Dutch Graffiti Library: it’s all about the mentality

With the establishment of the Dutch Graffiti Library Foundation (DGL) in January of this year, the formation of one of the world’s leading ‘graffiti history libraries’ has become official. This is the story of two Dutch twin brothers, Richard and Marcel van Tiggelen, who are turning their private collection of graffiti related items into a professional knowledge platform.
Early graffiti related newspaper articles straight from the DGL archive. (Image: DGL Collection)

Early graffiti related newspaper articles straight from the DGL archive.

 

We had the opportunity to sit down with one of the founders, Richard van Tiggelen, and Sanne van Doorn, secretary of the DGL Foundation. Main topic of our conversation was the Brothers’ lifelong passion for graffiti. How they turned their collection of thousands of analog original photographs (most of them personally taken), blackbooks with original sketches done by many writers, books, magazines, prints, silkscreens and posters into the Dutch Graffiti Library.

The founders of the Dutch Graffiti Library back in the days of 1985. (Photo: DGL Collection)

The founders of the Dutch Graffiti Library back in the days of 1985.

 

History

Let’s go back in time to 1985 when two 14-year-old kids living in the Dutch harbour village IJmuiden (close to Amsterdam and Haarlem) were exposed to the graffiti-virus coming from New York. The twin brothers fully embraced this new thing called Hip Hop and the incorporated vibrant art form ‘Graffiti’. Apart from only a few examples of ‘how to do the do’ in the form of some newspaper articles snatched from the public library around the corner of their house and music videos aired on MTV by Malcolm McLaren and The Rock Steady Crew, the boys didn’t have much to work with.

 

Trading materials

Slowly they created a network of friends also interested in this new subculture. That way it became easier to collect the sparsely available graffiti items such as photocopied sketches, photos of pieces and early graffiti books and zines. Trading graffiti related materials by mail correspondence became a thing the brothers were good at. Over the years their collecting frenzy turned into a full-blown passion 30 years later resulting in a unique collection.

Original analog photographs of Amsterdam graffiti (period 1985/1986) from the DGL Collection.

Original analog photographs of Amsterdam graffiti (period 1985/1986).

“Everything we do nowadays is based upon the mentality and the unwritten rules defined by the ‘graffiti culture’ of the years in between 1985 and 1989. The passion, joy and attitude in which we operate are directly linked to that certain time period. The dynamics of those ‘early days’ paved the way for the foundation of the Dutch Graffiti Library.” (IJM ’85 – The Story of Dutch Graffiti Library. Published in the serie ‘Graffiti Heritage’, Issue 1, DGL, 2016)

 

Post Graffiti

Post Graffiti is the definition Richard feels most comfortable with when asked how to label their collection. This term dates back to 1983 when a legendary exhibition titled ‘Post Graffiti’ was organized in the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York. This show featured a top of the bill line up of artists such as A-ONE, BEAR, CRANE, CRASH, DAZE, FUTURA 2000, KOOR, LADY PINK, NOC 167, TOXIC, RAMMELLZEE, Lee Quinnones, Kenny Scharf, Marc Brasz, Don Leicht, Jean Michel-Basquiat and Keith Haring.

 

Post Graffiti Part 2

In 1993 graffiti pioneers Niels Meulman (SHOE), Boris Tellegen (DELTA), PJay ‘BabyAngel’ Frith (ANGEL) and Sander Pappot (ZENDER) organized the first Dutch ‘Post Graffiti’ exhibition in the Total Art Gallery in Amsterdam. A first of its kind show in Holland with artworks that crossed boundaries between traditional graffiti, illustration, comic drawing and graphic design.

'Post Graffiti' newspaper article signed by ANGEL CTK including an original sketch from 1993. (Image: DGL Collection)

‘Post Graffiti’ newspaper article signed by ANGEL CTK including an original sketch from 1993.

Richard: “Me and my brother concentrate on the triangle Holland (with a slight focus on Amsterdam), New York and Paris. These were the hot spots for ‘graffiti culture’ where important developments took place. I’m not saying the scenes in England, Germany, Sweden and Denmark were not of great value but we have defined a special focus area based on our own history and opinion.”

 

The Bombteam

“We’re also no outsiders of the culture. We’ve been into graffiti since 1985, for example in the 90’s we were very active as ‘spotters’ of graffiti on Dutch trains. We were part of the BOMBTEAM. As the duo named ‘Twin Hype’ we supplied Bomber Megazine, one of Europe’s oldest and most respected graffiti magazines, with pictures. That way we’ve met a lot of writers and helped them out when they needed photos of their stuff. We delivered the goods and kept our mouth shut. That’s why nowadays we have a high factor of goodwill within the scene.”

Various black books from the DGL collection.

Various ‘blackbooks’ featuring LASE & SHOT, SHOE, MICKEY & SENTO TFP.

 

Watching my name go by

“Most items in our collection were not created with the intention to be looked upon as art or high level publications. They’re merely a side product of a subculture. Besides collecting these kinds of graffiti items our main focus lies on ‘Post Graffiti Art’. In all cases this is done by artists, designers, illustrators or cartoonists with a name writing background. Their artwork is made with the same attitude, energy and intention as their (illegal) graffiti in the streets. They all participated in this game called ‘Watching my name go by’. That’s why we think Street Art (or Urban Contemporary Art) is a label that doesn’t fit our collection.”

 

The kick-off

The first official cooperation between DGL and an outside party happened when the Van Tiggelen brothers were contacted by French curator Christian Omodeo (founder of Paris based graffiti- and street art platform Le Grand Jeu) back in 2014.

