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Niels Shoe Meulman with his work | © Incase / Flickr
Niels Shoe Meulman with his work | © Incase / Flickr
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Niels Shoe Meulman: Dutch ‘Calligraffiti’ Artist

Picture of Tom Coggins
Updated: 20 September 2016
Niels Shoe Meulman‘s passion for originality has led his career down a peculiar path. As a Dutch artist, he has always been attracted to foreign or unfamiliar styles. This unwavering curiosity has allowed him to create unconventional artwork inspired by multiple cultures and traditions. His recent turn towards calligraphy-infused graffiti represents his eagerness to expand the scope of his talents and push forward artistic practices while homaging ancient techniques.

By the early 1980s, Meulman was a local legend in his native Amsterdam. The young artist, tagged under the alias ‘Shoe’, quickly amassed a large public portfolio throughout the city, spray painting his pseudonym above sidewalks and other thoroughfares. Like other Dutch street artists of the time, he kept things basic by bombing large motifs in a matter of minutes, preferring speed above composition.

He developed this rapid, elementary style alongside Crime Time Kings, a Dutch graffiti collective that emulated American Hip-Hop culture’s aesthetic inside of the Netherlands. As their numbers grew, Crime Time began to spread their work across the continent, creating an international graffiti network.

While impressive, Meulman’s skills were limited. He was principally self-taught and relied on piecemeal training from his peers. Eager to learn, in 1991 he joined Anthon Beeke‘s studio as an assistant graphic designer. He spent three years working with Beeke and his team, mastering new techniques and gaining invaluable insights into the world of design.

Anthon Beeke: Blote Meisjes Alfabet, 1969 |© FaceMePlS / Flickr
Anthon Beeke: Blote Meisjes Alfabet, 1969 | © FaceMePlS / Flickr

Afterwards, Meulman helped to establish Unruly, a design agency that catered to alternative tastes. The company created artwork for Amsterdam’s underground nightlife scene and produced posters for Paradiso and other important, left-field organisations. Unruly eventually became a recognised brand and opened a gallery dedicated to its contributing artists.

Unruly and Meulman's graffiti in Amsterdam-Noord | © Martin Cunningham / Flickr
Unruly and Meulman’s graffiti in Amsterdam-Noord | © Martin Cunningham / Flickr

During his time with Unruly, Meulman had time to develop his style and began to research older mediums. After sourcing archives, he came across calligraphy. Graffiti, he believed, was genetically tied to this ancient art form and fulfilled similar ends. For him, both methods conveyed messages through the written word and encoded information via elaborated scripts in order to create beautiful, communicative artwork.

© Incase / Flickr
© Incase / Flickr

Realising calligraphy’s potential, he decided to fuse it with street art and in 2007 unveiled Calligraffiti. This new style of graffiti adorned tags in elegant typefaces, drawing on Japanese, European and Arabic calligraphy. Many of Meulman’s murals were purposely obscure or cryptic and encouraged multiple interpretations. These paintings combined abstract art, urban aesthetics and mystical scripture, creating pseudo-religious messages translated through Meulman’s underground sensibilities.

© Incase / Flickr
© Incase / Flickr

Today, Meulman continues to produce Calligraffiiti and works as an internationally renowned graphic designer.