Unframed Art Gallery is an exhibition venue located in very particular Dutch territory. Only works by highly reputable graffiti writers are hung on its walls; from pioneers like T-Kid to famous writers strictly committed to illegal graffiti like Trane, Tripl or Mser. Such an interesting project has us asking a lot of questions… which Guillermo and Seyar answer in the following interview.
“We have no need to become millionaires but can carry out our passion in a professional form and everything is for the culture.”
Who is the curator of Unframed Art Gallery and how should we introduce him?
The gallery belongs to my son and I support and advise him.
I work behind the scenes. During these 40 years I have gotten to know quite a few people and over the years my son grew up with the kings and queens who came to our house. He had a unique school to learn in by becoming involved as well and so was able to advance much faster. It is the culmination of a dream I couldn’t realize when I was younger.
Where is the gallery located, and what is the space like?
The gallery is in the village of Deurne, just 20 minutes from Eindhoven, 30 minutes from the Belgian border and 20 minutes from the German border. It is easy to reach by highway or train since it is located close to the main railroad and highway connections.
“Many new schoolers know about 1UP and other Instahypes who make movies but they don’t know who T-kid170 or Skeme are.”
In the region there is a long history of art that comes from graffiti…
The village has an enormous history with NYC graffiti in the early 80’s up until now. I believe the third biggest exhibition with great NYC writers was in Helmond, in the city close by. Henk Peijnenburg from Deurne was at that time director of the municipal museum. He went to New York to pick up the writers after he heard about graffiti exhibitions in Rotterdam and Amsterdam. I believe he is, together with Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper, a very important person. He gave European graffiti a foothold. He brought writers like Dondi, Quik, Blade —you can see letters in Blade’s book King of Kings about Deurne—who walked through our streets here countless times. I even know Blade and Quik were arrested drunk at a station for tagging and had to spend the night at the police station. It still happens that some people over 70 come into the gallery and start talking about Dondi and Blade. There must still be some treasures hanging on the walls here in the area from that era.
How did the idea of this project come about?
The idea arose spontaneously. I organize and manage the big unframed.nl event in Heerlen, the Netherlands. Together with Arjan, I had the idea to teach the new generation where graffiti actually came from. Many new schoolers know about 1UP and other Instahypes who make movies but they don’t know who T-kid170 or Skeme are. That really triggered and somehow annoyed me. Because without those people and their contribution there would be no graffiti nowadays. So with the help of T-kid and Arjan, to whom I presented my idea, I created the Unframed event which was conceived like a journey from street art back in time to NYC old school. My idea was to include 3 or 4 old school NYC writers in the lineup. So the idea started as an exhibition, not only including the sales aspect but also a learning path for both the artists and the fans.
“Trane was the first to say, “Let’s do an exhibition. Let’s run a show.” Atom came up with the same idea. I admit at the beginning I was uncertain. Would this concept work? Would there be fans to buy art from such writers?”
Our last edition was such a huge success. I came across a large store building with a house above it. I immediately thought of my own studio or exhibition space. Given the history of graffiti in Deurne, the location was perfect. So I decided to open a gallery. My friends who visit me regularly only made me more enthusiastic, especially Trane and Atom. Trane was the first to say, “Let’s do an exhibition. Let’s run a show.” Atom came up with the same idea. I admit at the beginning I was uncertain. Would this concept work? Would there be fans to buy art from such writers? We lived there almost a year and the demand continued to grow, together with the success of the Unframed event we decided to take the step. Our first artist was none other than Jeico: currently the most appreciated and undercover subway artist in Berlin; nobody could get him. I was the only one who got him at our Unframed event and all his work was completely sold out in a few hours. So the start was set and many big names followed: Tkid170, Atom, Bates, Ces53, Deshamer, Milk, Sonic-bad, Aroe, Triple, Trane … and the requests kept coming.
“Our strength lies in having artists from the underground that others do not get or cannot reach.”
Since the beginnings of Unframed, how has it been received by the public? Has there been an immediate response or has the attention of buyers evolved over time?
The start was with Jeico. He immediately sold 30 works. I am proud to say it was a sound success. You could consider us to be in a learning process and then right away we kicked it up a level. I want to be careful and remain humble. We are professional but we are upcoming … our strength lies in having artists from the underground that others do not get or cannot reach. Aside from the fans who like our posts daily on social media and followers there are also great collectors among them.
