Can you describe a turning point when it comes to your art?
A few years ago, Het Parool, the Amsterdam newspaper, reached out to me. They wanted to share my work on their channels and asked me to create a new art piece each week. As street art is still an illegal domain, this was a real turning point and contributed to the foundation of an organisation that looks into new street art and decides if the municipality should remove it.
A while back, my work King Kong was blown from its pedestal, but the commission called and asked me how to repair it, as the neighbours wanted to keep it. How cool is that? Nowadays, street art is more tolerated, even embraced, and is part of our contemporary culture.
King vs. President (2017), Churchchilllaan
Are all of your works your own?
Yes, everything comes from my imagination. And everything is possible, as long as there is no political or religious message. Banksy, for example, creates art with a statement, but my statement is ‘fun’. If people think there’s more to my artwork, that’s great, but it’s not my intention.
The statue of the late (and much loved) mayor of Amsterdam Eberhard van der Laan was commissioned by the Paradiso. It was a huge honour! The Paradiso is a cultural temple in the Netherlands, so the project had to be something big. I mean ‘big’ in terms of impact, as I work in small scale.
Important figures are usually portrayed a bit pompously and arrogantly, but to give credit to Eberhard van der Laan’s character and legacy, I made a little statue that seems to enjoy art and culture with a welcoming disposition that’s open to feedback and criticism. I’m very proud of this piece and every time I cycle past it, I look up and think ‘Oh, yes!’.
Eberhard van der Laan (2019), Weteringschans
Is small and funny your trademark?
Because I need to produce a new work each week, I can’t do big art. But my newest piece is a big one; it’s about seven metres high and close to the Bijlmer ArenA. Even though it’s larger than what I usually do, you can still clearly see my sense of humour in it.
Tell us more!
It’s a commissioned piece. You know those little spikes for receipts they sometimes have in restaurants? That’s it, but now, there are cars on it instead of receipts. That area of the city is pretty much all concrete, but there are plans for a park, and it represents the fact that Amsterdam is banning cars in more and more areas. The statue is in a clearing, so you can go see it for yourself.
De autoprikker (2020), Hondsrugweg
Does your street art have a goal?
Before, street art was always removed very quickly, but now it tends to be left alone and the authorities don’t get rid of it anymore. That gives me space and time to think about what I can contribute to the city. I enjoy sending a beautiful message, as I did with the Eberhard statue.
I’m working on a new project that says, ‘make Amsterdam a little bit nicer’. That kind of thing is appreciated nowadays.
Hartenstraat (2019), Hartenstraat
Do people appreciate street art now more than they did a few years ago?
Absolutely. There’s so much more fun in art in general. Banksy did that for street art, and made it more loved; it isn’t just part of the graffiti scene anymore. I’ve made the same kind of art for a long time now, and it’s called 'urban interventions' in the world of street art. You notice something on the street and invent something around it, or you fix broken things with your art.
Freedom (2019), Hazenstraat
I never put something on someone’s house without asking in case it’s hard to remove. Take Buurman and Buurman ( which means neighbour and neighbour and comes from the Czech TV show Pat a Mat), those hooks were already there, because there used to be a street sign on that wall.
I recreated the sign with crayons. The swing can be taken off the hooks, so nothing is really altered. But ugly or broken things that the city doesn’t repair? I don’t ask permission for that.
Buurman en Buurman (2020), Reguliersgracht
Where do you get your inspiration?
Everything you see in the city is composed of basic shapes: squares, triangles and circles. That means there are endless possibilities to find associations. If I see a pole, I think of a cigarette or a staff. The more I do that, the easier it gets.
I compare it to rappers, who can come up with a complete rap when you give them only one word. They have mental files full of things that match that one word. I have that too, but with shapes and images.
Can you still wander around the city without seeing new opportunities everywhere?
I’m good at leaving that at home. A rapper isn’t always rapping. But if you'd ask me at any random location, I'll immediately think of something.
What’s your favourite work?
That has to be Under Construction. There’s a wall on Overtoom with a little white Roman building sculpture on it and the tip of the roof is missing. When I cycled past it every day, I always thought: why don’t they fix that rooftop? So, I made the tip and added a yellow crane. People always think I did the entire Roman building. It makes me laugh when I see people on the street staring at it!
Under construction (2018), Overtoom
And the piece that's been around the longest?
That would be Missing numbers. On Westerstraat, the house numbers 56 to 68 aren’t there, because there used to be a courtyard. In a crack in the wall, I placed seven little houses with the missing numbers, so the street is complete again!
That piece has been there for over ten years. A few years ago, it was apparently mentioned in an Asian Lonely Planet book, so there was always a busload of visitors taking pictures. It must be in many photo albums.
Missing numbers (2013), Westerstraat
Which piece is particularly important to you?
When three years passed since Johan Cruijff died, there still wasn’t a statue of him in the centre of Amsterdam. That needed to change. I came up with an idea for tram 14, as his jersey number was 14. That tram should be the Johan Cruijff tram. But I knew the municipality wouldn't let me do that, so I came up with an alternative.
There’s one place where only tram 14 stops, so that had to be the one. Ajax players are sometimes referred to as being the sons of gods, since it’s like a religion. Churches use stained glass for religious pictures and that inspired me to create a stained-glass window in the tram stop. But I still think the Cruijff tram has to happen! Wouldn’t everybody just love that?
Tram 14 (2019), Javaplein
Is there anything you still want to achieve with your art?
There’s an older lady that follows me on Instagram, and every weekend she goes out with her grandchild to look for the new piece of the week. Sometimes, they’ve already been removed, but if they’re still there, I wake up to a photo of the two of them with the artwork.
Even if that’s the only thing I would get from these projects, it would be enough to give a grandma and a kid their moment of fun on Saturday mornings. But I hope I can give everyone, every grandmother and grandchild, a smile. That would be the best.
About Frank de Ruwe
Frank de Ruwe was born in 1977 in Nijmegen, in the east of the Netherlands. After finishing his studies in 2001, he moved to Amsterdam and never left. You can follow Frank and his art on Instagram or check his website.
Craving more outdoor art? See our article on the best public artworks in Amsterdam.