Rewriters010 Is Out to Paint the Town
The streets of Rotterdam are becoming a vibrant open air gallery, though some rules had to be bent for it to happen
Rotterdam has the largest port in Europe, and as such, the city forms a vibrant gateway to the continent. But it’s not just the harbour that breathes life into a city nearly destroyed in WWII; its street art scene is now adding new color to its rich history. Out to highlight this part of Rotterdam’s culture is Rewriters 010, a project dedicated to eradicating boring walls by providing local artists to unleash all their creativity onto them. The project is spearheaded by street artist Vinz and Dave Vanderheijden, head of hip hop foundation HIJS, who spent spent three years securing permissions and brokering deals between artists, real estate owners and the city council. They quickly found out certain words still do not sit well with authorities. “As soon as you mention the word graffiti, all doors close,” Dave says, “but when you call it ‘street art’ the story suddenly changes.”
Now that their project has helped enliven major parts of the city, Rewriters 010 has launched their official tour past all these and prior notable works in the city. We tagged along for its official launch and were joined by several of the artists prominently featured in it, who were more than happy to explain the inspiration behind their work and how it was made. While their works wildly differ in style, the common denominator is that almost all artists are based in Rotterdam, and as their work shows, are well aware of their surroundings.
Joren Joshua was less than enamoured with his assigned wall at first. “Of all the walls you could get in Rotterdam, I had to get one with windows in it.” A flat, continuing wall is the ideal canvas for a street artist, but aside from the windows another obstacle presented itself: “I had to paint it three times, because I work with latex paints instead of spraycans. It doesn’t always cover in one go, and this building was painted black to boot.” A young, lanky guy, he’s still cheerfully working on the piece in big flat colors when the first visitors arrive. “My theme was the reconstruction of Rotterdam, which suits me, because I’ve often drawn workmen.” Once the work on Joren’s wall began, his earlier hesitation made way for genuine enthusiasm. “Because of all the squares, hard angles and windows it becomes a set of building blocks, like a literal building site. Now that I’m almost done, it turns out that it’s a much more interesting building than if it’d just been a flat wall.”
Joren is far from the only street artist involved in the project who took a lead from the building itself, though for the duo Bier en Brood—which translates to ‘beer and bread’—it’s the location and history of the building rather than its form that directly inspired them.
Bier en Brood’s intricate black and white patterns, combined with detailed, organic drawings, cover the walls that used to house the consumer safety authorities. “They had laboratories here to test all kinds of stuff. We gave that our own spin, turning it towards the surreal.” The story they depict across the length of the entire wall starts out innocently enough. “There’s a sort of cell division going on and stuff is being tested in the lab there, later on with robots. Then there’s a sort of genetically modified chicken which has grown horribly wrong, so a telephone call has to be made, and so on.”
That’s not where the story ends though, as the duo were granted the opportunity to include the wall turning the corner as well. That wall is in front of Rotterdam’s eye hospital though, and the duo couldn’t paint when visitors had their cars parked there, which was pretty much always. This lead to months in which they could only work there for one day a week, greatly slowing down the progress. They’re still glad they included the adjacent wall though: “The second part is like a B-side to a record. You’re suddenly much more free to experiment. This was made very intuitively.” It also adds an aspect to their story, since the corner turns when the experiments go completely awry, and the work turns increasingly abstract at the same time. Among the abstract patterns, floating irises and optical nerves can be spotted as well, referencing the eye hospital across. “At first it was just a wall, but now it’s an entire terrain,” the duo proudly reflects.
Artist Daan Botlek holds a somewhat conflicted view on his own work for the project, reminiscing on the many frustrations he encountered creating it. On top of a windy parking deck, he calmly gestures to the work in the street below. From this vantage point, the piece is fully visible, which is a fairly rare position to be in, since part of it is almost always obstructed by its surroundings.