What kind of person is most interested in this type of art? Art collectors, graffiti writers, inquisitive types…?
Well, our buyers come mostly from Germany, Belgium, France and Italy. Most of them are collectors and fans who want a work of art by their favorite writer. And that’s actually the idea, that the entry is a little lower than at most galleries. That way you keep a wider audience. People come from really far, sometimes that’s quite nice. We also have good contacts here with B&Bs and hotels, so that they can stay at more competitive prices. We have really diverse and good restaurants on our street. The airport is 30 minutes from here. Curious people walking through the street. I sometimes fall off the chair if a 70 year-old man or couple comes inside. Because we have experienced it more times, starting to talk about Dondi and Blade, and have also met them. Yes, then you know that Henk Peijnenburg has his roots here and that everyone has walked around here. 40 years later I never thought we would still be talking about it. The man saw it early on: what a visionary!
The artists that are invited to exhibit follow a fine line that is strictly graffiti. What criteria do you use to select them?
We curate not only graffiti, but also street art and urban or abstract art. We do want to have a background in graffiti. Because I myself am 40 years in with both feet on the scene. For me talent is more than graffiti expression, and in another direction we want to exhibit that for sure and more. Of course the underground artists who normally can’t be caught are a luxury and we are privileged. There’s power in that. But beyond that, we want the artists who have a graffiti background because there are so many opportunities to bring the culture forward and nothing is better than if they can make a living at it. We have the real legendary old school up to the young heroes of today. So we select them from history and what they mean in the world of graffiti, street art , and urban art.
“I motivated Trane to do the big event as a test so he could make a merit out of all his efforts over the years too. Mser was exactly the same.”
Trane, Tripl, Mser, Jeico… Some of the writers who sell their works in Unframed had not seemed to be interested in offering an artistic or exhibitive facet until now. How did you manage to “convince” them?
Great question. As I said, Trane was motivating me and giving me the confidence to start. And that he would love to do an exhibition for me. Besides being graff colleagues, we are also friends. We support each other. I motivated him to do the big event as a test so he could make a merit out of all his efforts over the years too. Mser was exactly the same. I was with him in Bucharest and we painted a lot together. He has talent; he is magical with colors. He made a canvas for me. I tell you that it will never be sold. It is really outer space work. So I asked him to join the Unframed event and do some work. So he did, together with his mentor, Erps, who in his own way also does really good work.
“Suddenly Jeico found himself standing with Tkid-170 in our garden where we recreated the old school NYC subway”
Jeico, that was a difficult one. We had painted together and I said, “Let’s make some on canvas. We will see if there is a market for it.” The guy is introverted and discrete —you would not realize he’s a writer. It took some effort to get him for the Unframed event. He did all his work at my home. Several people came by like 1UP or TKID170 and stayed with me. It goes on like this all year anyway. So suddenly Jeico found himself standing with Tkid-170 in our garden where we recreated the old school NYC subway at a 1:1 scale. They painted together: for him a dream came true. Then during the Unframed event all his work completely sold out. That helped him to gain confidence. So when we opened the gallery and he was the first artist to “pull the ship,” it was a lot easier for us.
What about Tripl?
Tripl has become a friend over the years and promised me to participate in the event and kept his word. So when we were discussing an exhibition in the gallery, he said yes right away; also because coincidentally he is further developing ideas for his future, such as optic illusion work. And what he did in the festival Bring The Paint in the UK was phenomenal…So these are names that you normally don’t see anywhere. That makes us strong and this is the way for us to enter the art world.
“There is some bias in the question saying that they are not experts in the art world. They are recognized and respected because of their hard work. They are all well known on an international level. That makes them experts. When I first saw Banksy at the turn of the century he didn’t know either and he was far from being professional. He was selling his stencils for 35 German marks,”
On the other hand, some of the artists who have exhibited are also not experts either when it comes to selling their work. How do they set their prices?
There is some bias in the question saying that they are not experts in the art world. They are recognized and respected because of their hard work. They are all well known on an international level. That makes them experts. When I first saw Banksy at the turn of the century he didn’t know either and he was far from being professional. He was selling his stencils for 35 German marks, I believe.
