Tuesday, 7:30am
4 May 2010

Shoe’s Calligraffiti

Ancient craft meets visceral scrawl on the streets of Amsterdam

Niels Shoe Meulman, who practises ‘calligraffiti’ is one of many designers featured in ‘Make each letter shout out loud’ in Eye 75, the latest issue, writes Jane Cheng. You can see a detail of his ‘Duck Rock’ lettering on the cover.


Apprenticed first as a hoodlum graffiti artist, then as a calligrapher and graphic designer, Meulman’s career has spanned graphic design, art direction, advertising, calligraphy, art and fashion. Calligraffiti: The graphic art of Niels Shoe Meulman (FHTF, £19.99 / €19.95 / $29.90), includes a wide selection of Meulman's recent work arranged in spreads of contrasting or complementary pairs. Contrary to the contemporary norm, the work is presented out of context: logos for such disparate clients as Umbro or Bols Genever Spirits, first written on media from glass to digital to ‘flourescent cardboard’, have been reduced and resized (sizes, clients, and exhibitions are indexed separately at the end of the book).


As journalist and editor Adam Eeuwens (Rebecca Mendez Design, 34 magazine) explains in his introduction, calligraffiti is a ‘curious amalgam of an ancient, refined art form fused with the raw force of modern street art, the rhythm and regularity of Fraktur's precise stroke combined with the perfect accidents of the vertical drip and splatter of the horizontal drop, a synthesis of opposites.’


The book explores calligraffiti's capacity to express written comparisons in a viscerally understandable form. Pairings range from love / money to strict / loose to rural / urban – some banal, some surprising, all bearing additional dimensions of visual irony and depth.


While the stark decontextualisation of the words hinders any sense of their varying original scales, it allows the pairings to speak more directly than they otherwise might. In fact, the illustrative nature of Meulman’s words makes their apprehension feel less like reading than hearing: understood so quickly that they are impossible to ignore or shut out.

But beyond the cacophony is a reserve of pent-up energy, a borderline-nihilistic abhorrence of complacency, and a crisp exploration of contrast mediated by masterful craft.


You can see more of Niels Shoe Meulman’s work at calligraffiti.nl and nielsshoemeulman.com.

Eye, the international review of graphic design, is a quarterly journal you can read like a magazine and collect like a book. It’s available from all good design bookshops and at the online Eye shop, where you can order subscriptions, single issues and classic collections of themed back issues.