HUGO KAAGMAN STENCIL KING
The International artist Hugo Kaagman is considered as the absolute key-figure in the Netherlands when it comes to Stencil-art. For
many years his work has made an impact in the Netherlands , especially in Amsterdam , and abroad. Kaagman’s work is daring and
usually provides a fresh and unorthodox view on present-day topics such as the integration of immigrants, the consumer based
society and so on. While raising these topics in his work, Kaagman avoids being judgemental: he intends to shows us different
perspectives on these topics. Due to the sometimes controversial content of his works, Kaagman received a lot of media-attention
over the past years. In March 2008 the police forced him to remove some of his canvases from his open studio in a Dutch train station,
because of the possible riots it could have provoked.
Although Kaagman started his career as a ‘street artist’, his work is now celebrated by many prominent art critics. This resulted in
several exhibitions in museums like the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and the Zuiderzee Museum . Recently Kaagman exhibited
some of his work at the Cans Festival, London , where he collaborated with the world-renowned artist Banksy. A great part of
Kaagman’s oeuvre is formed by commissions, varying from paintings on seventeen British Airways planes, to smaller-scale projects
such as murals for the city of Amsterdam . Kaagman’s latest canvases depict a broad range of multi-cultural and present-day subjects.
In these works of art, the viewer is guaranteed to enjoy Kaagman’s masterly techniques of airbrush and stencils to the fullest.
Hugo Kaagman was born in Haarlem in 1955. From 1973 to 1976 he studied social geography at the University of Amsterdam.
Towards the end of the seventies he got involved in the punk movement; at that time the premises at 62 Sarphatistraat, where he lived
and worked up until 1998, were broken into by squatters. This was the place where in 1977 the Koecrandt, the first punk newspaper of
the Netherlands, was published. In collaboration with others Hugo Kaagman also set up a number of galleries, including Anus gallery
Hugo Kaagman makes stencils of his pictures, mostly traditional motifs from different cultures, which he then combines to form larger
representations. After initially having sought his inspiration elsewhere, he discovered Holland and developed his own contemporary
version of Delft blue tiles. This Delft blue publication is a survey of Kaagman’s blue and white period, also known as Kaagware, and
forms just one item from his massive oeuvre. In 1983 Hugo Kaagman received his first official commission from the municipality of
Amsterdam: spraying a fence in Waterlooplein. In 1987 he painted the entrance to the Tropenmuseum. In 1992 he made his first Delft
blue mural: the Eerste Leliedwarsstraat. After this in 1993 came the most extensive painting until then: a 65-metre-long mural in the
West Terminal of Schiphol Airport. Since then Hugo Kaagman has created a great many murals at home and abroad.
Hugo Kaagman has developed his own graffiti style since 1969. In his early period, he used various elements from the punk and
reggae cultures in his work. Until 1985 he was mainly active as a graffiti artist in Amsterdam’s city centre. His murals and paintings are
realised by means of stencils and airbrush. Typical of his work is the symmetry of the composition and the repetition and mirroring of
the image. Kaagman’s work reflects a particular concern with Western and non-Western cultures. During his travels in Morocco and
Senegal, among other countries, he discovered motifs, traditional patterns and handicraft forms that are specific to the cultures of
these nations. Exploring other cultures made Kaagman aware of his own culture and he started to research motifs that are typically
Dutch. He feels strongly that these should be preserved and combines them with contemporary and foreign motifs.
Kaagman’s work is also a vehicle for his ironic comment on political or contemporary events. The most distinctive characteristic of
Kaagman’s work of the past decade is its blue colour. He plans to extend and deepen his study of the clichés of different cultures.
It is true. Kaagman borrows a lot. This is most definitely the case. But the skandalon of his painting consists in the fact that he is
capable of completely detaching these means from their origin. What originate merely from the economy of production apparatus
geared towards masss production and endless perpetuation experiences an unexpected return in the economy of his works. Suddenly
we discover that usiong this form he is able to address everything of importance in the Western tradition of representional painting.
From apocalyptical iconography to expressionistic action painting. Kaagman’s paintings, although they appear to be ornamentally
structured, are bever first and foremost decorative. The ornament, namely, is rendered using a type of repetition whereby the
individual motif is not diminished but on the contrary, enhanced!
