BRUSSELS – A street art trail in the Belgian capital has swapped the stroke of a brush for spray paint as it offers a fresh perspective on the work of Dutch-Flemish painter Pieter Brueghel the Elder 450 years after his death.
Fourteen hand-painted murals on the facades of Brussels’ Marolles neighborhood offer a contemporary take on the Renaissance painter Brueghel (b.1525-30 -1569), who is considered one of the foremost influences on Dutch Golden Age painting.
“We can say that Brueghel was from Brussels because he spent most of his life in Brussels and three-quarters of his works were created here,” Jeroen Roppe, a spokesperson for Visit Brussels, the city’s tourism agency behind the project in tandem with artist collective Farm Prod, told EFE.
One of the modern takes, by Arno Debal, is based on a Brueghel self-portrait. In the reinterpretation, which looms over the popular Jeu de Balle square, the artist has mixed clear lines (Herge’s characteristic style in the “Tintin comics) and tribal references, characterized by geometric patterns.
The portrait is set to a backdrop of letters that spell out some of the words used the neighborhood’s slang, such as “amigo,” which is ironically used to refer to a police officer.
The work modernizes this portrait and includes an alphabet with the words that are heard daily in the neighborhood, among them, the Spanish noun “amigo,” which in street slang is used ironically to refer to a “police station.”
“Brueghel’s works are full of detail and I tend to put a lot of information into my creations,” the artist told EFE.
Debal and his companions knocked on the door of the owners of the buildings to personally ask for authorization to turn their facade into a giant canvas. In most cases the response was positive.
According to Debal, communication between the artists and the local residents is normally positive because, for him, it is easy to strike up a conversation with the “popular classes” at street level.
“When we work like this, people will come up to us and say it looks great or, more rarely, they’ll say – ‘I don’t like it, I don’t like that’ or ‘grey? why grey?’” he said.
For Debal, the Brueghel tour “brings something positive to the neighborhood” because it makes people “pay attention” to what is around them and take their time to observe it, giving “a new value” to that place.
Roppe agreed. He said the project had connected the neighborhood’s residents with art.
“In the artistic field, Brussels has much to offer,” he said.
Les Marolles is known for being the neighborhood of Brueghel as well as for its popular flea market, which was one of the stages of the film “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn,” directed by Steven Spielberg in 2011.
In addition, the neighborhood was once home to a large Jewish community, many hundreds of whom were rounded up in 1942 to be brought to the Malinas transit camp north of Brussels, before being deported to the Auschwitz death camp run by the German Nazi regime in modern-day Poland.
Dozens of golden paving stones created by the German artist Gunther Demnig, internationally known as “stolpersteine” (stumble stones), pay homage to the victims of the Holocaust.
Today, more than 150 paintings full of color adorn the grayest corners of Brussels, a city where graffiti is part of the natural surroundings.