While many street artists choose abandoned buildings and old train tracks as the canvases for their explosive masterpieces, Dutch street artist Jan Is De Man chooses to go another route – by realizing lively works for local communities who want to connect. His aim is to create projects ‘where everyone can identify themselves’ by asking for the involvement of the residents’ who commission him. Jan Is De Man’s most recent gift to a neighborhood – a whimsical tri-level trompe l’oeil mural bookcase on an apartment building in Utrecht, Netherlands. The artist was aided by fellow street artist Deef Feed who, he said, had worked on a few other murals with him and is the co-owner of their tattoo shop “Blackbook Tattoos” in the center of Utrecht.
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Street artists Jan Is De Man and Deef Feed teamed up to create a literary mural for a neighborhood in Utrecht, Netherlands
The location for the mural came before the concept said Jan Is De Man, “I know the people who live on the ground floor very well. They’ve wanted a mural by my hand for a while. They also wanted to let me feel free in my design as long as it would bring something positive to their neighborhood. The first idea was to paint a smiley. A very big smiley. Because I believe people become more happy when they see a smiley every day. But this idea didn’t feel complete, it felt too simple.”
After studying his canvas he came up with the idea for an l’oeil mural – “visual illusion in art, especially as used to trick the eye into perceiving a painted detail as a three-dimensional object.” He said, “I studied the shape of the house and the location where this house stands in and suddenly the idea of making a huge bookcase hit me. I love making illusions on walls and I like to see smiles on people’s faces and this idea (I thought meanwhile) could bring all this together.”
Part of the concept was to involve the residents’ in the artistic process, “We entered the community by asking people for their favorite books and we were able to put 8 languages and cultures together in the same concept. Everybody, every age, every culture, every language was welcome. The only rule I set up to participate in this art project was: no political books and no religious books. Besides that every book title was welcome.”
Jan Is De Man and Deef Feed took one week working fulltime to take the idea from paper to the wall of the apartment building. He said the most difficult part was the initial concept planning, “think most of the time the most difficult [part] is to get the right concept, that fits the wall, that fits the neighborhood. but when you got the right idea, then there is not much difficult.”
They managed to capture the spirit of the residents and the artists with an array of their favorite books. When asked what his favorite titles on the giant shelf are he responded, ” I am really fond of “ the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime“ written by Mark Haddon And of course the Playboy.”
Since the mural has been unveiled it has become not only an artistic source to bring the neighbors together but for people stopping to visit for a literary selfie. “The neighborhood where this work was made is filled with different cultures. And I’ve noticed that this project brought (and hopefully for as long as it lasts) people together without pushing it. They meet each other through books. Regardless of the differences in cultures, regardless of the differences in political point of views. Regardless of being extreme right or extreme left.”
So what’s up next for this muralist? “there is a lot of things coming, but I don’t like to tell plans, because I believe that if you tell your plans they don’t work. It sounds corny, but in the end, actions speak louder than words.” Well we can’t wait to see what he comes up with.