Spelen in de Stad (Playing in the City)

Piet Parra

In the heart of the Jordaan neighbourhood, alongside the Tuinstraat on the facade of the Theo Thijssenschool, you will find a mural saying ‘Ik speel in de stad – met alles wat er bestaat’ (‘I play in the city – with all that there is’). The combination of the firm black letters on the white plasterwork can only be made by one artist: the designer and illustrator Piet Parra.

An attentive viewer has probably seen his work in public space on several occasions; not as a permanently installed artwork, but in temporary displays such as posters, flyers or illustrations on T-shirts. If you were part of the urban music scene and skater culture of the 00s, Parra was everywhere; he designed album covers for Rednose Distrikt, flyers for parties in club Bitterzoet, but also designed a Nike Ai Max 1 shoe in a recognisable color palette of magenta, turquoise and dark brown. Typically Parra are the recurring fantasy figures, among them lascivious female figures with a beak, and an apple with legs wearing red high heals.

But in this artwork for an elementary school, the first commission Piet Parra did in the public spaces of Amsterdam (now you can find more), he goes back to the core, with plain typography in black and white. It is a testament to his typographical ingenuity that he can make a vibrant artwork with just these basic elements. The text is a line of poetry from student Lisa van de Schouw, which she wrote for a poetry competition in school. ‘Spelen in de Stad’ not only evokes children’s play, but also skating and graffiti; in which the city, ‘with all that there is’, forms an invitation for creative appropriation.

– Radna Rumping