Character based graffiti writers share a common background in traditional ‘stylewriting’ graffiti. At some point in their career they partly or completely switched to painting figurative characters or have created a hybrid style between different disciplines. Some of them still operate in the mindset of a (illegal) graffiti writer focused on ‘getting up’, where others choose to go aboveground to become fine artists, illustrators or designers.
We’ve selected 13 Dutch artists that dropped some serious character-flavor in different eras in Dutch graffiti history. The list is in alphabetical order.
1 – ANGEL
Years active: 1985 – Present
Dutch character pioneer PJay “Baby Angel” Frith is a member of legendary 80’s graffiti crews Crime Time Kings (CTK) and Gods Vicious Babies (GVB). He was one of the first Dutch writers to drop his letter based ‘name graffiti’ to fully replace that by a character: The Atomic Baby Clone. Together with partners in crime ICE and ARSON, ANGEL formed the design and art collective TBH (The Baby Hype) in 1990. Their trademark, three ultra-violent “Babies” ready for war, armed with heavy machine guns, earned them a lot of fame.
The TBH-trio pioneered the field of graffiti-based comic and game design. Throughout the 90’s the TBH was a force to be reckoned with in the Amsterdam club and party scene. Well known were their BBoy Extravaganza poster designs, in cooperation with SHOE, for music club Paradiso. Nowadays ANGEL is busy developing his very own board game called the StarArena in which the Atomic Baby Clones still play a major role. You can follow and support ANGEL’s quest for world domination on his Patreon page. If you want to know his full story make sure you check his comprehensive biography on the website of Dutch Graffiti Library.
2 – CECE, The Crazy Dentist
Years active: 1993 – ± 2005
CECE is famous for painting Amsterdam subway cars (together with his partner in crime PONE) with characters and pieces based around a concept: The Crazy Dentist. Covering every dental subject, from “Gold-Tooth-Throwies” to the all out horror of the Crazy Dentist destroying the teeth work of the doctor’s innocent patients. A very personal and original style in which his characters played an important role. By doing this CECE raised the bar for all stylewriters who took the basic principles of a ‘New York-Style-Piece-with-Character’ as a framework for executing illegal graffiti missions.
CECE combined old school stylewriting with new school conceptual painting which made him a pioneer in his field. We’re sad to say that nowadays the Dentist changed jobs and isn’t fighting tooth decay anymore. The good doctor is probably living the high life somewhere in the Bahama’s.
3 – CES53
Years active: 1983 – Present
CES53 is a hardcore trainwriter famous for painting full color whole cars. As a stylewriter pur sang he developed a very personal letter style characterized by soft-flowing funkiness painted in bright colors giving his pieces a ‘trippy effect’. He also paints characters in a figurative style influenced by the graphic language of ancient pre-Columbian cultures.
Returning themes in his work are ‘evil clowns’, ancient rituals, Mexican death-celebration and conspiracy theories. CES managed to create a hybrid style of ‘piecing’ in which the characters transform into letters and vice versa. Also specialized in stone carvings, painting on canvas and producing music CES53 is one of Hollands most allround graffiti artists. Warning: The Rolling Steel Wheel Crusader’s voodoo is contagious, do not check his Instagram!
4 – COSH
Years active: 1984 – Present
Once upon a time in a graffiti scene without internet and mobile phones writers used to trade photocopied blackbook sketches to learn the tricks of the trade. In the 80’s COSH’s character designs were most wanted. A returning theme in his artwork were “pighead cops” and “angry-looking skulls”. He created very detailed ink drawings which could have easily crossed over to the world of comics if they weren’t hidden in the graffiti underground that much. In the 90’s COSH became a professional illustrator/animator while still producing works in the streets.
In Holland COSH got mainstream exposure by doing artwork for Dutch rapper Brainpower. Especially his artwork for the 2001 released music video of the song ‚De Vierde Kaart’ (The Fourth Card) generated a lot of exposure. COSH published his 1987 blackbook online. Also worth watching is the animation COSH did for Brainpower’s video.
5 – DUCK
Years active: 1987 – Present
Mr. DUCKROCK represents old school B-Boy flavor to the fullest and is down with the infamous War Of Words crew (WOW). His work is reminiscent of that good old New York subway graffiti and the mid 80’s French painting style made famous by the Bad Boys Crew from Paris. This means no slick 3D-tricks, light-effects or other new school hipness. DUCK is a good example of how to flip retro-styles and make them look crisp and sharp again. His specialty are tuff looking B-Boys, pimps, street hustlers, African warriors and armed robots ready for war.
Especially the chemistry between DUCK’s characters and the letter pieces by his partner SHAVE are worth to mention. When these guys start rocking and the characters have intertwined with the letters it seems as of they are dancing on the wall. DUCK has no website or Instagram, this man favors to shine in the shadows.
6 – ERWTJE
Years active: 2005 – Present
ERWTJE from the We Take It Personal crew (WTIP) is known for his twisted humor. His ‘Green Boy’ frequently pops-up in Utrecht streets. A character with a big head, most of the times turned upside down, ranting all kinds of absurd “blabber mouthing”. His style of painting hovers between naive-comic and surrealism. He uses written text in the form of humorous quotes and speeches. Hereby ERWTJE creates a dialogue between maker and observer with the positive effect of bringing smiles to peoples faces.
He also doesn’t fear to touch upon more serious subjects such as social issues, religion or sexuality. His detailed murals often tell funny stories. For your daily dose of ERWTJE’s weirdness dive into his world.
