish letters typify his style. “Those naturally elegant shapes work best,” he says. “They’re timeless.” He learned the trade from the famous Dutch graphic designer Anthon Beeke. “When I got out of the army, I had made up my mind to go look for a real job,” he says. “But I knew one thing for sure: I didn’t want to go back to the classroom. I strongly believed in the master-apprentice idea. Beeke, who I called up one day to ask for work, didn’t take much persuading. He’d learned the trade that way himself.” Under Beeke’s auspices, Shoe developed from a talented graffiti artist into a skilled designer and typographer.

A few years ago, Imagine IC, an Amsterdam foundation that concerns itself with the visual representation of immigrant identity and culture in the Netherlands, asked him to take on a number of young pupils from the Bijlmer in a sort of apprenticeship – this time, he was the master. “The project was intended to help underprivileged youths become designers,” he says. “The kids and I designed a coat of arms together for the Bijlmer, a problem neighbourhood in Amsterdam. It was definitely a cool idea, and the project turned out great, but I wonder if it really got the kids much further. Kids who are really determined to become designers will make it with or without a project like this. And you can’t force talent.”

Media icon Marshall McLuhan’s famous slogan ‘The medium is the message’ is tattooed on Meulman’s arm. “It’s just a cool saying,” he says. But his work is clearly at odds with the idea. Whatever the medium Shoe turns his hand to – the street, a poster, new media – his message remains the same: making good, communicative letters. “At the moment, the main point is good craftsmanship,” he says. With his present agency, Unruly, Shoe is focusing on timeless works – because following trends, he says, is totally out of style.




Rammellzee is an universal artist, expressing his theory of Gothic Futurism (which is shifting into a new phase which he calls Ikonoklast Panzerism) through many artforms such as aerosol, music and sculpting. From his appearance in Wildstyle, to painting trains alongside Jean-Michel Basquiat, on down to his works shown in New York’s Museum of Modern Arts, he is one of the originators who has, and still influences many worldwide. We got in touch with Rammellzee for some brief questions about Shoe.

When and where did you cross paths with the artist known as Shoe?

Yaki Kornblit Gallery… Late 1983 with Baz, who’s father I used to play chess with.

What set his graffiti style apart from so many other talented artists?

Absolutely none… He was a bomber artist. These styles started in NYC. He was told that…. At a lecture I held in Amsterdam. He didn’t like me telling that to an audience and most likely… He won’t like what I’m saying now!

Are you familiar with his current calligraphy-style work?

Yes I am, but don’t change the subject. Shoe is good at what he does and that’s why I speak to him… Shoe knows it. In my eyes… Shoe is no “Toy”.

Any personal comments or amusing anecdotes about Shoe? (Like the time you got busted for bombing the Stedelijk Museum haha)?

It was great to hit the wall with him… Specially cause it was a Museum. You should ask this same question to Shoe about Dondi. I don’t crack jokes on Shoe… He’s too solid of a man!


Bando discovered Hip Hop and graffiti culture early in New York, got inspired by legends like Futura 2000 and brought these fresh artforms back to France. In turn, he influenced a whole generation of writers and crews in Europe and worldwide with his indisputable talent and style. He was also the instigator of many world renowned crews, among them the Bomb Squad 2, Crime Time Kings and The Chrome Angels, operating alongside other notorious pioneers like Mode2 and Delta. After dropping the cans he kept making noise by producing and releasing dirty raw funk records, many of them highly collectible today. We managed to track down this man of few words via email to do the Q&A about Shoe.

When and where did you cross paths with the artist known as Shoe?

The first time I met Shoe it was in Paris in ‘85, ‘86, I think…

What set his graffiti style apart from so many other talented artists?

Letter style, no bullshit decoration like so many others, but simple to the point style, like Seen & Dondi for example.

Are you familiar with his current calligraphy-style work?

Yes, somewhat.

Any personal comments or amusing anecdotes about Shoe?

I have to think about that one.


Adam Eeuwens is a close friend of Shoe and co-author of the excellent Dutch design book ‘False Flat’ which documents illustrations, product design, old and new painting, graphic design and advertising from The Netherlands. Furthermore, Adam is a partner in Rebeca Mendez Design, responsible for design strategy, account handling, research and development, copywriting and creating concepts that lead to artistic solutions and pragmatic results. Adam possesses almost 20 years of media industry experience, half in the United States, half of them in Europe, with experience as journalist, editor, publisher, event developer, planner, copy writer and author.

When and where did you cross paths with the artist known as Shoe?

The first time I crossed paths with Shoe must have been around 1984. I was in a crowded Saturday afternoon tram in Amsterdam, and this group of kids my age jumped on and began bombing the tram floor to ceiling with fat black markers. One of them stood out by finding the craziest spots to apply some mad skill. He was also the most infuriating and soon several aboard were shouting and threatening violence. This kid just stared them down and got out the last possible moment through the closing doors before being lynched. (something I have seen him repeat many times since, with lesser degree of success). ‘That was Shoe,’ a friend next to me remarked, and I knew there and then that I would know this guy.

