Graffiti artist Emil van der Wijst | EMOVES Special

One of the flagship events during EMOVES is Step in the Arena, the international graffiti festival that takes place every year in a junction called the Berenkuil, in Eindhoven. Co-founder Emil van der Wijst remembers the first piece he saw as a teenager. “There was an anonymous aspect to it, that made it kind of romantic.”

While most urban athletes and artists upload a great deal of cool photos on their insta-timelines, it is mostly others that post about Emil van der Wijst. When talking the artistic leader of EMOVES, Dave van den Berg, in preparation of this interview, it only takes him five sentences to explain who we are going to meet: "Emil is one of the founders of graffiti in Eindhoven. Together with the Sol Crew movement from the 90s, he introduced a totally new way of making graffiti. The Sol Crew members were the first to work with latex paint instead of spray cans.” It laid the groundwork for a unique style, that later on would become famous far beyond Eindhoven and even the Netherlands.

Emil just got back from an assignment in a tunnel near Schijndel. He is still engaged in graffiti on a daily basis. Partly on commission, through his company Decofiti, and partly with his own work. And he is closely involved with Step in the Arena, the two-day festival that starts on June 30th.

Romantic and perishable

Emil started with graffiti in the 80s. One of the first things he mentions is the documentary Style Wars, a film about New York's hip-hop culture. "In retrospect, that movie set everything in motion. Style Wars was about graffiti, breakdance and rap. With the broadcasting of that film on Dutch television, a whole new culture found its way here. For many youngsters, that was the starting point.” At the same time, graffiti also began to emerge in Eindhoven. "In the tunnel between Bijenkorf and the Beursgebouw, I saw graffiti for the first time in real life.” He laughs: "Looking back, it was a simple piece, but I found it absolutely fascinating. You could sit at school during the day and make graffiti at night, like some kind of superman. That anonymity had something romantic to it.” Romantic. A word he mentions several times. And perishable. That, too, makes graffiti art unique in his eyes. He looks at the younger generation that shares much more online with mixed feelings. "Something is lost if you only see graffiti on a screen. In order to really appreciate a piece, I think you have to see it in its context. As part of the street and the city in which it is made.”

Eindhoven style

Instagram and Youtube have also become important 'teachers', with tutorials about technique and materials. “At the end of the 80s, we just figured out a lot by ourselves and learned from the group we were part of. The artists around you would share tips so you could improve your skills. They wouldn’t reveal all their secrets at once, of course. But little by little you were taught new tricks and in return, you would help others. Resulting in each city developing a strong style of its own.”
In Eindhoven, this style was created through the use of latex. Cheaper than spray cans and with a different effect. Whereas graffiti was mainly known for its many colours and hectic patterns, a logo-like style was created in Eindhoven. "The unwritten rule was one colour for alignment and one colour for filling." Another advantage of latex: no one would smell you working on a piece in the middle of the night.

Photo's by Bram Berkien.