Street Art Profiles: I Am Eelco
Street artist I Am Eeelco's wall masterpieces pepper our NYC streets and bring a beautiful, dream-like quality to our daily lives. When I first came across one of his striking, geometric, colorful, animal-inspired murals, I was enthralled. As an animal lover and also cubism fan, I was fascinated by the geometric patterns he uses to create his street creatures. Add to that the beautiful color schemes, and it becomes hard for me not to take endless pictures whenever I see one of his stunning murals, whether at Welling Court Mural Project in Queens or in the Lower East Side. I was lucky to catch this street artist from The Netherlands for an interview. Here is what he had to say:
What got you into art?
With my drawing experience I was asked frequently to paint commissions for more character style pieces. From there I painted pieces/letters (Virus) till 2013. My career as an illustrator made me more focused on figurative work. I got bored with painting letters but never had the guts to put my illustrative style on the wall.
I was in Berlin in 2013 for an art fair, and I painted in the early morning before the art fair began. The result was disappointing and I noticed that the letters were blocking me. During the train ride to Berlin, I made a sketch of a cat with the same feel of my graffiti fill-ins and decided to paint this. I went to an abandoned spot and painted this cat at a huge size in a few hours on an illegal spot surrounded with homeless gypsies. It was the right thing to do, finally I was surprised and moved by what I made and the gypsies liked it too! They invited me into their self-made tents/homes and wanted to share their self-made alcohol with me. I was drunk and happy all day at the art fair. From here it all went quick, resulting in a sponsorship with Montana.
Where does the name Eelco come from?
Eelco is my first name. It’s an uncommon name in The Netherlands. Most Eelcos are from the seventies, named after a famous Dutch guitar player from the Dutch Band Cuby and the Blizzards.
Are you a big hip hop fan? Who are some of your favorite hip hop artists?
I’ve been listening to hip hop from the moment it reached my attention on the radio in the mid eighties. Accompanied with graffiti, it was something I listened to a lot. Apart from electronic pop music. With friends making hip hop music, I started making album covers and rolled slowly into illustration work. Most of the hip hop I still listen to are releases from the mid nineties. It became too commercial and I didn’t like the sound of it. Some of my favorites are Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, The Hieroglyphics and Gangstarr.
What was your first street art piece?
Around 86, I started to draw graffiti in my agenda and schoolbooks. I stole my first spray-can at my mother's friends garage and painted my first name, illy-B, on my neighbors shed. I think they knew it was me………
What have been some of your major influences for your distinct style?
I grew up in a small village in The Netherlands.
My hippie mother dragged me to parties when I was young and exposed me to see a lot of psychedelic rock art on the walls. Being around in these creative surroundings was my first influence. I drew since I was little and noticed the hip hop culture around '86 and was hooked. I've always been a rebel and graffiti was the perfect way to express this. I was a fanatic skateboarder since the eighties and its graphics have been a big influence too. I have a big collection of original skateboards from that period on my walls at home and enjoy watching these hand screened decks every day. My work now is a mixture of sixties/seventies, graffiti from the eighties and fine art from various decades.
How long have you been in New York? Do you live in NYC and the Netherlands?
I stayed in Bushwick for a while til the end of 2014. I wanted to feel NY for a longer period than just a short visit. With no expectations, I returned to Rotterdam having painted 10 murals all over NY. The positive response was overwhelming and since then I’ve been coming back monthly for commissioned murals and exhibitions. I’m still based in Rotterdam where my kids live and have my studio. Besides murals and exhibiting, I’m looking to see if there’s an option to teach at SVA or Pratt. Or working as an art director or illustrator /designer.
What do you want people to take away from your art?
My goal I guess is that people get attracted to the work, stop, and get taken away in the moment…away from their smartphone and live in the present. My biggest drive is my passion for the process, the painting and creating. This gives me the most joy. The result should reflect this feeling.
What have you been working on lately?
I’ve produced a serie of new paintings for shows in Amsterdam, NY, Italy, France and Belgium. Currently I’m working on a new website/store. In San Diego I made a mural painting for Sea Walls, and will fly to Chicago and NY for new mural projects. And in my studio I worked on some illustration jobs.
Anything new we should keep our eyes peeled for?
I hope to launch my webshop soon!
What is one of your favorite projects you've done?
The Project for The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam called Dutch masters of light. Where I’ve made a serie of portraits for the Rembrandt exhibition. This project won four awards.
Follow I Am Eelco's beautiful creations at @eelcovirus on Instagram.