7 – KBTR
Years active: 2006 – Present
Probably Hollands most famous graffiti-character who deserves more international shine. KBTR is short for Dutch word ‘Kabouter’ which translates to ‘Gnome’. He started painting puppets with a white beard and a red hat in 2006 and never looked back since. He often incorporates social issues in his work, for example by making fun of politicians. KBTR can be regarded as a political cartoonist for the streets.
But there is also a dark side to his work. He’s a master in creating explicit worlds showing all kinds of “not done” and sexual behavior. Also his horror-collaborations with artist STEEN are infamous. Because of his highly recognizable appearance in public space KBTR generated a lot of media attention. By traveling from city to city on a regular basis in combination with his amazingly high output of street works KBTR became the Dutch public’s most favorite graffiti artist of today. Reaching far beyond the borders of the incrowd, KBTR created a world of his own with fans (KBTR-spotters), collectors and imitators. The crazy adventures of the ‘little guy’ are worth its weight in gold!
8 – LASTPLAK
Years active: 2000 – Present
One of Hollands most colorful character based art collectives consisting of nine painters with different roots in graffiti, design and (street-) art. The LASTPLAK members operate as a group but also on an individual basis. Each artist has his own signature character. A LASTPLAK mural shows a freestyle orgy of interlinked puppets, animals, monsters, flying objects and other strange creatures.
LASTPLAK pushed open the doors to mainstream acceptance of street painting by producing psychedelic murals that radiate positivity and fun. A group of kindred spirits working together as one with a mission to bring color, humor and their own kind of funk to worldwide streets. Make sure you smell LASTPLAK’s funk on the regular.
9 – NASH
Years active: 1983 – Present
Coming from Sittard NASH played an important role in the development of the old school graffiti scene in the southern regions of The Netherlands. He started out as a pop- and breakdancer in combination with writing graffiti, the classic “New York school of B-Boy culture”. A craftsman from the Love Letters crew with a wide pallet of techniques under his wing.
His B-Boy characters are known for their mugs shining with ‘attitude’ in combination with perfectly executed light effects. His attitude comes from the battle element that was so important in the early days of Hip Hop culture: “Bring it on, I will eat you alive!”. Known for his skills in photorealistic slickness in combination with comic drawing techniques. Don’t be afraid to step into NASH’s arena.
10 – OASE
Years active: 1985 – Present
Dutch Character King OASE from the Gods Vicious Babies (GVB) can be regarded as a student of legendary comic creator Vaughn Bodé. OASE frequently spray painted Bodé-style-characters while giving them his own personal twist. OASE is known for his free-flowing “fat cap” outlines giving his characters, pieces and throw-ups a spontaneous free-jazz feel. A highly personal and original technique of spray painting.
Returning themes in his work are voluptuous women and movie characters. Especially his two-faced portraits where he fuses the mugs of two different characters into one are well known. For example, Cylon (Battlestar Galactica) vs. Darth Vader (Star Wars) is done in this style. Besides his work as a master in character painting, he also earned his stripes as a stylewriter focused on designing original letters and throw-ups. OASE has no website or social media account. His work is for the true ‘spotter’ in the streets. One who puts in energy and is lucky enough to catch an OASE creation in real life.
11 – POP EYE
Years active: 2012 – Present
Leiden based POP EYE is part of the new wave character-bombers in the same line as KBTR and LASTPLAK. Traveling his artistic road he went from the streets to the art academy and landed square back in the streets again. Down with the Dope Style Kings crew (DSK), POP EYE is old school approved. Firmly rooted in the Dutch late 80’s traditional “New York-style-movement” he later on transformed his method of operation to prepare for the future of street art.
POP EYE is good at finding the balance between urban typography and character painting. The “All-seeing eye in the sky” suddenly popping up in your neighborhood. Or in his own words: “Pop Eye loves to paint. Pop Eye never backs down. Let the world drip on colors. In the land of the blind, One Eye = King!” Do you want to see more?
12 – THOR-1
Years active: 1986 – Present
THOR-1 is part of the group original players who formed the NY-based stylewriting culture of Rotterdam of the late 80’s and early 90’s. First concentrating on designing letters he soon switched to making mostly characters. He is known for his highly detailed murals with a gothic-noir feel to them.
THOR-1 is a true craftsman in creating contrast between dark and light and the technique to make highlights and other light effects. Matching the skills of photorealistic portrait painters without losing his rough edge THOR-1 creates a hybrid between “lowbrow art” and the freakiness of surrealism. If you like swinging to this master’s voice, try to keep up with his dancing steps!
13 – ZENDER
Years active: 1984 – Present
Sander ‘ZENDER’ Pappot broke new ground in the stylewriters culture of the early 90’s. One of the first Dutch graffiti artists to incorporate strange elements within his letter pieces. Such as weird machines, robots, puppets, organic forms, 3D-objects and mechanical tools. This way his pieces told little stories in stead of only communicating the name of the maker. Also, his technique of painting was different from others. ZENDER’s style showed pure slickness with a high degree of perfection.
With ANGEL as his mentor, ZENDER entered the top ranks of the graffiti game. This lead to his participation in the 1993 exhibition ‘Post Graffiti’ (together with ANGEL, SHOE and DELTA). In the years to come ZENDER focused on character painting, illustration and graphic design. The Dutch music, club- and party scene got him aboveground recognition because of his posters, flyers, record sleeves and graphic animations. He’s also active as DJ Zender, party organizer and as a member of the collective ‘Amsterdam Signpainters’. Tune in to ZENDER’s frequency.
It’s impossible to create a complete list of Dutch character based graffiti writers. So, if your favorite artist is not included, don’t hate, celebrate! The future looks bright for graffiti artists that are not afraid to cross boundaries between different disciplines. All we can say is: ‘Keep on rocking!’
For more flavor, see also: