Catching Up With:Eelco van den Berg – Sugarlift

Catching Up With:
Eelco van den Berg

Posted by Bartlomiej Piela /

 

Where did you grow up and how did this influence your art?

I grew up in a small village in The Netherlands.

My hippie mother dragged me to parties when I was young, and I was exposed to a lot of psychedelic rock art on the walls. Being in a creative setting was my first influence. Drawing since I was little, I noticed hip hop culture around '86 and was hooked. I've always been a rebel, and graffiti was the perfect way to express that. I've been a fanatic skateboarder since the eighties, and those graphics have been a big influence as well. I have a big collection of original skateboards from that period on my walls at home and enjoy seeing these hand-screened decks every day. My work now is a mixture of the sixties/seventies, graffiti from the eighties and fine art from various decades.

 

We see a lot of your pieces around Brooklyn. How long have you been painting in this neighborhood?

In 2012, I did a few pieces in Bushwick and noticed a lot of creative people were living there. I enjoyed the mixture of construction and creative landscape. The exposure to rich murals gives me a lot of inspiration and energy.

I don't really have this in Holland, so last year I decided to live in Bushwick for two months. I didn’t have many contacts, but I decided to go for it anyway. My first mural at McKibbin Street was posted on a big blog as the piece of the month, and within three days my whole stay was booked with mural requests.

The mural scene is really pleasant, and organizations like the Bushwick Collective became like family. They helped me to do what I love most and helped me promote myself to expose NYC to my work. I’ve been coming back almost every month since, and hope to live in Brooklyn one day.

When did you start painting murals? Did you start writing and then move on to street art?

Around '86, I started to draw graffiti in my agenda and schoolbooks. I stole my first spray can at my mother's friend's garage, and painted my first name illegally on my neighbor's shed. Finding the hardware store with it’s rack full of paint, it went from a few cans in my jacket to a full sport bag. With my drawing experience, I was asked frequently to paint commissions for more character style pieces. From there, I painted pieces and letters (Virus) till 2013. My career as an illustrator made me more focused on figurative work. I got bored with painting letters but never had the guts to put my illustrative style on the wall.

I was in Berlin in 2013 for an art fair painting in the early morning before the fair began. The result was disappointing, and I realized that the letters were blocking me. During the train ride to Berlin I had made a sketch of a cat with the same feel of my graffiti fill-ins. So, I decided to paint this. In a few hours, I painted the cat in a huge size on a illegal spot surrounded by homeless gypsies. It was the right thing to do. I was surprised and moved by what I had made--and the Gypsies liked it, too! They invited me into their self-made tents/homes and shared their homemade alcohol with me. I was drunk and happy all day at the art fair. From there, everything went quickly, resulting in a sponsorship with Montana

 

Which artists are influences on your work?

I never really focus on one specific artist. But those who do influence me are from various creative fields and decades. Going to art school to study illustration, I became a big fan of J.C. Leyendecker, Garry Kelly and Matotti. Jim Phillips, who made a big series of the best Santa Cruz skateboard graphics, has definitely been a big influence. Contemporary artists like Francis Bacon, and, indeed, Rembrandt and other old masters are very inspirational to see.

You are known to have playful imagery of foxes, bunnies and other animals. What do these images mean to you?

Since making the cat in Berlin, I have stayed within the animal theme. I used to draw a lot of birds when I was young. Animal behavior always interested me, and most of my work is about animals with human behavior. Somehow this happens instinctively. Working as an illustrator with strict guidelines, drawing mostly humans, pushes me to do more with animals in my free work. I try not to think too much and just let things just happen. Most work is not really planned or sketched out, and I like to leave things open and get inspired by the moment. I noticed, though, that my recent sketches for a new show in Amsterdam at end of this year are more conceptual.

 

What are you planning for your next trip/piece?

I will be back in NY at the end of July 2015 to do a live painting at a festival I made the poster for. My first project will be finishing the big mural for Sugarlift that I started during Bushwick Open Studios. The rest is still open for other commissions.


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