The freedom of art

By Annewil Schippers

(Contributed reporting Dimitra Karapanagiotou)

Chances are you’ve probably seen the artwork below before. The mural, painted onto the wall next to the police station in the centre of Groningen, is one of the pieces that both Klaas Lageweg and the city are known for. What many don’t know, however, is that Lageweg has installed numerous other artworks around the city. We talk to him to discover what else there is, besides the pigeon, and how he identifies himself as an artist.

Klaas Lageweg’s mural at Rademarkt, titled “Vervlogen Tijden” (Time Flies)

“I’m so sorry, I wasn’t expecting you, I must’ve mixed up the times!” Klaas Lageweg (40) says, while he lets us into his house. Nevertheless, he welcomes us cordially, and so does Billy, his two-year-old dog that Lageweg adopted off the streets of Spain recently. The house is what you would expect from an artist: filled with CDs, plants, and of course, his own artworks.

Lageweg started his career early, as he always enjoyed drawing as a child. But he never went to art school. Only later on in life, he got into graffiti and realised that making art was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. “I was standing naked in front of the mirror when I was 18 and I was thinking what I wanted to do. And I thought about this. ‘This is what I wanna do’. And I did it. So my dream came true.”

Now he makes art that he himself calls “mural art” or “paintings”. His art is known for its bright colours and pixelated details, which Lageweg coined as “realpixelisme”.

Part of what made this dream so appealing to Lageweg was the idea of freedom of expression. For him, making art is a way of living autonomously, of living life his own way. “In my early life I thought I wascrazy, but now I turned it around and think: ‘you are crazy’,” says Lageweg. He follows his own course: “Are you with me? Great! Are you against me? Fuck off!”

That freedom of expression now also comes with literal freedom for him. Lageweg has established himself as an artist, and this way he is able to choose his assignments. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out with customers: “They tell me ‘I don’t want this’, okay, ‘bye bye!’. You have to learn to say ‘no’,” he says.

Freedom to choose is crucial for the art Lageweg makes. Because even though he is known for more manifest works, like the pigeon at Rademarkt, many of his murals are located in places that are hidden. Lageweg likes the obscure, the unknown. He tries to constantly create a feeling of anonymity. And as long as he is satisfied with the artwork and can add it to his collection, it doesn’t really matter if the location is popular or not. “Every place has its own fantasy,” according to Lageweg. Especially if that place is “fucked up” and “spooky”.

Lageweg’s favourite mural in this category is the one he painted onto Fort La Chartreuse in Liège, Belgium. The fort is completely abandoned, but it is a popular Urbex spot, visited by photographers from all over the world, looking for the thrill of sneaking into places that are under tight watch.

Klaas Lageweg’s mural at the Colosseum skatepark, titled “Give me the food and let me grow”

But in Groningen, too, Lageweg has left his mark in unexpected places. Take the Colosseum, on the outskirts of the city. The large concrete building, mainly used as a skatepark, is covered in graffiti and mural art, including a colourful bird that Lageweg painted in 2016.

However, nowadays, the artwork is completely covered in ivy. But Lageweg doesn’t really care. In fact, he was aware that the piece would eventually disappear under the ivy, even before he made it. “They were already busy trimming the tree on the wall, but I said ‘No, stop! I want to see it!’ Because I want to put the piece into the environment like it is. So I played with that,” he says.

Klaas Lageweg’s mural at Oosterpoort, titled “The Pheasant”.
Looking at this photograph, he said “kids play balls and I spray walls”, quoting another mural artist.

The role of the environment is also why many of his works are centred around birds. But the eye plays a large role in his murals too. “The eye is the soul of everybody, it’s like a diamond. But people hardly pay attention to them,” Lageweg says. Just like the “Pheasant”, one of his murals in the East of Groningen, people pass by the things that really matter, the hidden corners, without stopping to take them in.

“We’re in a rat race,” he says. “School, work, making money. After this interview, you’re probably running off to get back to university in time and write the article. It never stops. The whole system is ready to collapse. So we’re living on the edge with a lot of people on this planet. But could I change it? Maybe, yes. Maybe with my art.”

Lageweg believes art can help us through self-expression and identification. “Maybe we all have ‘it’, but it’s hidden, by society,” he says. “We have to break that wall.”