The graffiti artist Niclas Hatwig is better known to many under the name AMBER, which he also paints in his artworks. Sometimes with colorful characters. He has been involved with urban art since his youth, but not only paints himself, furthermore he organizes great events and gives workshops. In 2017 he created the jam series “Das Dreckige Dutzend” or in English “The Dirty Dozen”. As the title suggests, initially 12 participants were planned to design a bridge wall near Frankfurt’s Westbahnhof. At last year’s jam there were already almost 40 participating artists, and more than 50 are already planned for this year in September. AMBER connects the art scene and offers a great creative platform.
With IG Farbschicht, AMBER goes one step further and tries to gain more free spaces for artistic design through communication and bureaucratic means. Not just for himself, but much more for anyone who wants to paint. You can register on the platform and get an insight into orders and inquiries from potential customers. AMBER acts as a mediator here and not only supports clients and artists finding each other more easily, but also helps to make the cityscape more colourful. Together with graffiti veteran Jörg Kuberek – the operator of Mainstyle – AMBER is currently working on a comprehensive book on the origin and development of graffiti in Frankfurt.
We had Niclas Hatwig aka AMBER in the show x-wie-raus on Radio X and talked about his work. The podcast is in German, but below is the written conversation translated into English. Peppered with many great works of art by AMBER from the past years.
AMBER is your artist name. You always spray the name and you use it as well on your channels and your website www.amber197.de. Tell us how you got into graffiti and for how long have you been painting.
I think I went on the classic path that many also have taken. In 1984 breakdance was popular with me. I grew up in the Frankfurt neighbourhood Seckbach in the high-rise buildings on Atzelberg Street and in 1980 we moved to Heinrich Lübke Street in the district Praunheim. Of course there were a lot of people then, including the cool guys. BMX was also popular there. So from 1982 to 1984, for about three years. And then in the daycare center at the table tennis play, someone came with a sketch on paper and said, look here, that’s graffiti writing. At first I didn’t understand and know what to do with it. I had never heard of that or seen anything like it. He said, you have to try that. So I did it and got stuck right away. Then in the summer of the same year we somehow started fiddled around with the cans. One tag you can actually see even today. That was in 1987. And yes, that’s when I got stuck to Graffiti till today.
You painted a lot yourself over the years and beautified many places. But at some point you thought the jams you always go to are super cool. You could organize one yourself. Or how was that with ‘Das Dreckige Dutzend‘ (The Dirty Dozen)?
No, that wasn’t quite the thought actually. So yeah, I’ve been to a lot of jams. Naturally. That was also a real great time. Especially in the 90s. But actually The Dirty Dozen came about because I was looking for a surface for myself to paint on. So for legal painting. Then I spoke to the city council and told them that I have an area which is great. „How is it, would it be possible to get the wall for painting on?“ They were open for it and we went there together to inspect the wall. I was a bit embarrassed because the wall space was just way too big for me alone. I had delusions of grandeur. But then I thought about something at short notice and in the conversation immediately I asked what they would think of making a kind of event out of it. Of course at first their faces showed quite a lack of understanding and perplexity. „How and what event? We don’t understand.“ Then I went home, thought about it for a moment and put together a website. I sent them an email the same day or the next and said „Look here, everything is on the website.“ That was kind of ‘fake marketing’.
According to the motto, we’ve been doing this for years.
Yes, yes, exactly. After that they were very surprised. We went to the wall again and met there. That was actually the starting shot. Then I checked how many people I could get on the wall. There were about 12. That’s how many would have fit on the space. Then I thought, I still have to give the thing a name. That’s how the name came about. Das ‘Dreckige Dutzend’ or in English ‘The Dirty Dozen’.
So initially twelve participants, meanwhile there are almost three times as many. Almost 40 artists were there once. So the first event was in 2017?
Yes, exactly. 2017 in the Frankfurt district Bockenheim at the bottom of the Breitenbach Bridge. And every year since then we’ve made another wall. The idea was to do it every year, but with a different cast. So that you can say, last year those artist took part and next year other artists will come. So the idea was to mix it up every year. But in the meantime it has turned out that the composition of participant is actually very suitable. It’s so harmonious and people are always happy to see each other again. But of course others want to come along too. And I don’t want to leave anyone out either. So that’s a bit of a balancing act that I have to do somehow. Around 50 participants are already planned for this year. Next year it might be a thousand. No idea. That’s the problem, but I think it actually works quite well. The ulterior motive is that we take some from the old school, but also a lot of new artists. And I also want to give beginners the opportunity to paint with those who have been at it for a long time. It’s an opportunity they might not otherwise have.
If anyone wants to see the works, there are quite a few in town. The first thing I noticed from you was this comic wall. Shortly before that you had done this topic with the urban jungle there. But unfortunately it was then bombed and destroyed.