The unrest of the eye needs things quick to discover. Kaagman’s repetitions are obsessive, projective and enigmatic. His spectrum is
broad. From a rythmic staccato to subversive street style. The planimetrics and spatiality grow from the same linear system. Kaagman
has a marvellous talent for swiftly conquering a vast territory in the pattern of a pulsing beat.
Wim Beeren," The Marvellous Talent of Hugo Kaagman", 1986, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.
STATE OF THE ART SPECIAL INTERVIEW
Wild Magazine, april 1990
Peter-Paul Oort tracks down the man responsible for some of the most striking graffiti work in Europe:
Graffiti is all around us. From public toilets to the walls of the Royal Palace at the Dam, graffiti is part of our daily environment. Most
graffiti consists of the age-old practise of name-tagging, making obscene statements or political views. Only a few graffiti ‘artists’
make better use of the medium and try something different. Many of them use a more exhuberant style, such as that on the New
York subway (before the clean-up) and are closely related to Hip-hop & Rap culture. A few others make a personal style and get
accepted in the official Art circuit. One of the best-known is the recently deceased Keith Haring, who dimbed from being an unknown
subway artist to one of the mega-artists of the '80s. Though the art climate in Holland hasn't been too favourable towards graffiti
from its own soil, there are a few artists who use graffiti techniques as a basis for their own work. One of them is the Amsterdam-
based artist Hugo Kaagman.
He started as an artist in the late '70s and his roots are in the punk and squat movement As one of the more active people, he soon
became involved in the underground Art Scene. He was, along with Diana Ozon, co-founder of the Koecrandt (1977) in which he,
among others, published his own work. He worked on other underground magazines and was one of the people behind the
Artomaat, a cigarette machine which sold low-budget art works.
During that time he made bis first trip to Morocco, where he became fascinated by the traditional Islamic tile decorations. He found
that these interlocking patterns were well-suited for the stencil and spray paint technique he used - in the beginning he stayed quite
close to the original patterns but gradually developed his own style. Of this work, the best-known are the Zebra works in which he
made large patterns based on the stripes of a zebra. You can still see this on the facade of his own house on Sarphatistraat, which is
covered in the striped patterns. In the late '70s he started to concentrate more on canvas paintings, but still went on decorating walls
and fences. One of his largest works was the painted fence on Waterlooplein in which he not only used bis Moroccan influences and
Zebra work, but also well-known Dutch images such as 'Het Melkmeisje' by Vermeer. His use of the Moroccan designs was the first
example of Hugo's interest in the art and music of other cultural groups. Another example was his attempt, during a trip to Africa, to
teach local artists his use of stencil plates. Although it didn 't catch on in a big way, years later they still use the plates he made for
During the punk period he came into contact with reggae music and philosophies. Already intrigued by the music, he tried to follow
some of their ideas. I was really fascinated about that culture; the music, the way of life and their way of looking at our culture. I
wanted to know more about that. After a while, I found that I couldn't take everything they taught me, so I stopped more or less with
Through the reggae connection, he became interested in the combination of art and music. For him, the way you look at art is much
the same as listening to music. Like the patterns I make, music is also made around a continuous rhythmic structure. Dub reggae,
Hip-Hop and House are based on a drum and bassline that is constantly repeated. Just like you can put different tracks into an
ongoing mix, you can combine different patterns until they form one large work. Also the psychedelic effects that can be achieved
through art and music fascinate him. Music can really get you in a trance. With Dub or House if you listen long enough to it, it can
really get into y ou. The same is also the case with art. In the '60s and '70s psychedelic art was popular. I try to get the same effects
in my work. If you look at it for long enough, you get sucked into it"
His interest in music is also evident from the choice of people he claims as his biggest influences: Lee 'Scratch' Perry the reggae
producer, "A musical Genius"; Wim T. Schippers "A man who always went for the illogical and weird in his work"; and Malcolm
McLaren, "if you look at punk as the personal artwork of Mc Laren, it's unbelievable what he achieved. The impact punk has on our
lives is enormous. Music, fashion and even our attitudes to life wouldn't have been the same without McLaren."
