Looking for the Perfect Stroke: on Niels Shoe Meulman

Looking for the Perfect Stroke: on Niels Shoe Meulman

On saturday october 15th, "Uncontrolled Substances" an exhibition by Niels "Shoe" Meulman will open at Gabriel Rolt Gallery. Coinciding with the event, Lebowski Publishers launches a monumental catalogue raisonée, aptly titled Shoe is My Middle Name, with works from the early eighties up till now. Check out a piece Manuela Klerkx wrote on Niels Shoe Meulman: painter.


My friendship with Shoe started with our collaboration on the most fun Amsterdam gallery ever (the Unruly Gallery he founded in 2009 in the blue-collar neighborhood the Staatsliedenbuurt), our many conversations about his graffiti from the eighties (when it all began), the Calligraffiti art movement he brought to life in 2007, and the development of his abstract painting that he has been single-mindedly dedicated to since 2012. After many successful solo and group exhibitions at home and abroad, Shoe is recognized as an internationally established artist. More than thirty years of tagging and spray-painting on trains and buildings, and inside the walls of dozens of galleries, have been fruitful. So far so good.

And then suddenly it is 2016.

Shoe has developed himself into the painter that he always already was and only needed to become. An artist whose roots lay in graffiti and calligraphy, but who gradually developed into a painter who is relevant in our time. Lines and circles painted with rough, dark brush strokes (often with a broom or mop), the obsessive and rhythmic repetition of the same movement of his hand, the exploding paint splatter, the combination of rawness and precision, detail and the whole, characterize his most recent work.

Apart from the spirit of the time and the cultural-historic context, the art academies and the street, he seems to be moving closer to what has always driven him: abstract painting. I can’t escape thinking of the abstract expres-sionists of the fifties like Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, and Willem de Kooning who just like Shoe were interested in the art of painting and the ability to express yourself within it.

At the same time, the work and the spirit of Shoe breath the bravado and the signs of our times in a way and with a background story that can’t be compared to any other artist. Art theories and art movements don’t interest him. Shoe believes in practice, the act of doing: the only and absolute way to master the material. Every visit to his studio I am surprised to see so much creativity that seems to come forth from a personal quest to get to the essence of painting. A path that leads further and further away fromthe graphic and decorative aspects of his earlier work, and that with every new work brings him closer to a new formal language. With the same drive and physical and mental challenges that a pilgrim faces, Shoe seems to be searching for an almost sacred destination, that of the perfect paint stroke that makes all others redundant. Then I suddenly picture him as the artistic pilgrim who I sometimes see, late at night, take the ferry to his studio in the north part of Amsterdam. There, away from the city’s turmoil, hecan retreat into the solace of his atelier.

Since the first time I witnessed Shoe’s work, I have been an admirer of his unique mix of expression and emptiness, movement and cessation, bravado and restraint, sensuality and rigidness that imbue his work with a contem-porary, energetic “feel.” Lines in swirling movements, traces of curlicues and letters alternating with drips and drops, give his work the dynamics that make it so irresistible.

I remember a short clip from 2010 where Niels —fashionably dressed—in slow motion throws a Christmas bauble filled with black liquid against a wall, and exploding ink impacts into a black spot that along its edges disseminates into smaller traces of splatter clinging to canvas or dripping down, leaving Shoe balancing on his sneakers. Like a baseball pitcher, he must let go of the ball to let the paint do its work. A pleasant image, enhanced by the sensual soundtrack of “If I Had a Heart” by Fever Ray. I google the text of this song and read:

This will never end
‘cause I want more
More, give me more
Give me more

And that is exactly what I hope for this globe-trotting pilgrim; that his quest for the perfect brush stroke shall never end. Certainly not as long as this Shoe can still balance on his sneakers.


Manuela Klerkx
Amsterdam, 2016

Gepost op: 2016-10-14 in: kunst

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