This comic wall was, so to speak, a repair campaign. The city tried to fix the previous one and the company that did it meant too well and actually took down half the wall in the process. Then we just brushed it over. The initial hope was that we could simply brush out the areas again. But then we painted it over completely. So the concept before that was more bad than right. There were different opinions about it. Then we thought we’d do it again in a similar style, but actually as a comic. Then each artist can fill his field from top to bottom and from left to right. It ended up being a really cool thing.
You were at the ‘Jugendhaus am Bügel‘ (Youth Center) in 2021 for an event. The ‘Character Jam’ always takes place there and and last year was also the tenth anniversary, so ten years of ‘Character Jam’. You for the previous edition you teamed up with them and then the event was like ‘Character Jam & The Dirty Dozen’ together over a whole weekend.
Yes, that was great! I was looking for an area where I can accommodate a larger number of painters and also a location that offers the appropriate infrastructure. So sanitary facilities, electricity and maybe a stage. The plan was to start a jam. So there was already an event planned in the youth center in 2020, but it then burst due to Corona. I wanted to tie something to the classic jams of the 90s. So this typical jam character with fun, breakerdancers, MCs and people meeting. So really cool and easy. The youth center simply offered their space for this. They have already stood for Hip Hop and Graffiti since the 80s and are famous for it. They said, the idea is great. They also always have the annualy Character Jam which I know. Last year they actually had their tenth anniversary. Then they said, let’s just put it together. I answered, yeah, cool, let’s do that!
The music is also very important to mention, so Hip Hop. It’s not just about painting, but you always also have some music artists there. The two genres just fit and belong together. And last year the awesome Dübel Brüder were there too. So Kanibal Fresh and the Glöckner. They also made a show there with their music and rap lyriks. So it’s an event where Hip Hop and graffiti are equally presented.
Yes, exactly. So the scope was planned to be a bit larger. That breakdancers would come too and maybe a few DJs and stuff like that. But the situation wasn’t clear and you couldn’t tell until shortly before the date whether it was going to happen or not. That was shaky and unsure for many. Therefore many took other opportunities or just canceled them altogether. We’ll see how it goes this year.
You’re already in the planning stages for this year’s edition of the Dirty Dozen. I’ve seen you had already posted that planning phase 1 is finished and you are in phase 2. So yeah, there’s something great coming up in September.
Yes, work in progress. Not sure yet which weekend in September it will be. But maybe the second or the third weekend. So around that time.
So the people have to put it in their calendar and keep the days free. And if anyone is passing by the youth center in Frankfurt Bonames in the near future, it’s worth to take a look at the artworks there. I was even there this morning because I drove past and I wanted to take a few more photos. I noticed that they were busy remodeling. But the concept walls and the whole front, that’s all still relatively untouched. All your works are still very nice there. There is also a new football field coming and it is being renovated nicely. Which could also mean that there will probably be some new white walls to paint on again.
Yes, probably. That was also a bit of a shame last year. Because on the soccer field they had such long and large wooden walls on both sides. Unfortunately we couldn’t paint them in September, because the workers were constructing then. So it took them a year to get started. Not the youth center, but the executing company. And they just started exactly the weekend before our event. Therefore we couldn’t paint these awesome walls. Let’s see if they rebuild or put them up again when the construction site is gone. That would be very cool.
You also have a section on your website called ‘DD Aerosol Queens‘. There you’re also trying to set up a women’s team, where only femal artists will spray.
Yes, exactly. The thought arose a while ago. There are really good female painters out there. But there are some of them who then say they don’t really dare to take part in the jam because people then say things like ‘Fame Bitch’ or others then hang around them all the time. And then it was often said that they would like to do something with other women. Then we thought, yes, why not. The proportion of female painters is now increasing. That’s awesome. But nonetheless, there are many female artist who say: „No, we don’t want that. We prefer to keep to ourselves.“ Therefore the idea came up of holding a women-only event at the same time. Why not. So female writters can check our website and contact me.
There is also a gallery section with many beautiful photos from recent years. There are also videos and you even have a drone. So it’s worth taking a look there. And there is also ‘DD in your city‘. This means that if someone is listening (or reading) from further away, or even from a closer city like Aschaffenburg or Darmstadt, then they can also get in contact. You know how to organize events and jams like that. If they provide the place and support, you bring the artists.
Yes, exactly. So the idea came about when someone actually wrote to me and said he came from another city and saw the event here in Frankfurt. To have something like this in his own town would be a very cool action and there is nothing like that around his place. Then I said: „Yeah cool, we could do that there too!“ So we could offer something like that. And it’s actually the case that I was in another city last year and had talks there and looked at locations. And tomorrow I’ll be in another city and look at things there. So it may be, or better said, it probably will be, that the event will not take place in Frankfurt this year.
But the exact city is still a secret?
Yes, that remains secret. Because I’m still weighing up which of the two cities it will be now. So it will not replace Frankfurt in the long run. Actually, it would have been nice to do it at the same time, but this year it won’t actually be in Frankfurt but somewhere else. But it’s not too far away.
What a pity. You would have to do it in such a way that there always a new event gets added and they all take place.