Nowadays, Hugo Kaagman works on a much smaller scale, on small canvasses, but the techniques he uses are still stencils and
spraypaint, and the images are still taken from different cultures: Figures from pulp comics (Batman, Superman and Archie, the Man
of Steel), images from different religions (Buddha, Ras Tafari & the Dalai Lama), also images Erom daily life (canal houses & trams).
In his latest paintings he goes back to bis Dutch roots with portraits of Johhny Jordaan & Willie Alberti, side by side with the
Westertoren and Delft tiles, a1l this being done in Delft blue and white. He is also interested in the music of these Dutch folk heroes.
"This Dutch folk music is as much a part of international culture as any other national or regional culture. “It's nonsense to ignore a
culture because it's not in vogue. ”
Although graffiti is popular with younger people, the established art world still won't accept it as a viable art form. As observed by this
writer at a recent exhibition of Kaagman's work, people still react with remarks like "Oh, it's only spray art" or "It's only graffiti". But
Hugo Kaagman is an artist whose work goes beyond graffiti.
1. How did you start spraying stencils?
In 1977 I started a Punk Fanzine, called the KoeCrandt in a new squatted house in Amsterdam (later because of the stencilled zebra
stripes called the Zebra-house). It was published in photocopy and stencil-printing. In it, I made collages, wrote texts an made
comics. We promoted grafftiti as a way of expression and opened a Punk Gallery called Gallery ANUS. I started making stencils of
the collages and images and sprayed them on the outside wall of the house and in the streets. In the gallery we sold magazines and
artworks and later T-shirts with stencil sprayed images. That became an Art-Walk-In-Service. I sprayed on request stencils on
anything the people wanted for 2 guilder 50, about 1 Euro, as a way of living.
2. What is your motivation to spray your stencils in public space?
At that time the punk culture was oppressed by the sixties generation. To promote our new philosophies (like Do-It-Your-Self and
Apocalyptical warnings) I went out on the streets to put my stencils on important places. Art should not be in ivory towers, but as a
means of communication for the people.
3. Do you think that your stencils would have the same effect in a museum as in the street?
Stencils can be made of any image. A good stencils with a message can have effect everywhere, even in a museum. But on the
street they can have more impact depending on the location. Because you don’t expect it on that place.
4. Do you think that your work could be exposed in a museum?
I am exposing in musea. Right now in the Amsterdam Historical Museum with stencil prayed portraits and in the Museum of Modern
Art, spraying with young (Moroccan) kids on the walls during the expo AIRWORLD. I like to show my work everywhere possible, also
on the Internet
5. What kind of template do you use?
I use heavy paper. Bigger stencils I fold up. Sometimes different stencils for different colors.
I have I think some 100.000 stencil images
6. Who or what inspires you?
In my 30 years carreer the inspiration comes from the punk and reggae culture. Later decorative pattern from the arabic culture, and
Delftblue typical Dutch icons. In general the media inspire me, I research in bookshops, magazines, library and Internet. During the
last 5 years I always carry a digital camera.
7. Which kind of reaction do you want to effect on the pedestrians who see your work?
I want them to be amazed by the photo realistic style. I want my images to have more effect than the traditional modern art, from
and for the public, with a statement that can variate depending on my thoughts.
8. Do you observe pedestrians looking at your pieces?
I have good reactions all the time. Mostly they say that they prefer stencil style above tagging and unreadable pieces. When working
on the streets I am always happy and realise all the positive reactions when I go to sleep
9. Do you think that stencil art is more politically orientated than „normal“graffiti?
Normal graffiti now is Hip Hop oriented and mostly not political. In the punk times everything was political. I think stencils have a
clear statement, while normal graffiti is more about style and fame.
10. Do you think that stencil art is artistically less valuable than normal graffiti, because stencil art is easily reproducible?
Normal graffiti is also about repetition. And stencils cannot be used unendless, the use is limited technically as the paint fills the cut
out places the more you use them. I think they have the same value.
11. Is the placement of the stencil in the urban space as important as the motive?
On this I can say YES. The stencil gets its importance from the use in combination with the place or location
12. Does stencil art have its own artificial language, graphically and concerning the motive?
YES, stencils are icons, symbols, that compete with the official signs. They look official because they are clear cut.
