A Rotterdam street art jamboree (inside)

The contrast between the bright sunlight, pounding music and creative frenzy of street artists outside a crumbling old factory in Rotterdam, and the calm, dark interior of the very same abandoned building couldn’t have been more striking. Stepping through the doorway into the cavernous interior was like entering an alien world, one not meant to be discovered by most of humanity.

You can almost imagine future generations of archaeologists excavating this site with their tiny brushes and trowels, pondering over the meaning of artworks this elaborate in a location this obscure, far from the heart of the city. Was it a religious site? Were rituals performed here to the gods? Which gods? What do these paintings tell us of a civilisation long vanished?

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Inside, the building was transformed into a world populated by creations as weird, wonderful and elusive of meaning as the Nazca Lines or Lascaux Cave paintings. As I wandered around, it struck me that not unlike the stained glass windows of churches, the bright and bizarre paintings inside this decaying building made it into a street art cathedral. There was probably more pigeon crap on the floor, but that’s also found in cathedrals.

Some graffiti inside the building dated from well before the street art event happened outside. Some pieces were tagged from 2015, others from 2012, although judging by the state of decay, the building had been abandoned for much longer. This will only add to the confusion of future archaeologists.

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

We’d come to this anonymous part of Rotterdam because of a promotional event for a tattoo shop. Walls and Skin were hosting a street art party to celebrate the opening of their new shop, and numerous well known Dutch street artists were taking part. While everyone else was painting, we were just hanging around drinking free cocktails, and watching the artworks transform the brick exterior of the building.

The funny thing about all of this is that none of the creativity on display in the old factory would ever see the light of day. Even the works on the outside of the building wouldn’t be seen by many. This isn’t art for public consumption. Instead it seems intended for personal satisfaction, or for the community of artists and followers who know where to find it.

One of the most interesting things about seeing all these different artists and artworks side-by-side, was just how varied the styles are. For someone whose street art education only began when they moved to London’s Shoreditch – where Banksy made his name painting anarchist rats and ecstasy-faced policemen – it’s fascinating to see this collision of different work.

It may be that I don’t understand the subtleties of the work, but most street art I’ve seen in the Netherlands doesn’t seem overtly political, or to be making any obvious social commentary. It’s a striking difference between the work I knew in East London and here, but maybe that’s just because Britons have more to be pessimistic about …

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

A Rotterdam street art jamboree (outside)

I enjoy street art, or graffiti if you prefer, but beyond a casual appreciation of what I see on walls as I wander around, I’m not very knowledgeable about it. Like most people, I’m more street art voyeur than active participant. That hasn’t changed, but a recent afternoon in Rotterdam has given me a new perspective on spray can art, and the artistry and skill required to make it.

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

The abandoned factory which formed the crumbling canvas for a street art event, held near Rotterdam’s Marconiplein, was as obscure a location as the average person could hope to find … or not. We knew about it through friends (thanks Heather and Martijn) who are in the know, and even then it took some finding.

Created over hot a day in July, the event and the pieces of art were ‘commissioned’ to celebrate the opening of a new branch of Walls and Skin, a tattoo shop and street art supporter, in Rotterdam. Tattoos and spray cans seem to go hand-in-hand, and it brought some of the Netherlands’ best known graffiti artists out to perform.

Walls and Skin sell spray paint cans in their tattoo shop, and as part of the launch, all the paint was free. It was street art as spectacle, and the spectacle was not a little mesmerising to watch. The delicacy and intricacy with which the artworks are created was eye-opening. Plus there was a live DJ pumping out suitably loud and pounding music, a barbecue and a free cocktail bar.

Here, in the midst of an abandoned industrial relic, was a professional mixologist turning out very respectable bourbon-based cocktails, while the smell of barbecue wafted across the empty space in front of an abandoned factory. What’s not to love? If you want to get a sense of the event there are some videos on Facebook. The event even made the news.

Free cocktails, Street art event, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Free cocktails, Street art event, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

It underscores, if that is needed, that the once subversive and socially unacceptable – tattoos and graffiti – are perfectly acceptable in the  21st century. That is something to celebrate, and people did … although it wasn’t exactly a surprise to discover some earlier, more traditional graffiti done by a less skilled hand. I believe it’s affectionately known as ‘cock and balls’.

'Cock and balls', Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

‘Cock and balls’, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands