Swiss born street artist Bustart is inseparably connected to the starting of CFYE. In 2006 – 2008 Kaymir and I roamed the streets of our hometown Amsterdam taking pictures of the tons of stickers, stencils, paste-ups and installations that were out here. Through Flickr we discovered that half of these were the works of Bustart and that he (surprisingly) wasn’t even from Amsterdam but from Basel! It turned out that Bust fell in love with Amsterdam a long time ago and even though he was living in Swiss, was one of the most active street artists out here. Since a year Bustart moved to Amsterdam with his girlfriend and fellow artist Zaira and he continues blessing the Amsterdam streets with well executed and original street art work. As Bust was one of the first artists we ever ‘interviewed’ a catch-up was long overdue so I sat down and had a smoke with Bust, discussing his artistic career, gentrification and many more subjects. I hope you’ll enjoy this interview with Bustart!
” I do remember that the first time I was here I said that I was going to live here one day.”
Arrival in Amsterdam
“The first thing I came here for was for weed, like every younger guy from Europe. I do remember that the first time I was here I said that I was going to live here one day. After that I came out to Amsterdam one or more two times, and then eight years ago I met Ives and I came out here like four times per year. My brother was studying in Arnhem and I could stay at his place.”
“Yeah, I remember the first time I came here I couldn’t find one single place to buy a spray can or a marker or anything so I had to buy fucking Edding markers. The times after I always took my spray cans with me from Basel, by train. One time when I arrived I was walking with my brother when we realized we smelled something. I looked behind me and there was a line of paint all the way down the street. It turned out a chrome can exploded, ruining all my clothes! Then I met Ives and he showed me you could by cans at the Waterlooplein Market.
I instantly found Amsterdam to be very relaxed compared to Switzerland, where you get a 500 euro fine just for smoking weed somewhere, or 10.000’s of euro’s fine for spraying wall. Comparing it from that point, Amsterdam was really attractive.”
” I also realized that you can tag the city for over five years and it’s just there. You can also put the image up of a boy 50 times and people come up to you that recognize your work. “
After I was jailed for graffiti, I was kind of scared to go out and bomb every night like I did before. Then, in a book, I came across this great way of expressing yourself without graffiti vandalism. It was something that allowed me to do more ‘damage, or give me a bigger name in a ‘legal’ way (or at least it wasn’t perceived as illegal as people didn’t know where to place it) than regular graffiti.
At the other hand, Switzerland had absolutely no street art scene whatsoever back then. There was one guy making posters and this girl who did stickers everywhere. One time I read an interview with this girl in a book, and one of the questions was what her most exciting experience was. The answer was a dull story on how she saw the police when she put up a sticker and they just passed by. And this was in a book! I have tons of stories of hiding under trains, sleeping at the track side and other stuff that you can fill books with.
In general, there was nobody really painting or pasting. Everything was put up with scotch tape so when I went out with a big bucket of paste and a brush, nobody had an idea what I was going to do. When I put a poster up on a wall nobody knew where to place it (legal, illegal), except for when it’s their fucking wall and they don’t like it.
In Graffiti I also did characters, so I started to paint the same character over and over just to see how the environment reacted. In different positions, etc. but always the same character. A friend of mine told me it was too much of the same. I felt that it wasn’t more the same or different than painting the same letters in the same kind of style over and over again. And I also realized that you can tag the city for over five years and it’s just there. You can also put the image up of a boy 50 times and people come up to you that recognize your work. That was the main reason (I started doing this) and I was the first of all in Basel. I made the first installation, the first big stencil and that kind of stuff. Back then I was already reading that street art was ‘over’ in America, and it didn’t even reach Switzerland yet! So I started writing various street artists and other people started putting up posters and stuff in Basel. My girlfriend (Zaira) also started pretty soon after that, just because she was bored sitting next to me while I was painting or cutting for hours and hours. Next she saw me painting a poster at home to put up outside later on, which already is much more relaxed than painting outside.”
” There’s this line of approximately two meters and within that, everything gets buffed. Everything above that line doesn’t get touched.”
“As I came here, I was inspired by Morcky, the last London Police things on the streets. Those guys inspired me to do something different everytime I came. In street art I didn’t just wanted to cut my logo and do the stencils. (For example) That’s why I carried tons and tons of Styrofoam, they were fun to produce and fun to put up and fun to see. That’s also when I saw a news item about Google street view. I went on it and checked for Amsterdam and found loads of my work, I went to Barrio Alto in Lisbon and also found all my Styrofoam works! At that time I also started to recognize the two meter buff line. There’s this line of approximately two meters and within that, everything gets buffed. Everything above that line doesn’t get touched.”
“One time I made this bear out of cardboard and I stuck it up on a shop front on Damrak. This guy climbed up to take it down and then got arrested because the police thought he was stealing shop decoration. The guy convinced them to ask the shopkeepers who declared it wasn’t theirs. He send me an e-mail to tell me this story. I told him it wasn’t cool he took my stuff down, but I hope he learned his lesson, haha.”
The point is, if you make something from which people don’t know if it belongs there or not, they mostly leave it just to be sure. Nobody likes to take the responsibility in case it does belong there.
The first posters and things I put up didn’t stay up more than a week because I didn’t know how to make the glue and stuff. Now I have a whole list of things I need to take with me on my trips. In Lisbon I had to search for a bucket and a brush for over three hours. I ended up using a plastic bag to mix the glue in and using my hands as a brush. So you kind of learn that there are elementary things to take with you.
