Hugo Kaagman is a true stencil pioneer, probably the first stencil artist in Europe (in the text below he states that he made his first stencil in 1978, meaning he had stencils out long before Blek le Rat got busy in France). In the USA, John Fekner allready put stencils out in the streets in 1976, but these were texts only, contextualizing the environment.
Hugo has got it all: punk, reaggae, politics, geometric patterns, humor – and a great sense of colour.
I have collected some of his early stencil works and had the pleasure of making a great book book with him: Stencil King, which was published in 2009 by Lebowski Publishers. I interviewed Hugo, asking him about his artistic roots, his love for Africa, for punk, for the do it yourself movement. I transcribed the interviews, and turned them into four ‘prose poems’, each dedicated to one of the decades he has been been active in: from the seventies up till 2010. I am still happy with the result; reading the texts now, six years after, they still evoke Hugo’s mindset.
‘In 1976 I spent three months at Bab Boujeloud in Morocco.
The blue gate of Fez.
I wanted to figure out what to do with my life.
I was actually putting into practice the social geography I’d studied at university.
Those kids who hung around the gate spoke twenty languages, they could tell instantly what country people were from, they were totally high, it was all-round theatre, a ready-made happening.
It was situationism on the streets.
I decided: I’m going to be an artist.
And I thought: there are countless similarities between punk and Africa, the notion that you have only yourself to rely on to get things done is a daily reality here.
I returned to Amsterdam in March of 1977, and became a squatter.
There was a general sense that the end of days was drawing near.
The neutron bomb.
I moved to Amsterdam-East.
Sniffin’ Glue, the punkzine that was also an eye-opener for me, was the example for the KoeCrandt, photocopy art, mail art, but it also related back to Fluxus, just like the happening during the opening of the metro on Weesperplein in September 1977.
What was also funny was that we made it seem like we were this huge army, the city was covered in our names, but all we really were was an army of aliases, a group that consisted of only a few people.
My pseudonym was Amarillo.
Between 1978 and 1982, it was mostly punk graffiti that turned up throughout the city. Dr. Rat wrote all over tram seats, especially tram number 666, and he and Dr. Junk, CAT 22, Attack, Zoot, EGO, N-Power, Mr. Mono, Walking Joint and Vendex put their tags on Waterlooplein.
The driving force, Dr. Rat a.k.a. Dr. Death a.k.a. Frits Zanzibar.
In 1978 he was proclaimed the winner of our Prix de Graffiti, and he died in 1981, from an overdose.
Watching My Name Go By (later re-issued at The Faith of Graffiti) by Jon Naar and Norman Mailer, a book from 1974, was our Bible.
We wrote our names, we wrote for ourselves.
That was punk, too.
It coincided with the emergence of gangs like the Hells Angels and the Kreidler gang that were also based in Amsterdam-East.
After that came punk club DDT 666, founded in 1978 by Dr. Rat, Diana Ozon and me, because they wouldn’t let us in to Paradiso and the Melkweg.
At the club we played punk and reggae, which has always proven a good mix: the calm and dope of the Rastafari somehow matched remarkably well with the aggression and speed of the punks.
All of this under the motto: black and white unite and fight.
I didn’t want to be a punk leader, I wanted to be a hidden persuader. I was also a bit older than most of those other guys. I considered punk an anti-culture, I was more of an ideologist who wanted to put everything into a wider perspective.
The Malcolm McLaren of the Dutch punk movement, if you like.
To me, punk was neo neo-dada, it was the rock ’n’ roll swindle made real, it was our revolt against the generation of 1968, don’t trust the hippies, it was shaping chaos, it was innovative. Our hair was cut short, we had stickers, badges. Do it yourself. Take action. Don’t slip into apathy.
If the world is going to end, this is your last chance.
Pompeii graffiti: if they drop the bomb, at least you’ve written your own epitaph.
I made my first stencil in 1978.’
Stencil King was published by Lebowski Publishers in 2009.
For the book I interviewed Hugo, and wrote four texts: about Hugo in the seventies, eighties, nineties and zeros. The texts were written in Dutch and translated into English by Judith van der Wiel.
Tristan Manco wrote a great introduction: From Waterloo Square to Waterloo Station, referring to Hugo’s monumental work made on many wooden panels around Waterloo Square in Amsterdam in the early 80ties, till the invite by Banksy, to create work at Waterloo Station (Leake Street) in London, in 2008.