13. Is stencil art fitted to a certain city? How do the stencils differ from city to city?
The stencil movement is international. I can see the same inspiration everywhere. Though there are site specific subjects. When I
use Dutch iconography it is ment for the Dutch to understand. You don’t see windmills and wooden shoes in France for example or
Germany. But Che Guevara is everywhere.
14. Do you see a certain development concerning the choice of the motives?
I was one of the first to specialise in stencils in 1977. When I promoted this style, people copied me or cutted out their own logo’s.
Now there are more and more examples, like Miss Tic, Blek le Rat and Banksy and me for people to look up to. So it developes.
15. How do you decide the motives for your workings?
When I have a subject in my mind I do research. Some times I just cut a stencil because it is good for my archive, to use it later.
When I do art in commission I have a subject that is worthwile, because I can do a job with it. For example this year I made 20
“Guard” stencils lifesize; polceman/woman, soldiers, skeletons, mummy, Lara Croft, a scout, robot, etc.
Now I have been working on a Pancake bar, looking for cooking images. Last year I took part in a Moroccan exposition and cutted
out a lot of arabic texts and images, even forbidden. When I see something I don’t have in my archive I cut it. Some day I can use
them in combination with something else, and with that I can surprise myself.
16. How do you imagine a city without an interdiction of spraying?
Well, Amsterdam around 1980 was completely covered with graffiti. I imagine a city like that. An anarchistic scribble scrabble
Pompei. Most people don’t like it, but I do. It lives. I hate grey concrete walls and I don’t like most commercial advertisements
But people have to respect monuments. When you respect your own work of art, do also for others. We have to make the world
An interview with Hugo Kaagman
From backstreet graffiti to sky high
Hugo Kaagman (1955) is in his 'Delft blue' period quickly becomes obvious when you visit his maisonette-cum-studio on the
Stadhouderskade. The classical blue and white colours of his work cheerfully come out at you from all sides: on the big canvasses (
in the living room, on the carpet, in the portraits of his wife and child in the hallway, on the pottery plates in the kitchen, on vases,
ashtrays and of course, as befits a man who.began his career as a graffiti artist, on the courtyard walls.
But this is only 'Delft blue' at first glance. For with his modern 'Netherart', as Kaagman calls his work, he has developed an
inimitable contemporary interpretation of a traditional Dutch art form. Mild irony is a key factor in his work: when you study the
details closely, it is often impossible to suppress a smile. You find cyclists, aircraft, international cities but also, for example, erotic
pin-ups, Rembrandt, Princess Juliana or Kaagman himself as superman flying over a Dutch meadow landscape, surrounded by
classical repeating patterns.
In the mid-70s, when the punk movement was reaching its height, Kaagman came from Haarlem to Amsterdam to study social
geography. 'That was partly because I thought it would give me a chance for plenty of travel', Kaagman says. 'But that was directly
related to my interest in all sorts of different cultures. Call it the anthropological angle.'
Nevertheless, it was not travel, but punk that first gave direction to Kaagman's career as an artist. 'Punk had something to say, in an
original way', he explains.
'After the 1960s, nothing had happened for a while and punk had its own sound, and its own 'do it yourself philosophy'. Work things
out for yourself, none else will do it for you. And that was also reflected in art, especially in graffiti. That's where it all started for
me.'With his roots in the punk movement, Kaagman almost automatically became a self-taught artist. He says: 'Art isn't something
you can learn, it comes from inside yourself, adding with a smile: 'I did once see the inside of an art academy, but that was to talk
about my own art.'
Kaagman quickly developed a highly individual form of graffiti. Instead of the free figurative forms and texts found in his early graffiti
work, he began to work with stencils and repeating patterns, The technique speaks for itself: colouring in the cutout sections of a
stencil with an aerosol spray or airbrush creates a form or image. And in principle, the same stencil can be used to reproduce that
image endlessly. 'A stencil is like a form sample', says Kaagman. By making a stencil, I can sample any form or image: a
photograph, an individual figure, a motif, packaging - anything that appeals to me ...'. What appeals is a fairly long list, for over the
years, Kaagman has built up an archive of ten thousand self-made stencils.