With the Styrofoam I had tons of things I had to take with me, these were a lot of extra kilos. With Ryanair you had no weight limits for hand luggage though. So I had two bags full of Styrofoam as I went to Lisbon and Amsterdam and they told me I couldn’t take it as they didn’t fit in the example rack. I divided it in six and so I could take it after all. I was the king of hand-luggage, haha. They also gave me a sticker saying ‘cabin-crew luggage’. I think I’ve re-used that sticker more than ten times!”
Every single wall was covered in street art.
“Lisbon is great. Lisbon has some things that Amsterdam doesn’t have like good weather, not so much wind. And also a few things that Amsterdam does have, like good hash and seafood! There was this area which was really great. It used to be one of the poorer areas where all the fishermen lived. They had low rents so it also attracted a lot of students and young people looking for a place to live. Street and graffiti artists came in and painted every house and nobody really cared about it. Every single wall was covered in street art. The first thing I saw over there was a Dolk stencil, after that a Space invader, Banksy, etc. The art and young people attracted small diners and bars which had a big crowd out on the streets after eleven. This raised the interest of all these rich club owners which decided they needed to have a club out there which is painted all black. Next comes Nike to make a Nike store, etc. The second time I came was there it was seven months later and I wanted to show my girlfriend this house covered in Space invaders , but it was now totally black. It was now a social club or so. Around the corner there was nothing; a Nike store and some other old buildings were converted in an Apple store or something like that. We’ve come to a situation where area’s with a lot of young people get re-developed to host the next apple store.”
“I say it’s a petty I didn’t really care about what and where I did my work back then, but I do it now. I always want to leave some kind of message; I don’t just want to stick something to a wall to let it be there. That (spuistraat) is a good spot for that kind of stuff. On a legal wall you could never make something like that. I’d prefer to make more stuff like that. At the other hand there is already so much bad in the world, you don’t have to emphasize it all the time. But, there’s always room for propaganda.”
Staying in Amsterdam?
“Well we live here now. We saved up to live here for one year without working. Now that year has passed by and it’s time to make it work. I do get asked for exhibitions a lot, but if you don’t sell anything at an exhibition it doesn’t matter how many you do. Though I always want to stay true, I don’t do it for the money but because I love to do it. In may I have an exhibition at the Go Gallery and this might be a point to see how it is going. I’ll stay working and you never know, there are people that make a living from it…”
“you can’t tell me that the city council prefers all these commercial posters over a nicely painted wall!”
Gentrification in Amsterdam
“Amsterdam is great. Only the city council is working against us. Most of the people here like the idea of art on the streets. I think there could come more support from the city or government. The city makes a shitload of money on us. There are plenty of street artists like me who come out here to spend their time and money to make art on the streets while they could also do nothing and smoke weed.
Then you might count the people who come over here specifically for street art and that might be only 10 or twenty of them. But then check how much people stop and take pictures of a street art piece it might be up to 500 on one day. Street art and graffiti are part of the flare of this city, in a way. If you clean up everything up here it will lose a part of this. As soon as the city realizes they shouldn’t work as hard against us it would be better. Even if I have permission of a shop or building owner police can come up to me and tell me it’s not allowed because I’m using a spray can or some other weird story.
Actually at the moment I’m seeing the opposite happening; they’re shutting down legal walls and you can’t paint anything anymore. There was one legal spot near the Westerpark where they now put a car park in front. There’s like 10 cm between the cars and the all so it’s impossible to do something out there. You also have the Flevopark hall of fame, which is not legal but ‘tolerated’ as they don’t want to take responsibility for the place. And all of these wooden panels up in Amsterdam; you can’t tell me that the city council prefers all these commercial posters over a nicely painted wall! The shopkeepers and building owners allow us, so why not allow us to paint it? Last time I was painting a shop and the police told me I had to come back at night which was absolutely ridiculous. So what I do now is not talking about Graffiti or street art, I talk about ‘shop-design’. They have no idea what to say about that. There are police officers that just check if you’ve got permission and leave you to it, but there are also guys who just came out of school or something and they know every law literally.”
Cleaning up the whole city?
“I think they can’t. Graffiti is too easy. I also don’t get the point of people calling themselves ‘kings’ just because they tag the whole city. That’s easy, you just have to do it. But as I get older I kind of see a different point of it, I still do tagging when I’m drunk.”
What can we expect from Bustart this year?
“26th of May will be the opening for the exhibition in the Go Gallery. I’ll have some new stuff coming up. I’ve got hundreds and hundreds stencils, it’s a pile up to 1m50 high! (And we even threw out half of them when I moved over here from Basel). They’re no bad stencils, but they’re designed for a grey wall and if you put something on canvas, it should be… fresh! So I’m always trying to experiment and try-out things instead of doing the same thing. If you don’t try something different and never do crazy stuff you’ll find yourself being bored, and I get bored very quickly!
I will also do more of the spray-can birdhouses together with Zaira. They were a lot of fun to make and last year was kind of a try-out on how to produce them, where to place them, etc. This year we’ll make it into
I’d say, expect more quality, definitely. More stuff which is absolutely outside the box, like the hand with the spray-can coming out of the water I made. That kind of stuff I want to do more. Or the piece I made with the KFC head. I hope people take the time to look at it and think about it instead of thinking it’s a KFC commercial.
I’d also like to get my portfolio out there a bit more. There are lots of people out there who’d like to get a design like I make but don’t know where to get it.
Anyway, there are just a few active street artists out here and I think there’s still loads to do!”