Quite some years later in 1991 we met in person, somewhere in a subway underpass in De Bijlmer. I was writing a story on graffiti, following Cat22, and that afternoon met Gasp, Angel and Shoe for the first time. I wrote the story in my own magazine Flux. Though I never touched a spray can in my life, after Niels and PJ read the story they bestowed on me the honorary title of writer, with the tag Flux. To date, this is still one of the greatest honors I have received (along with my friend Jorge from Tijuana calling me an honorary mujado, or wetback, after I got deported from the US once).

What set his graffiti style apart from so many other talented artists?

His deep love of the letter, maybe? The enormous skill that makes the letters flow that one beat more natural? His capacity to continuously produce and amaze? His iron logic? The fact that when he puts pen to paper, brush to canvas, spray can to wall, he is happiest? Because there a very few like him?

Are you familiar with his current calligraphy-style work?

Yes. I think I was even in the same room when he started calling what he has always done ‘calligraffiti.’

Any personal comments or amusing anecdotes about Shoe?

As I turn 40 a few weeks after Shoe I trust I will be forgiven for being slightly sentimental and melodramatic here. Working with Niels has been one of the great pleasures and privileges of my life. It was never work, it was play, with no qualm that it was often way past midnight. And I always felt that combining my talents and skills with his resulted in an equation where 1 plus 1 makes 3. We made beautiful things with a sense of mission, convinced we were making an important contribution to the wellbeing of our generation and society; never did we demand less of ourselves and each other. Some of the work we did together is certainly for me some of the best I ever did and best fun I ever had, and formed the person I am today. There is now an ocean and a continent between us but throughout the years we have managed to stay in touch, even deepen our friendship in meaningful exchanges. The man is a treasure, not only to me, but to mankind. Seriously.


Talk about graffiti and you’re bound to come across the name Mode 2. From worldwide walls to the pages in Spraycan Art, Mode 2 done made his mark in the aerosol artform… and far beyond. Soaking up influences from his travels and various surroundings he developed his very own unique style of lettering and characters, which he is probably most well known for. And not only does his work look good: Mode 2 analyzes and utilizes his artistic expression to comment on society, communicates through culture and inspires people. We caught up with this Chrome Angel for some words about Shoe.

When and where did you cross paths with the artist known as Shoe?

We met at the end of July ‘85, on the river banks of Paris, where he had done some pieces with Jan and Jaz, and with Bando, Pride, Scribla, Zaki, and Eskimo. We were wondering who were these new dudes in town… I think they were just on vacation… He showed us some photos from Amsterdam, pretty impressive stuff with regards to the standards of then, so we clicked quite well from the get-go…

Bando had created a new crew called Crime Time Kings earlier that summer, a fusion of Bomb Squad 2 from Paris and The Chrome Angelz from London. Shoe became Amsterdam “president” and ran the “chapter” from that city.

What set his graffiti style apart from so many other talented artists?

I think the fact that he was mentored by Dondi gave him as good a starting point as any would wish or die for, and Shoe himself had really sound instinctive knowledge of how to make letters look good; hence the perfect balance of letters in his short and unforgettable name, for instance… This grasp of what impacts best graphically made him stand out from the rest, but I also think that the rich and diverse graffiti culture of Amsterdam, as well as a very good rapport between Bando and himself, also played its part in inspiring him, and helping him evolve…

Are you familiar with his current calligraphy-style work?

I’ve only been on and off acquainted up to date with what Shoe’s been doing on the calligraphy tip. I remember what he was doing with Sunday Violence back in the nineties, but my trips to Amsterdam were few and far between then. It’s only by doing things more frequently with Delta that I started to run into Shoe again, as he had been a bit more away from the scene. Recently I saw his work with scarves, which is probably just the tip of the iceberg, as to what he’s been doing in that direction…

Any personal comments or amusing anecdotes about Shoe?

At the after-party of the Backjumps Live Issue2, he must have told us he was leaving about four times, but after each and every departure, he would come bouncing through the crowds fifteen to twenty minutes later, as if he was just getting into the party; a bit kind of Groundhog Day!


Rebeca Méndez is an artist living in Los Angeles working with various media to explore the forces of nature modulated through technology. Méndez travels to the edges of the world, from Patagonia, to Iceland and the Sahara desert, in pursuit of images of an ideal and sublime nature and her works continue to explore issues of media representation. Her photography studies the everyday, stillness and emptiness, as well as the isolation of the temporal in phenomena. Her video installations are intense immersive environments of ‘impossible landscapes’ that envelop the viewer in image and sound. In 2004 she invited Shoe for a series of lectures and workshops at UCLA. We got in touch with her for some words on Shoe.

When and where did you cross paths with the artist known as Shoe?

