A Mascot and a Monster
“For me, it’s like a mascot and a monster at the same time,” Nouch says as she sips hot tea in her sunny Amsterdam office. Originally from Alkmaar, the Dutch artist, illustrator, and graphic designer has lived in Amsterdam for 15 years and she frequents the local museums. She says in Dutch culture, it’s not so common to depict the negative in illustration. But Nouch guesses most people spend about half of their time on things they don’t like, so for her, it’s important to create illustrations which don’t hide “the darker side of life.”
Laughing, Nouch says her work fits “mostly to a low brow art scene.” She has a talent for creating whimsical black and white characters and on her website, she calls some of her pieces “abandoned drawings looking for a home.” The artist conceived the idea of orphan drawings when she decided to start abandoning her drawings on the café tables upon which they were drawn, hoping for them to be adopted by a stranger.
But much of her art is far from homeless – her illustrations can be found on t-shirts, in Elle magazine, in the Volkskrant, on Teastreet tea packaging, tattooed, and even on a national Dutch postage stamp. Most recently, Nouch has begun working bigger. “I like to use my body in my work,” she says, “I like to use my arms to stretch out or to climb or to go back and forth to see if something works. So I had this idea to work bigger and I thought I could use the streets as a sketchbook.”
Airhead – The dirty air eater of Spinozahof
A colleague offered Nouch a nearby shipping container where she painted 3 inky creatures with oversized heads. Nouch explains, “I called them Airheads…because I like balloons a lot, I like things that can float, but I also thought it kind of represented us as being empty heads.”
Nouch didn’t know at the time that her big-headed three would become predecessors to a more meaningful – and more literal – Airhead. She recalls discovering the Italian company Airlite, who manufactures paint which purifies the air, “…and I thought what the f*ck, why is everybody not using this? I mean we are living in such a dirty world, no?”
A designer friend then told Nouch about Air Ink, an Indian company manufacturing ink from New Delhi smog which she said combined with Airlite was “perfect, because…the white is cleaning, so the white is pure and it really is good, and then we have the black that represents the bad. It’s really the dirt itself.” She united these paints on a Spinozahof street building to create another Airhead – a fanciful grinning character she calls “the dirty air eater of Spinozahof.”
Nouch is the first artist to use Air Ink in the Netherlands and she hopes her work will create a snowball effect prompting other artists to adopt the environment-cleansing paints. She divulges that a third Airhead installation is underway on a social building near her office – although she notes she doesn’t always create her characters on her own desk.
“I draw a lot in cafes and I try to find spots that are very different from each other,” Nouch reveals, saying, for example, she prefers to vary her working cafe visits between affluent areas and those that are more impoverished. “I try to listen,” she says, “I’m listening and I’m drawing. That’s how I work.”
Nouch professes her characters are born from her hand and body more than her mind. She recounts, “I make my hands work and then I react.” She says she also reacts to her surroundings while she is creating which is one reason she favors drawing while eavesdropping in cafes across the city. In this way, the people who visit Amsterdam become part of her work.
As a long-time resident, Nouch considers Amsterdam culture to be an important part of who she is. Besides the capital city and its famed museums, the artist names a few other muses – various art books, the visual artist William Kentridge, the Italian street artist Blu. She also shares that her drawings are connected to her own inner world. Clutching a sketchbook in one hand and a cooling cup of tea in the other, she muses that her influences are all “very dreamy, and that’s the world that I fit in I guess.”
Images provided by the artist