Often, street artists are defined by their graffiti on abandoned buildings and old train tracks. They create amazing and unique masterpieces seemingly out of nowhere in the delight of the people who come across their art while walking towards their destination. But Dutch street artist, Jan Is De Man, has other plans and is not willing to give in with the norm. He aims to create projects ‘where everyone can identify themselves’ by asking for the involvement of the residents’ who commission him. He thinks that doing so will connect his lively artworks with the community itself. Jan Is De Man’s most recent presentation to his neighborhood is a creative three floored trompe l’oeil mural bookcase on an apartment building in Utrecht, Netherlands. He was aided in the project by his fellow street artist Deef Feed who he has successfully worked with in past projects. Deef Feed and Jan Is De Man are also partners on running their very own tattoo shop named “Blackbook Tattoos” located in the center of Utrecht.
Jan Is De Man said on an interview, “I know the people who live on the ground floor very well. They’ve wanted a mural by my hand for a while. They also wanted to let me feel free in my design as long as it would bring something positive to their neighborhood. The first idea was to paint a smiley. A very big smiley. Because I believe people become happier when they see a smiley every day. But this idea didn’t feel complete, it felt too simple.”
After studying his canvas he came up with the idea for an l’oeil mural – “visual illusion in art, especially as used to trick the eye into perceiving a painted detail as a three-dimensional object.” He added, “I studied the shape of the house and the location where this house stands in and suddenly the idea of making a huge bookcase hit me. I love making illusions on walls and I like to see smiles on people’s faces and this idea (I thought meanwhile) could bring all this together.”
The residents of the neighborhood also got involved in the artistic process which was the original concept of the Dutch artists, “We entered the community by asking people for their favorite books and we were able to put 8 languages and cultures together in the same concept. Everybody, every age, every culture, every language was welcome. The only rule I set up to participate in this art project was: no political books and no religious books. Besides that every book title was welcome.”
The two partners took a whole week of working full time to make this project idea to reality. And they did, the concept that was just on paper is now on the wall of an apartment building. He has said that the most challenging part about the whole project was the initial planning, “think most of the time the most difficult [part] is to get the right concept, that fits the wall, that fits the neighborhood. But when you got the right idea, then there is not much difficult.”
They have successfully managed to encapsulate the spirit of the residents and fellow artists of the neighborhood with the giant bookshelf containing their favorite books. When asked what his favorite titles on the giant shelf are he responded, ” I am fond of “ the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime“ written by Mark Haddon And of course the Playboy.”
Now that the mural has been unveiled and officially done, it has not only been successful in bringing the neighbors together but also became a bona fide selfie spot for those with literary cultures. “The neighborhood where this work was made is filled with different cultures. And I’ve noticed that this project brought (and hopefully for as long as it lasts) people together without pushing it. They meet each other through books. Regardless of the differences in cultures, regardless of the differences in political point of views. Regardless of being extreme right or extreme left.”
All we can do now is to wait for the next project for these excellent muralists. “there is a lot of things coming, but I don’t like to tell plans, because I believe that if you tell your plans, they don’t work. It sounds corny, but in the end, actions speak louder than words.” Even though this recent project is ultra cool, we can almost be sure that the next one they will make will also be better.