Kaagman is a real world citizen, who has found inspiration for his work mainly through extensive travel. In the early 1980s his
journeys took him to Morocco and across North Africa, where he was captivated by the patterns and forms repeated everywhere in
the Islamic world. 'If you look closely, you see symmetry and repetition everywhere. All around you, you find very traditional art that
is still cherished today. Patterns on buildings, on hotel floors, on pottery and in miniature on mosaics and tiles. What fascinated me
so much was that the repetition of all those tiny forms, which were themselves already repeated, often increased the impact even
further. I was infinitely intrigued by the new patterns created in that way. They're abstract. They're beautiful. They even have a
psychedelic effect. It almost leads to meditation, the longer you keep looking at them.'
'Actually, its a form of ordering, and through that order you can probably understand a little more about the world. After all, you also
find patterns in nature. You see them in the structure of molecules and materials if you look at them through a microscope.
Breathing, or just walking, step by step, are patterns too. But so is the skin of a zebra.
Kaagman also started to look for patterns in music. Repetitions. Rhythm. Individual cultural additions. 'Take Arabic rai, for example.
Or reggae. And something I also think is very original, with very individual patterns, is the gabber trend here in The Netherlands ,
finally we have something new again. Yes: art means sound to me as well. justas I work figuratively in stencil art with samples and
repetitions of motifs, so I am constantly sampling and processing sound for myself'
With his new sense of order in chaos, Kaagman formed the Zebra movement in the early 1980s, an underground movement of
artists who , with a touch of irony, wanted to break away from the 'Cobra' hype of the 1960s. The Zebra manifesto states that art is
for everyone, that it should move out of the museums and into the streets. In 1981, Kaagman sprayed the Vermeer milkmaid on the
outer walls of the Rijksmuseum. And the Zebra motif on the house at Sarphatistraat 62 in Amsterdam is another expression that can
still be seen by everyone.
As a true sampler, Kaagman increasingly began to use African and Arabic motifs in his own graffiti. He gave them an increasingly
personal identity, by adding contemporary figures and forms to the repeating patterns. 'I wasn't the only one though', he says. 'in
America you had the Pattern Painters. And, long before my time, the ultimate example here in The Netherlands was the graphic
artist Escher. That man did fantastic work. He is quite rightly world famous, but to my mind, is dreadfully undervalued here in The
In 1977 Hugo opened his own gallery (in 1980 called the Zebra Gallery) and published a newspaper, "KoeCrandt", using his by now
familiar technique of collages and spray and stencil, in which stylised images have to be reduced to simple elements in order to
form a comprehensible message. He started making murals in Amsterdam's city centre, using elements from punk and reggae
cultures in his spray paintings. Shortly afterwards, while travelling around Morocco, Senegal and elsewhere in Africa ( Egypt,
Algeria, Niger, The Gambia and Tombouctou, Mali), he became fascinated by the patterns in mosques, mosaics and tiled floors.
Featuring symmetry, repetition and mirrored images on square canvases, his work is a blend of street style and tradition, images
from popular culture and art history, re-mixed and re-worked to make a new statem, to create an intelligent work that furthers his
aims: "To use the traditions of the past and modernise them for the future."
Around 1990, after Kaagman had travelled widely all over the world, he reached a clear turning point in his work. His Delft blue
period began. But what inspires a modern, international Amsterdam artist at the end of the 20th Century to pick up on such an old
Dutch art form from the 17th Century? After all, most Dutch people today think of Delft blue merely as souvenir kitsch intended for
tourists visiting the Netherlands. 'Yes, well, maybe that says more about us than it does about the tourists', Kaagman drily remarks.
'In The Netherlands we pick things up from all over the world outside our own borders, as if we think that only the other side of the
global village has any interest. It's as if we no longer want to know about our own traditions and history. Perhaps that's the new
commercialism, or maybe it's just the way the Dutch are.
From the late Eighties onwards, Hugo moved from outdoor graffiti to work, with stencil and airbrush on canvas, on murals and
paintings. His first solo show in an established gallery was in 1988, He began to shape his canvasses either square or circular, like
Delft tiles and plates, and used them, initially, as a vehicle for an ironic commentary on political or current events. Since then,
however, his work has evolved to become less satirical and more affectionate, making statements about his national identity and the
continuation of the national heritage of his country.