“The way the piece is composed makes you view a large part of it upon entering the street from the opposing side, but another part becomes visible once you move closer to it,” he says. It makes the piece dynamic, but according to Daan, it was a pain in the ass to create. “It was constantly raining, making the paint run all the while. …It took me two weeks to finish what should’ve been a one week job.”
The building belongs to an architecture agency, and the architect who designed it also lives on its top floor. “The owner wanted to cover up the graffiti in the bottom, but to just paint a strip around it when you have a height like this seemed like a waste to me. So I made a design that covers the bottom and tapers out upwards,” Daan explains. The ribbed pattern in the metal sheets covering the wheel pitted him against another troubling issue though. “The ribs distort the drawing, creating a sort of glitch. One way to subvert the effect would be to make one huge image cover the entire side, but the architect didn’t want that either.”
Daan, who usually works in high detail, figured his usual style’d be useless on a wall like this. He ended up creating an assortment of mystical rocks floating upwards, while a human figure steps from on to the other near the top. “And due to the metal its painted on, it catches the light differently throughout the day.” Adding to that varying effect is the ribbed ‘glitch,’ which makes the piece differ from every conceivable angle. “If it would’ve been a flat wall, an entirely different image would’ve come out. The wall very much dictated what the piece ultimately became, which in itself is actually pretty interesting.”
Another piece heavily influenced by its location is the giant octopus made by Dopie and Vinz. While the other artists all had walls to work with, these two took the side of a boat as their canvas. “We were going to do an old, mythical monster at first,” Vinz explains, “but when mapping it out on the ship, that didn’t work at all.” The choice to go for an octopus instead was met with great enthusiasm by the resident of the houseboat itself. “He’s a diver and came out with all these reference photos of octopi he took himself.” The duo initially painted a captured watertaxi in one of the tentacles, but later changed it to a lobster, taking inspiration from the boat’s owner. “He approached us with all kinds of videos saying, ‘You know what these animals eat? Lobsters! They get to fighting…here, have a look on YouTube!’” Vinz says, mimicking the excitement of the man whose boat they painted.
Painting on water raised other concerns though, some captains of nearby watertaxis were annoyed by their presence and deliberately sped up when passing them by. “That had us wobbling here on our pontoon, but we kept going, it was sunny anyway.” Some of the primer paint they used did fall into the water though, but they made sure to use a water- and salt-resistant solution that’s biodegradable. “After that we coated it, spraypainted over that, and lacquered over the finished work.” That means the work should be there to see for a while, despite its unusual location, although the boat will have to be taken from the water for maintenance a year from now. “We’ll have to check the painting’s condition by then to decide whether we’ll restore it or remove it and create a new work.”
“Our idea was to take objects from the Rotterdam skyline and make our own thing out of it,” OxAlien of the Lastplak collective explains. “We determined what should go where beforehand and connected the pieces as we went along.” That still sounds like a lot of freedom and improvisation was involved in its creation, but for the Lastplak collective, which usually freestyles their work, it was uncharacteristically coordinated. “This is probably our most organized wall yet. But we even won a prize for it [The Audience Award at the Dutch Street Art Awards], maybe we should do it like this more often!”
Friends and frequent collaborators KBTR, 6of7, June, and Edo Rath joined the piece, which was made during the hottest week of last summer. While they sweated away on their work, a wall that was previously known as the ugliest wall in all of Rotterdam gave way to a colorful collage paying tribute to the city. “Everything on the wall was unfinished,” OxAlien says, referring to its previous state. “A lot of people had started stuff there, but they were probably chased off by cops.” A rebellious streak endures in what now is one of Rotterdam’s most popular pieces of street art though: “We didn’t have permission to paint that last part,” he says gesturing towards the huge ship painted on the far side of the wall, “but we went and took it along with the rest.”
The Rotterdam Street Art Route by Rewriters010 is now a continually evolving walk through the city. You can book a guided tour through their website or download the official app for Android or iOS and walk it yourself.