That walked past me. Now I do beat myself up of course but that’s with everyone, I think. I don’t think I have a better example from my own experience than with Banksy. But he was already a professional then. Everyone who comes here has more than earned his place. Some are a bit further along than others. That is just the way it works. They are often modest themselves, in their life and behaviour. And we do advise them but we do not exploit prices —on the contrary— we want to sell and if we sell, the artist earns money. And if it is feasible for the customer we have three happy parties.
I always believe not to sit too low nor too high. Stay with two feet on the ground. The more work people see over the years, the more people want and when demand exceeds supply, you go up. If your fans resell their work at a profit, you go up with them. What I sometimes see —I’ve experienced it once— the artist sees himself much higher than he is and comes up with amounts because he thinks the gallery is the world where he can become a millionaire. I put them with both feet on the ground and explain that it is not feasible. There is nothing worse than calculating too high because the payback will be difficult. Above all it will harm the artist. I think we are slightly below average prices so that we are assured of success. We have no need to become millionaires but can carry out our passion in a professional form and everything is for the culture.
Are there any legal risks for the most active writers when it comes to offering their creations to society? What measures must be taken to manage their anonymity?
Better than with Banksy. That is guaranteed!
Is there a common thread in the style of the artists who have exhibited to date?
No, it may seem that way now, but no. We actually have a full year already.
What names are coming to show their work?
We will curate artists in 2023 like Mode2, Teach, Atom, Rio, Jepsy, Ces, Dero etc. I was asked if I wanted to curate Blade, so that will be added to it with pleasure.
Then we have some artists who didn’t make it last year. We want to curate them in a combined exhibition, especially New Yorkers like Seen, Tc5 with Ree, maybe Riff170. Also I hope Demsky will come over, The London Police, and others. I may have another surprise but I have to promise to keep my mouth shut until then.
What do you think this gallery offers that you cannot find in any other kind of gallery?
Everything is unique and has not been done before. The months of January and July are vacations. This year we are not only working hard but we will also torpedo the market with our online shop: unframed-art-market.com which will contain over 200 works.
A lot of work has not yet been seen before because outside the gallery exhibitions, there is a lot of work coming in from artists who are not running exhibitions. There is my own work as well because I am running exhibitions. So my work is also sold out. I can’t advertise as an exhibiting artist with other people’s work because I would take the light and focus off. So the idea came to separate the store from the gallery and link it. Also work that is not sold will be added. The price will be a bit higher than it was in the gallery because we have different tax rates then.
Do you think that this type of art can compete firmly against the contemporary and conceptual styles developed by some graffiti writers to reach a wider and more academic audience?
Look, street art originated from graffiti in 50 years and it has so many side streams, and that’s good. It’s an evolution. What started on the trains in NYC has grown into a multifaceted art form and it keeps growing. Without growth it gets stuck. Street art has no history: if you start searching, where do you end up? With graffiti. Because graffiti is mentioned in the same breath as vandalism the word is too heavy.
“In Europe people now rule the country and they grew up with graffiti for some 40 years. They recognize themselves in it and may understand that it is has good intentions.”
When it came over to Europe in the early 80’s, we were the devils of society. Some countries hit us so hard, as if we were criminals. Now we see that it is Asia and other countries where it is now developing, like from an infant state. In Europe people now rule the country and they grew up with graffiti for some 40 years. They recognize themselves in it and may understand that it is has good intentions.
This generation is the bridge to the future, the youth of today will be even more interested because it is growing. The art world remains a strange world. Jonone has been making multi tags for 30 years and breaks through now. All artists want to get to the high end. The road is long and only feasible for a few. And who determines the success?
I believe there is so much more between now and the high end. Every artist who works hard should have a piece to hang their work in a museum. If you can spread out through the world with a unique series of your work and work rooms, living rooms, companies, collectors, you name it, and people enjoy your work on the wall everyday, that is the most beautiful thing.
You should feel privileged that people recognize your work and see the value in it. We love to do it. Get to know the diversity of people. We deliver a lot of work ourselves because every month, we drop a considerable amount of work. My son and a friend of mine are proud to deliver the curated art to our fans personally. We do that if the distance is not too long, of course. And to see the happiness on people’s faces. All the mails that I get afterwards, and the pictures. Yes, I think it will only continue to grow.
2 What do you think?
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