HUGO KAAGMAN STENCIL KING
Photo´s Guillaume Ehrenfeldt
Nijntje Art Parade 2015
Met Hans van Benthum en Marthe Roling
FRIDAY 19 JUNE 2015
Thought Miffy was a cute kids' bunny? At
60, it seems, she's a Modernist
To celebrate Miffy the rabbit's 60th birthday, 45 artists
have made statues of the popular children's character. It's
a fitting tribute to her creator's love of fine art, says Nell
A flat blue background, a thick black line, a simple orange triangle and a cross across her mouth:
Dutchman Dick Bruna's original Miffy drawing is as silent, still and flat as an Amsterdam canal. She
is a masterclass in minimalism and as enigmatic as Buster Keaton. And yet Dick Bruna's little white
rabbit has adventured and endured for 60 years.
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Bruna's most famous creation, a parade of statues created by
45 artists is going on show this year in Amsterdam, Utrecht, The Hague and Valkenburg aan de
Geul, as well as a touring exhibition of 15 statues in Japan, where Miffy has long been partnered
by that other icon of cartoon simplicity Hello Kitty. One of the artists included in the show, fashion
illustrator Piet Paris, describes Miffy as "almost Zen-like" in its simplicity. "Dick Bruna is a hero for
me," Paris says. "As a small boy Bruna was all over the place. It was part of my education. I've
always been inspired by the way he deals with free space. He makes things look easy; I like to
think I try to achieve the same thing. To make shapes as easy as possible for the eye."
For his statue, De feestjurk, or The Party Dress, Paris has dressed Miffy in a simple orange robe
covered in alternative outfits. "It all started because I had a look at Miffy's wardrobe and she only
had one dress," Paris says over the phone from the Netherlands. "I felt sorry for her – here she is
celebrating her 60th birthday and she doesn't even have a party dress. Every girl needs a party
dress – actually, every girl needs lots of party dresses. I like the Madame de Pompadour outfit.
And there's a pink off-the-shoulder dress with a big ruffle that's inspired by Lanvin. I wanted to
show a sophisticated Miffy."
Sophisticated isn't, perhaps, a word closely associated with Miffy. And yet this stripped-back
rabbit, who features in 124 picture books by Bruna, was certainly influenced by some very
sophisticated art movements. The Miffy illustrations are composed like Modernist paintings – a
central image, surrounded by block colour. Think Saul Bass but with a holidaying rabbit, rather
than the anatomy of a murder. Bruna's thick black lines and blocks of flat colour are also, often,
compared to the De Stijl school, epitomised by Mondrian and Vilmos Huszar, while the Miffy at
the Gallery book makes direct comparison to Bruna's other artistic hero, Henri Matisse.
Hugo Kaagman's statue for the Miffy parade, Blue Miffy, is a world away from the simple tricolour
imagery of Bruna's books. This Delft-blue creation includes a yin and yang eye, elaborate
geometric patterns, various religious symbols and, on the right ear, a punk Miffy complete with
safety-pin piercing. "Everybody thinks it's naive and for children," Kaagman says. "So it's fun to put
some new, interesting ideas on it. About religion and national identity and things." Kaagman, who
became famous for drawing huge graffiti patterns around Amsterdam during the late 1970s, has
covered his 2m-high statue in intricate stencilled illustrations, like a Ming vase. "I took the whole
thing as a canvas," Kaagman says. "My way of working is to make a collage of small things,
influenced by the ornaments and patterns of the African and Arab world. Also, when I made a
picture on the street and left any white space, that space would get filled by someone else. So I fill
it in first."
But perhaps this dangerous, punk aesthetic isn't such an unlikely bedfellow for Miffy. For, as
Kaagman says, the Dutch rabbit that inspired Bruna's original sketch can be a dangerous thing.
"Bruna first drew Miffy for his grandson from watching rabbits on the sand dunes. The dunes
around the coast were full of rabbits when I was young. But because those sand dunes are below
sea level, if there are too many rabbits digging, the water will come back through."