Some call it street art others graffiti: Street Art in Gent
If you’re looking to explore the graffiti in Gent and check out some of the coolest street art, then read on!
Apprx. Reading Time: 7 minutes
It’s cold as it usually is in airplanes. The bloke next to me is hell-bent on chewing his nails off, and I’m trying my best to avoid getting hit by his elbows.
The plane is about to land in a few minutes when I realize the woman next to him is reading the same itinerary that I have for Gent…she’s with me on the same trip. Asian reflexes kick in, and I end up tapping her and grinning widely.
Another 5 seconds later with her staring at me blankly, I introduce myself and tell her I’m happy to have met her out of the blue! We start chatting while the neighbour continues feasting on his nails.
As all ladies do, we continue to chatter right till Gent. Once we’re there, faint memories come back. I remember spending about 2 hours in this city on the way to Brugge. I sometimes prefer guided tours as it helps you get local, insider info without the need to wander aimlessly. However this tour of Gent was one of those that took you around hurriedly trying to cram lots of ‘things to do’ and ‘attractions to see’ within a few minutes….and I despised it.
It gave me a good reason to return. However, this time I had decided that I’d explore Gent better and try to hunt for local, hidden spots!
Keeping scribbles and vandalism at bay
Gent – A city that boasts of more than a 100 sites that contain street art. It definitely couldn’t have been a group of students out to paint the town red! Unsurprisingly, with so much emphasis by Visit Flanders on art in Gent, I knew it was one of the things I’d definitely like to check out. So I decided to chalk out a plan to see a few places. Turns out, I got confused as there were so many and most of them were excellent!
I was being hosted at Hotel De Flandre in Gent. Patershol was close by and was supposed to have some of the best cafes in town, so I decided to check some street art there so that in case I was freezing, I could get back quick. As I headed out and took a few steps, I found a giant polyester toilet paper roll sitting on the left. The Design Museum of Gent was located right next to the hotel and on being denied expansion went ahead and installed a bathroom wing and covered it with a toilet paper roll!’
Ghentians were putting up a good show of sarcasm here, and I was getting quite excited to go and check if the art had similar traits.
Obscure yet pronounced
Many of the works you see around Gent are approved by the Council. Some others that are not approved do disappear after a while. Artists also get the chance to suggest new venues for new graffiti walls that the Gent Council approves from time to time.
My first stop was at the Steve Locatelli and Eyes B illustration, ‘Faces of Gent’. The ‘Sorry not Sorry’ map stated that it was located by the Gent tourism office, but it was actually located beneath it. I took the stairs down to find faces depicting various expressions in tinges of purple and red that looked almost fluorescent.
Locatelli, a self-taught Belgian contemporary artist, known for his bright pieces and fascination with portraying the faces of girls and skulls had filled the walls with vivid colors and faces; famous faces and highlights from Gent. As someone whose art is spread across Europe, I wasn’t surprised to note that even though it was dull outside, the image stood out and seemed quite intense under the stairs.
Locatelli uses skulls to symbolise that under our skins, we’re all just the same, a sentiment which resonated with me strongly. He has been campaigning to transform street art into a form of expression, for it not to be seen as vandalism. The image probably had a few skulls scattered within it, however, since it had started pouring outside and kept getting darker, I moved on.
LOCATION: Below the Visit Gent office near the Gravensteen
My next stop was to find the famed ‘The Rabbits’. Making use of Google maps and the ‘Sorry not Sorry‘ map which I’d picked up at the Visit Gent office simultaneously and yet failing to find them, I asked around for directions, only to be told the area had been barred off for repairs! Disheartened I decided to see the next nearest one, just to get lost again and land at the rabbits by chance.
Turned out, the repairs were complete, and I had the place all to myself!
The image was painted by ROA, a native of Gent, another famous artist fixated on animals especially from the rodent family. His art represents life, and life after death in almost all of his paintings, due to which the colors black and white are primarily used by him widely.
Most of the animals in his murals are indigenous to the area, and the artwork sometimes has skeletons and internal organs pictured in it too. To some this may seem repulsive, however, you have to see the murals in person to realize that all the animals look very natural and at peace.
When I first viewed the rabbits, I hadn’t realized that they weren’t actually alive! This is the last wall ROA painted in his hometown somewhere in 2009.
LOCATION: Near Het Templehof service apartments
I then decided to visit the Patershol neighbourhood by taking a detour via the Sluizeken Park in Gent which had two murals by BUE the warrior. There was another street art by Jamz(Jamezon/Jeremiah) before that, so I went to check that out first.
Jeremiah was invited to paint ‘White Cat’ for the White Cat club to simply represent ‘Don’t disturb the neighbours’ and ‘Respect the wall’. Part of the wall was taken down in 2017, so only a part of the mural remained. Saddened a little, off to the park I went.
LOCATION: Outside the White Cat Club
One of the murals in the park was by BUE and Phase, and the other was by BUE and Madame la Belge. While both looked slightly similar, the female character was added by Madame la Belge renowned for characters with huge eyes depicting a lot of emotion. The art here was very vibrant and fun, and possibly that was all it was meant to convey – positivity and humour. BUE aka Dave De Rop has usually kept his work light, something that people could easily connect with, without it being too stressful, something that could make people smile while passing by.
