Summer 2010

Mixed doubles

Calligraffiti: The graphic art of Niels Shoe Meulman

FHTF, £19.99 / €19.95 /USD25.90, Reviewed by Jane Cheng

Apprenticed first as a hoodlum graffiti artist, then as a calligrapher and graphic designer, Niels ‘Shoe’ Meulman’s career has spanned graphic design, art direction, advertising, calligraphy, art and fashion (see Eye 75 ‘Make each letter speak out loud’). Calligraffiti: The graphic arts of Niels Shoe Meulman includes a wide selection of his 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 ‘fluorescent cardboard’, have been reduced and resized (sizes, clients, and exhibitions are indexed at the end of the book).

As journalist and editor Adam Eeuwens explains in his introduction, calligraffiti is a ‘curious amalgam of an ancient, refined art form fused with the raw force of modern street art … a synthesis of opposites.’ The book explores Meulman’s capacity to express written comparisons in a viscerally understandable form. Pairings range from love / money to strict / loose to rural / urban – all bearing additional dimensions of visual irony and depth.

While the stark decontextualisation hinders any sense of their varying scales, it allows the pairings to speak more directly than they otherwise might. 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. Beyond the cacophony is a reserve of pent-up energy, an abhorrence of complacency, and a crisp exploration of contrast mediated by masterful craft.

First published in Eye no. 76 vol. 19 2010

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.