Graffiti tour 1: Antwerp South

I slept really bad, but at least I’m up and awake early in the morning, ready to explore street art around Antwerp. Antwerp is a medium big city for Western Europe, the city proper has half a million and the suburbs add another half. It has a really long and interesting history which I will probably discuss further in some future post, but today I’m going after the street art.

I’ve been curious about this subject for years.. when driving the highways, taking the train or simply moving through the city you see a lot of graffiti, some obviously commissioned, some obviously illegal and much in between. It looks like specific groups or artists have their own specialty and I’ve started to recognize some of the signatures: Animal Farm, Kerel, Aersol Kings, .. so I finally decided to actually go out and investigate.

Well, can’t go out if you don’t know where to go, so yesterday afternoon I simply googled ‘Antwerp graffiti’ and spent a few hours adding known street art to my own map and stringing a route between the different sites. The Street Art Cities initiative was especially useful. It became clear pretty quickly that – even limiting myself to the major art works – it would take hours and hours, so I plotted a ‘part 1’ bicycle tour at the south of the city. The city itself I can do later on foot and the north side will have to wait until a next occasion. I let a few like-minded souls know and my mom immediately signed up. You might know from other posts that she loves cycling and I knew already she also likes graffiti, so it’s a good match. Yesterday evening I generated the gpx file and mailed it to her, she uploaded it to her Garmin and we’re meeting this morning at 9 am.

I can tell you it was light around 5h30 this morning since I was already awake, it was still really sunny at 7 but sadly it’s clouding over when I prepare to leave the house at 8h30. I have a wind jacket on and a rain jacket in my pack, as well as water, nuts for snacking and a kilo of Callebaut chocolate powder that I bought for my sister. Corona restrictions mean that I can’t see her, however my mom is in my ‘sport bubble’ and she is in my mom’s ‘social bubble’ so – if you’re still with me – my mom is the courier and we will drag around that kilogram the whole morning even if it kills us. Fortunately the wind is not extremely bad today (about 4 BFT) and I’m not too heavily loaded. Since the goal of the trip is to discover and photograph street art I have the big Canon Eos 700D and a wide angle 24 mm f/2.8 lens, as well as the 200 mm f/2.8 just in case we can’t get close. In those spots where you are too close to the graffiti – like in some bike tunnels I know – I’ll use the fish eye of my Samsung smart phone.

That was a bit more preparation than usual, but finally we’re off. Mom’s experimenting with her Garmin GPS machine and the thing now needs longer than I do to determine the direction, but we start of from the fietsostrade F1 and make our way west into Edegem. This is the hometown of Smok (smok.im) and we weave our way through the village searching for the pieces that are visible from the street. Even though they’re huge, they’re not always easy to spot, since they often occupy blind, out-of -the-way walls. We ask a lady with a pram if she knows where ‘der mag zoveel ni’ (that’s the old lady in the picture below, looking angry and saying ‘there’s so much that’s not allowed’) is located and she walks us right to it, meanwhile explaining that the artist will soon make an old man equivalent on her garage wall close by.

Onwards to Wilrijk, the next suburb westward. I already know this area a little and made an effort to a short nature trail to our loop, following a narrow green zone along a small brook. There’s a few joggers out and we see people queueing when we pass bakeries, but aside from that it’s pretty quiet. We arrive at the busy A12 route, this is a busy road with big stores on either side and when we come closer to Antwerp, the central road is raised on a huge concrete bridge, allowing cross roads underneath and a lot of parking spaces, now mainly filled with waiting trailers and sleeping garbage trucks. This was the site of a street art festival PillaAr 12 in 2018, pillaar referring to the concrete pillars holding up the bridge. I’ve seen a lot of these already driving by in the car or walking from a parking spot underneath the bridge to one of the shops, but now we’re zigzagging from one pillar to the next, admiring and photographing the creative art.

Fortunately on a Sunday car traffic is limited, otherwise we’d have to be really careful navigating the huge parking and frequent cross roads. We take a left off the busy road and enter a residential area with older houses divided into appartments. We try to find Draaiboom by artist Rise One, but either it is very well hidden or painted over and the two young people playing basketball on the playground don’t know of it, so we give up and continue with the tour. We hop on the F13 Fietsostrade from Boom to Antwerp, as usual with a fietsostrade it follows a local railroad on a wide path accessible for pedestrians and cyclists only. When we reach the next point of interest we first stop for quick snack of nuts and water before exploring the Depannage 2000 wall. The brick surface is the back of the towing company Depannage 2000 and it’s an 100 m long official free-for-all graffiti wall, sanctioned by the city, with a small plaque with rules on one end. I determine to go and find a graffiti artist and ask if this is more fun – I suppose it’s nice to have room and a good surface? – or less – because it’s sanctioned?

We’re about half way if you count the kilometers, but more than half way if you count the hours, as the A12 and Depannage 2000 areas are the only ones with such a multitude of things to see. We ride through the Kiel neighbourhood, back to the start of the A12 road, looking for It’s all in a state of flux by Timmy Lazr. We drive through a neighbourhood of row houses and find it on the wall of a basketball court. The gentlemen playing are of mixed heritage, between 30 and 50. They don’t want to be in the picture, but don’t mind in the least pausing their game for a minute to allow me to take the perfect picture.

I really like the way how he combined different graphical styles: the realistic face of the man, the pencil draw of the waistcoat and comic book feel of the jacket. The bridge in the background looks a bit like the old Willebroek bridge – I mentioned it in my post Along the water recently.

When I try later at home to find more info about what this mural is about, I can online find a subtitle: We’re all sinners, but honestly that’s how we build a bridge between progress and happiness (2015).

A bit further we arrive at a mural with comic book characters: Jommeke and his friends were drawn here in 2017 by Art Mural. The goats refer to the locals who apparently are historically known as goatheads. We continue through residential neighbourhoods – houses getting bigger and bigger – towards the university hospital Middelheim, where we ride all over area but do not find the moral. Somebody working for the university tells us it’s probably on the other campus Drie Eiken, I’ll have to inform the Street Art Cities guys. They’re apparently from Antwerp and the whole thing (website, app, ..) got started here.

Almost back to the start, just a few more, smaller works to go. First up: Sweet Pumpkin Pie Love by Toy Factory (Sam De Buysscher). This is painted on a small utility block, about the size of a van. You obviously have a lot of these around town and they’re often painted or decorated like this. Next to a parking lot a kilometer south on the same street we find In the Jungle and on a skate ramp further on we find work by 2Dirty, you’ll recognize his style from the Depannage 2000 wall. We try to find two more near by, but they’re definitely not where they’re supposed to be according to the Street Art Cities app. No problem, I’ve already started up a mail conversation with the team and will give them my updates.

I wave goodbye to my mom at the Mortsel city square and do the last bit back home on my own. I’m kind of addicted now so I make two more stops for tunnel graffiti. First the official looking, railroad themed murals near Hove station and next the tags in a short bike path tunnel. You’ll recognize the work of 2Dirty again in both tunnels.

Home just before it starts raining, perfect timing. I discovered a lot of nice street art today, but haven’t learned much information or history, so more research is required! Next steps: part 2 and 3 of the discovery tour – Antwerp center and north, chatting with the guys at Street Art Cities if they’re willing, perhaps contact Smok or 2Dirty, .. never bored !

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