I fell in love with Adam Eeuwens in November 1995 in Amsterdam. Adam came to visit me in Los Angeles (my home), and he arrived with Shoe. That was the first time I met Shoe. Late that night, we all strolled down muscle beach, in Venice, California. But it was Shoe and I who, like ten-year-olds, were playing (and showing off to each other) all the ‘muscle’ tricks we could do on the rings and monkey bars. The next days, we talked design (and showed off to each other) the design and typographic work that we so passionately make. I was (and still am) most impressed.

What set his graffiti style apart from so many other talented artists?

Niels is a perfectionist who understands that mastery is achieved through observation, experimentation, dedication and play, and as such, his graffiti style emanates a formal rigour and elegance, an almost violent vitality through the complexity of its value, contrast and colour, and a graceful flow that makes the work seem to appear easy—an effortless beauty. But what makes his work so unique is his brilliant play of word and image—something he truly masters.

Are you familiar with his current calligraphy-style work?

Very much so, and love it. It is this relationship between word and image that has for long captivated Niels ‘Shoe’ Meulman, but specifically the calligram, which is the compression of image, text and information. In his work, Niels points to the gaps, ambiguities, and possibilities of language as well as challenges the hierarchy and relationship between reading and perception—the visual versus the verbal.

Any personal comments or amusing anecdotes about Shoe?

In spring 2004, I invited Shoe to give a lecture and workshop to our students at UCLA, Design | Media Arts. His workshops focus was on the “Calligram.” Towards the end of the three-day workshop, we assigned a wall for the students’ ‘graffiti.’ Amongst 30 students and professors, without anyone noticing, suddenly there was Shoe’s tag all over the mural. He came like a ghost, acted so quickly and gracefully, and stunned an already impressed group of students and professors. He became a myth in our department, and you still hear students talk about him.

Méndez was born and raised in México City and received her BFA (1984) in Communication Design and her MFA (1996) in Media Art and Design from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.


Born and raised in New York City, Eric Haze has been making his impact felt in the worlds of art, product and graphic design for over 30 years. After spending the 70’s and early 80’s on the front lines of the graffiti movement, Haze opened his design studio in 1986, becoming one of the first visual artists to define the look and graphic language of Hip Hop during its golden years. Some of his most classic works include designs for Public Enemy, EPMD, LL Cool J, and the Beastie Boys. Haze founded his own clothing line in 1993, which remains recognized worldwide as one of the original brands that helped create the blueprint for streetwear as we know it today. Over the last 10 years, Haze has also produced a diverse range of client work and collaborations with industry leaders such as Nike, Casio, Honda, and Apple. Recently relocated to back to NY after over a decade based in LA, Haze now directs his company out of their new Brooklyn headquarters. Haze will also be present at the Calligraffiti exhibition showcasing some of his latest works, which are also the graphic basis for parts of his upcoming fall ‘07 collection and serve as an organic preview of how these styles have been developed. Read on!

When and where did you cross paths with the artist known as Shoe?

I first met Niels in about 1987, when Revolt and I came to Holland to suprise Quik by showing up at an exhibition he was having in Haarlem… I started coming to Amsterdam a lot in the 90’s, both for work and personal reasons, and we grew to become family and the best of friends over the years…

What set his graffiti style apart from so many other talented artists?

Even though we are from different backgrounds and somewhat different generations, one of the things Shoe and I always shared was a sort of parallel experience of being graffiti artists who branched out into graphic arts as both designers and art directors of our own companies… Like myself, while Niels’s work and aesthetic is rooted in his graff styles and original letterforms, he also rings a greater versatility to it with different techniques and applications from his other commercial experiences. Niels also has a very conceptual mind, where he often uses wordplay and subtle copy writing as part of his style, which gives the work another dimension beyond just shape and form. Ultimately, in a design world increasingly dominated by the computer and technology, it’s the artists like Shoe who can flex both organic handstyles AND compliment it with other techniques who can really take things to the next level…

Are you familiar with his current calligraphy-style work?

Very much… It’s always been part of what he does, and I think we recently rediscovered some of this new flow together while he was staying with me in NY last season… I had just set up a extra part of my studio to get a lot more wild and sloppy in and we went out and bought a lot of different brushes, inks, paper, paint and materials to experiment with together… since we only had a few days left, I let Niels use most of the time to get is groove on… (while I shot pics of him working for a piece I wrote about it on my blog). I believe these sessions sparked the new wave of drawings and freestyle typographic artwork for both of us, and this show reflects some of the different directions we have taken with the momentum we gained from it at the time…

Any personal comments or amusing anecdotes about Shoe?

Many really… Besides Holland, New York and Los Angeles, we have travelled together to places like Copenhagen and Tokyo, where we have definitely wilded out more than a few times… One of the funniest memories I have is when we came back to our hotel in Tokyo mad drunk one night (after painting a G-Shock mural for Casio) and the door was open to another empty room on our floor… So we snuck in, raided the mini bar, trashed the hell out of the room, and made a bunch of international phone calls back home to our peeps on someone else’s bill… Definitely classic.