Richard: “Christian was the curator of the first ever high level graffiti book show for the Venice Art Biennale 2015. The bookshow was a part of the Post Graffiti exhibition The Bridges of Graffiti. He wanted to show a selection of around 140 of the most influential graffiti books ever published. Together these books formed a reflection of the entire graffiti culture. The core of the show were books loaned by five private collectors of which we were one.”

Graffiti book show at the Venice Art Biennale 2015 with furniture designed by Boris Tellegen (DELTA).

Graffiti book show at the Venice Art Biennale 2015 with furniture designed by Boris Tellegen (DELTA).

 

The Pat Vogt Collection

“One year earlier we we’re triggered by a collector named Patrick Vogt. He made his collection of rap and graffiti ephemera accessible to the public through Facebook and called it the ‘Pat Vogt Collection’. Inspired by Pat we started our own Instagram account where we showed random pictures of items from our private collection and named it ‘Dutch Graffiti Library’. So, when Christian asked which name should be printed in the catalog we decided to bring on Dutch Graffiti Library. This was the first time we were seen as an ‘entity’ within the world of graffiti collectors. When the mailman dropped off the catalog we were celebrating: Oh shit, we’re official now!

 

Mentality

Returning words in our conversation with Richard are ‘mentality’ and ‘attitude’. If you want something done, make it happen! Don’t ask for permission or wait for someone else to give you the green light. A streetwise way of handling things that makes a lot of ex-graffiti writers very successful in conducting their business in normal life.

Richard: “We still operate with the mentality of a graffiti writer. Take for example the 2015 graffiti exhibition Graffiti. New York meets The Dam in the Amsterdam Museum. We heard there was no budget to create and publish a catalog of the show. In our opinion this was a missed opportunity so we decided to put in our own money and make the catalog ourselves in an edition of 550.”

Graffiti. New York meets The Dam, catalog signed by Zephyr and an original Zephyr sketch. (Images: DGL Collection)

Graffiti. New York meets The Dam, catalog signed by ZEPHYR and an original ZEPHYR sketch.

 

Creative freedom

“With the help of the curator of the Dutch part of the show, Aileen Middel (Mick La Rock), we made sure we had complete creative freedom over the content. We didn’t want any outsider interference. The guy from the museum gift shop was a bit sceptic at first so he told us: “Just give me 40 catalogs. During a normal exhibition over 3 months, I sell around 75 in total.” Within the first week of the show the catalog was sold out so we had to do a reprint.”

 

Becoming professional

With the official establishment of the Dutch Graffiti Library Foundation the DGL now has a clear vision and mission to work with.

Sanne: “You can say that with the establishment of the Foundation the DGL has finally turned into a professional knowledge platform. Our aim for the future is to realize a true physical library where we can receive people. We are sure that our library will be of great added value to educational programs, museums and for research. We want to put our inside knowledge to use for art students, school teachers and other interested people. Our aim is to put graffiti and the stories of the culture behind it on the world map of ‘graffiti heritage’.”

Original signed prints by Ivar Vičs (†1981) a.k.a. DR. RAT, a legendary Amsterdam based 'Punk' graffiti writer. (Images: DGL Collection)

Signed prints by Ivar Vičs (†1981) a.k.a. DR. RAT, legendary Amsterdam based ‘Punk’ graffiti writer.

Richard: “We want to open up the graffiti culture to the main public and also to the incrowd. To show people there’s a lot more behind it than they think. When we talk about graffiti to outsiders we frequently get a first reaction like: “It’s vandalizing of public property!”. Something we think is very important is telling the stories of the makers. What the driving force of the artists is and how they managed to get from ‘Watching my name go by’ to the world of galleries. We’re already receiving a lot of questions from all kinds of researchers from universities from all over the world. I’m not the one answering those questions. My personal opinion on the subject matter is not important. We supply them with background information to help out the best way we can. We provide items from our collection or information that will help them find answers. We also give items on loan for exhibitions and for use in publications about the (graffiti) culture.”

 

Our job is to preserve it!

Left: 'SE' by SEEN UA, New York 2016. Spraypaint and marker on a subway map. Right: 'New York Graffiti' by WANE COD, New York 2016. Marker on a subway map. (Images: DGL Collection)

Left: ‘SE’ by SEEN UA, New York 2016. Spraypaint and marker on a subway map. Right: ‘New York Graffiti’ by WANE COD, New York 2016. Marker on a subway map. (Images: DGL Collection)

Richard: “The collection is steadily growing. We are always looking for new material to expand it. Sometimes we now even receive donations from all over the world. That’s why I’m 100% sure of the fact we’re building something important for a lot of people. It feels like it’s our responsibility to do something good with this stuff. As PHASE 2 put it to words: “This is our community, this is our nation, our contribution to the world, it’s our job to preserve it, insure it and nurture it – not someone else’s.” (Vibe Magazine #10, 1994)

 

We at Street Art Today can only agree. Congratulations to the Dutch Graffiti Library for taking this big step forward into putting graffiti culture on the map of contemporary art. Expanding your knowledge is easy. Just visit the DGL on the regular on Instagram, Facebook or take a dive into the extensive content of their website.

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Remko Koopman is a visual artist, graphic designer and author from Leiden, The Netherlands. He has been active as a graffiti writer using the pseudonym 'SCAGE' since 1987 and infiltrated the world of Street Art with artist collective 'Booyabase'. Koopman is co-author of the classic Dutch graffiti book 'Amsterdam Graffiti - The Battle of Waterloo' and author of the book 'De Leidse School' (The School of Leiden). He's also active within the field of cultural education for the youth.