Hugo describes his art as follows: "Originally it was intended as a parody of the Dutch culture and all its corny landmarks, but
gradually it turned into a romantic image of the Netherlands, with kitsch features as well and symbols. Tribal motifs from the Land of
the Nether are mixed into one big Dutch party: a pure patterndelight and power of folklore reinstated into these post-modern times."
But our country does have a long tradition that we can be proud of, certainly in art, and particularly the Golden Age. In the past,
artists were the designers of their tribes, someone once said. I had seen art and forms of expression all over the world and I
reached a point where I thought 'What do I do with this, what now?' I had sampled forms from all over the world, and in other
cultures I saw links that spanned the centuries. Now I was looking for a direction for my work based on my own culture.' The
moment arrived that this world traveller discovered The Netherlands. 'I visited places like Marken and Volendam, where you're
sometimes better off asking a Japanese visitor the way than a Dutch person. But still, if you look around you in Marken, for
example, you can find fine and pure examples of traditional art, such as the motifs in the traditional dress. And of course, in the
Delftware pottery. I suddenly realised that the development of our own traditional art form had in fact come to an abrupt standstill.
Today there are only a few potteries in the Netherlands that still produce Delftware. But they still make pottery with motifs that are
centuries old', Kaagman says. 'Delftware is actually drawn from Chinese Ming porcelain - there's nothing Dutch about it', he
continues. 'it first came to the Netherlands in the early 7th Century. In fact, the first shipment in 1600 was actually pirated by the
Dutch from a Portuguese merchant vessel. This was a shipment of 'ceraque', which the Dutch called 'kraak-ware'. The blue and
white Chinese porcelain became enormously popular here. The Dutch soon began to produce their own versions of this art form.
But because the porcelain-makers found it hard to master the technique, they initially send Dutch motifs, particularly etchings, to
China to be put on the porcelain. So actually, Delftware has been world art from the very beginning.'
Continuing with the historical treatise, he says: 'At first, Delftware was a form of what we would now call 'High Art': it went on show
in the best parlours of the elite. Later, you find more and more Dutch patterns and motifs appearing everywhere in the country. It
became the art of the Dutch masses, call it 'Low Art'. But if you look closely, you can still find reflections of the original Chinese
motifs. When I made Delft blue Daybreak for British Airways, based on the authentic elements, I had to be careful to preserve the
purely Dutch characteristics. Because of course, we had to make sure it didn't become a Chinese aircraft.'
In his art Kaagman is picking up the Delft Blue tradition where it has been left off in the souvenir shops. Instead of 'kraak-ware', he
called his work 'Kaag-ware'. He began to add new dimensions of his own, often taking a humorous view of contemporary society.
Netherart was born, or perhaps more accurately, reborn.
Kaagman is highly productive in his Netherart. He still produces very large pieces, such as the 60-meter mural at Terminal West in
Schiphol Airport, designed to show transit passengers instantly which country they are in. But today he not only works with big
formats and objects. In recent years, he has also produced work on canvas and increasingly, on pottery, drawing even closer to the
original sources. For example, he made a series of round plates with a pattern motif around the edges, which at first glance appears
very classical, but includes surprising images of riot police, Sumi wrestlers and Brigitte Bardot with a cigarette in her mouth. The
cigarette is a theme that appears with growing frequency in his work, for instance in the ode to Serge Gainsbourg, inspired by the
packaging of Gauloise cigarettes. 'Of course, my works contain their fair share of irony', Kaagman says. 'A wink at the times. But it's
more than just camp to show appreciation for cultural elements in a different way.
Kaagman made his debut as a painter, not on canvas, but on citywalls . His technique is based upon a touch which is both careless
and masterly, cutting of stencils and spraypainting with an airbrush. Out of these elements he conjures a procession of paradoxical
configurations, a surreal collection of deft inconsistencies whose effect is all the more figurative because of their familarity. These
belong to an iconography commonly referred to as archetypal, to the storehouse mind of the inquisitive child who collects forms
from nature and pictures from sweet-packets, and to that body of almost forgotten images from the ancient history lessons of one's
schooldays. This procession of images is entirely devoid of hierarchy. Each element takes a turn as the star of theatrical
composition with other images laying a supporting roles. There is a constant monumental grandeur with throughout their inherent
dramatic suggestion of a threathened paroxysm.