LOCATION: In the Sluizeken Park
The next piece was ‘The Traveller’ by the artist; A Squid called Sebastian (ASCS). One of the most impressive art pieces in Gent (The Rabbits still being my favourite) it was made to convey the life of street artists on the move. ASCS moved to Belgium from Belmont, Massachusetts and this was where he his interest in the arts flourished. After a short stint in advertising which left him feeling unhappy, he went on an art/music tour throughout Europe to increase awareness about the domain, in each city they passed.
He’s always believed that the best way to convey expressions is when they’re something you’ve experienced yourself, your past and surroundings. For this most of his artwork comes from personal encounters, and features a lot of masks that slowly fade to reveal a person’s true identity. Due to his popularity in Gent and Belgium, he’s a regular at most of the festivals here as also at the Art Basel festival in Miami where I look forward to checking some of his work at Wynwood as I’m travelling there next.
LOCATION: Near the Evergreen store on Pierre de Geyterstraat
It was slowly getting dark, and to take a break, I went to the Gruut Brewery in Gent to try some of their hop-free beers. Next to the brewery, I found a collaborative piece by Resto, Buè the Warrior, Kenor, Dhear (Jésus Benítez), Smithe and one by Klaas Van der Linden called ‘Lost at Sea’, a self-portrait showing himself as a fisherman.
Klaas uses dark backgrounds to make his colours and subjects pop; he also prefers the dark as that’s when he feels he can best express people and the surroundings, as subjects in his paintings. Using a mixture of brush and aerosol can, he creates street art that’s puzzling to understand, due to which it lingers in peoples mind for longer. He’s used himself as a subject extensively in a lot of his murals as he believes it’s difficult to get people to stay still or make them reflect what he’d like to convey and conveying one’s own self is the most difficult!
LOCATION: Next to the Gruut Brewery
Continuing my walk, I set out in the direction of ‘Familiezorg’. Another mural I was quite excited to check out was the one by Shosholoza. In this tiny alley, multi-cultural families around the world are painted with smiles on their faces. Another piece that I loved! The artwork was commisioned by Familiezorg, an organisation that takes care of people in need, irrespective of their situation.
LOCATION: Near Cube Menswear on Sint Crispijnstraat
Street art = Werregarenstraat aka Graffiti Street, Gent
The ‘Tolerance Zone’ at Werregarenstraat aka Graffiti Street is the only place many visitors head to when there’s a mention of street art in Gent. It was a long alleyway filled with graffiti on both sides by various artists, one of the very few zones in the city where you could legally paint anything you wish. While some artwork was clear, most of it was scribbles with spray paint. Anybody could paint here as long as the unsaid rule of respecting better artwork and not vandalizing it was adhered to. The ones that did not, were called ‘Toys’ in graffiti glossary.
For more than two decades, the art scene here had been on the change. You’d possibly find something new everytime you come here.
LOCATION: Werregarenstraat, opposite Novotel Centrum
Before finally calling it a day and getting my hands on some Waterzooi, the last stop of the day was at ‘The Monument’s Men’ by Smates based on the Hollywood movie of the same name. As it was based on the ‘Gent Altarpiece’ the mural was made especially for the occasion. The name of the movie was later taken out, but the piece still stands.
Bart Smeets aka Smates usually creates art which comes across as extensions of the wall itself. So you can expect people and animals at the centre of his work; birds breaking through the glass in the wall or eyes peeking through the shutters of a shop. His work of a huge shark breaking through a wall in Brussels got him a lot of attention.
LOCATION: Jan van Stopenberghestraat
It was finally time to go to Pahkuis, a restaurant that resembled a market. The day had involved a lot of walking, and I was happy to have got a chance to view some great pieces of art. I had passed the river Leie many times while getting lost and had spoken to many students and locals who at first were hesitant to talk but approached me later asking me if I was lost and needed help.
I had hardly seen about 5-10% of the art scene in Gent but had definitely felt ecstatic about at least scratching the surface.
Patershol had been imprinted on my mind for good with its charming cafes and smiley faces and while Gent got ready for ‘Drawing Days’, I realized we could all do with more color, compassion and expression in our day to day lives as I devoured some delicious mussels and shrimp croquettes.
PIN FOR LATER!
- There’s more than 140 spots in Gent that have murals. These keep getting updated, however some stay as is. The ‘Sorry Not Sorry’ Map is the best resource to check the latest state of things
- You can access it online however you can always collect a copy from the tourist office near the Gravensteen
- Even if you do access the map you’d still have to use Google Maps or just a plain map for directions
- If you plan on checking a lot out, it’d be best to group them by locality
- Do note than there’s more than one Tolerance Zone in the city however the most popular one is in the city centre
Looking to head off to the islands to catch some sun and sea? Why not head to Mykonos? All details here!
I was hosted by Visit Flanders and Visit Gent however as always all opinions are my own.
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