A graffiti story from Amsterdam

She was one of three sprayers who attracted attention in Amsterdam in the early 80s. Valeska Meist, alias Vampirella, was 13 years old at the time and, inspired by punk and hip-hop culture, she soon put the skills she had learnt at graphics school to good use elsewhere. Through other sprayers, she found her way illegally onto locked railway premises in the then harsh Dutch metropolis and began spraying there. Today she is on the cover of the catalogue for the exhibition "Illegal", which is currently on show at the Historisches Museum Saar.

Marita Brinkmann asked Valeska Meist about her memories as 'Vampirella' and what she does today.

Vampirella in front of her piece from 1985 in the exhibition ‚Illegal‘ Foto: KP Flügel

You are on the cover of the catalogue for this exhibition? How do you like it? Do you think you will receive a late honour with this exhibition?

It’s quite funny. For my perspective, I feel like I have been only for three seconds in graffiti. That is not true. I was there doing it for a couple of years, but it feels like such a tiny moment in history. And then I made the cover of the book,  between all these big people who are historical figures. And then me on the cover. It’s such an incredible honour. And also sort of a coincidence, because the picture was typical for the exhibition or it has some connection to the name. And of course, because police is in the picture. It’s a funny coincidence, and I feel honoured, of course.

It all was illegal what you did, had you ever trouble withe the police? To do something illegal, was it a special kick?
A friend of mine (Zap) had a key tot he subway-system and we explored the nuclear hide-out and wrote around there. That was a kick. Being inside closed stations at night, crawling to hide from camera’s over the rails, yes exiting.

At the beginning of the 80s, during the punk era, I was 13 and used the name Perenix. Only with markers. Then I had an accident in the halfpipe while rollerblading. (1981) I lost my front teeth and got the nickname Vampirella because that’s what I looked like. Later shortened to Vampi. Again, some time later, like many others, I was inspired by hip hop culture, plus I was in graphics school and many graffiti writers were in the same school. It was an exciting and inspiring atmosphere.

Spray cans were way too expensive for a teenager, so you had to steal them to get some. It wasn’t my hobby and it scared me. I felt that spraying graffiti was less scary and somehow less illegal than stealing spray cans.

Who or what inspired you to do graffiti in the first place? How can one imagine Amsterdam at that time? What did you want to express with your graffiti?
Amsterdam was in the beginning of the eighties a bit of a rough city, poor, squatting was the almost the norm, (i grew up in a formerly squated schoolbuilding) lots of junkies but also a lot of exiting things were happening. Punk concerts in Paradiso, riots when squats were evaded, free concerts at Vondelpark. (still are but way different)
Graffiti just seemed natural in this envirement.
Expression was not so much of a thing just puberty i guess J
We were experimenting and graffiti was also a part of it.

Why was it such a short time you did graffiti?

Because I had so many other interests. I was into skateboarding. I was into roller skating. And very soon after this picture was taken, I already started to work as a decoration painter.

So what what can you say about a woman and graffiti at that time? And was it hard? What are your experiences

Well, yeah, I think so. There was a lot of misogyny  attitude. Back then and still is today.
Well, yeah, I thing so. There was a lot of misogyny attitude. Back then and still is today. And as you can see in the book, there is another picture and it says whore on the face of the doll that I made. If you look closely you can see somebody wrote HOER (whore, or hooker) on the dolls face. In the picture I am trying to cover it the day after and I am restoring the picture.

And I don’t know why they called me a hooker. A little ahead. A hooker because obviously I was not so, so ugly. Really? Yeah it is. And of course, I think it is also about jealousy often because I got back then already a lot of attention because I was at t the time one of the three other girls who were doing graffiti in Amsterdam. So I think there was also jealousy happening.


Is that the reason you stopped working in Graffity?

No no no no, not at all. I couldn’t care less. You can call me whatever you like. What you want.

Where did the hostility come from? From the male sprayers, from the public or, as you have already indicated, from the other girls?

No Way! The other girls are my friends!
And the hostility was not thát bad. The picture on the cover of this book was taken on the same day as the other picture.  Also geographically very close.
I guess there was some dumb people around with a marker and a lighter being jalous and perhaps drunk on queensnight.

What you’re doing now?

After that, I became a decoration painter for advertisements. Billboards, cars, quite big, a sort of set designer. The paint-work I did was for around 2 years. After that I have worked as stand-by hand props/setdresser for 32 years for movies, television series and commercials.

And now I’m a skipper on a boat., I got to burn out like everybody. And then I changed my profession, and I’m very happy on the boat. I cycle along the canals in the centre of Amsterdam and tell people about the history of the city.