That was the plan. But as far as the areas in Frankfurt are concerned, it’s difficult. The idea was also to continue at Schmick Street in the Frankfurt district Ostend, but unfortunately the company who owns the property didn’t react. And the city didn’t care about it. So then you just look around for alternatives and other options.
Of course you want to do your thing. If it takes longer here and someone else is open to it, then you just go there. Because you want to paint.
Then we come to the second association or interest group of yours. Namely the ‘IG Farbschicht‘. Tell us about it. The concept is a bit different and some people may not know about it yet.
I was always on the lookout for legal painting surfaces. By now I‘m already firmly in my job and have a family, so I‘m not out at night like that anymore. But I still want to paint. And of course, there are now many legal areas. But the more I get and find, the better. But when I talk to people, companies or municipalities, they are always a bit skeptical at first. Of course, they also want to see something. Then, of course, I put something together again and can present a website or photographs as a result. On the interest society ‘IG Farbschicht“ gives an explanation of how it all works and also tries to take away the skepticism. The idea is actually to organize legal areas. So not just for me, but for everyone. That means that places and walls are made accessible. It shouldn’t be the case that the approval is then only up to me and I’m the one responsible and have to be there every time. But it should be that everyone can go there. This has already worked in a few cases. For example in the cooperation with the city of Frankfurt, that was quite good. I’m currently working on two or three more things. It has now also developed in such a way that people actually contact me via the website with orders or workshops. But because I don’t always have the time or muse to do all that, I set up a kind of database and put all the information in there. You can then create an account and see everything and then choose an order or a workshop. I don’t want to get paid for it or anything like that for myself. I’m happy if I can bring people together by this tool.
You just want to mediate and bring people together. And the city will be a bit more colourful. There is more variety on the facades and in the urban world.
Yes, exactly. I’m just conveying that. The client is happy and the artists who want to paint and earn some money are happy too. So that’s what it’s all about. The website is easy to find at www.farbschicht.org.
It is also nicley managed on your plattforms that the pages and channels are always linked and connected with each other. There are the social media channels with the ‘Dirty Dozen‘, then with your website or Youtube for AMBER you can find the links to the other sites again. So it’s worth browsing around and if someone is interested in taking part, or has ideas or orders, then they can just write to you.
I have a little surprise for you here. Namely Holger aka ‘Glöckner’ from the ‘Dübel Brüder‘ sent me a cool new track. So ‘Glöckner’ and ‘Kanibal Fresh‘. They are often an integral part of your events. And we’re going to play a track from them now.
What is still important and what we also need to talk about is the upcoming Graffiti Frankfurt Book. This has also been in the works for a while now. This project you are doing together with photographer Jörg Kuberek from Mainstyle and Marco. Some time ago when you were still at the beginning of your work, you have been on Radio X in a show of Double D. It’s been a while now, but it’s also a huge project. What is the current status of things?
Well, I think Jörg had a lot of sleepless nights. He had scanned thousands of photos. Or tens of thousands. So photos of us and which we had received. We checked them all, we viewed and we also delivered a part ourselves. We’ve already written a large number of texts, we’ve conducted many, many interviews and also spent hours with having conversations with people. Which was already really cool! But Corona destroyed that for us again because all the meetings were cancelled. We tried to do it online, but it’s not that great, it’s kind of a half thing. You can’t just throw a few photos over or leaf through black books. That’s just not that exciting with an online conversation.
Yes, it’s just different when you can sit together. You could have called the radio station here via phone, but that would have been different compared to having you in the studio and we can talk directly now.
Yes, exactly. And you also notice at the online meetings that the other person’s concentration may not always be there either, because they might be doing something else at the same time. It is very different to sitting comfortably together in a pub. But nevertheless we already have a large number of texts, we have edited the interviews and have taken many photos. Now in the next part we pour the whole thing into a mold. So that we’ll add some basic photos and then have a rough concept. Marco then makes the layout and he will implement it. But it will still take some more time.
Those who don’t know the project yet, the three of you, have taken on this huge master’s task of writing and creating a Frankfurt Graffiti Book. With interviews with the people from back then and the good old times and with descriptions of how it all started here in Frankfurt.
Yes, from the 80s up to the 2000s at best. We obviously want to tell the story and tell the development as it has evolved to date. Or rather, how it st sill develops, because it continues to develop. It is important to us that we describe a lot of names and bring them in. It shouldn’t just be a three-page spread with showing that Graffiti in Frankfurt is here and there and there. So at the Ratswegkreisel and the big well-known spots. We want to take a real close look, do a lot of research and describe how it all started. Where did it come from? Who were the protagonists of the first hour? Who conveyed it? There are some very cool and interesting connections. This will also be in the foreword. For example, what does former Chancellor Helmut Kohl have to do with Frankfurt Graffiti and Hip Hop? Or music artist Snap or many more. Well, names pop up that you wouldn’t associate with urban art. So with this whole thing, with this whole story that revolves around Frankfurt Graffiti. And you have to say that Graffiti wasn’t first in Frankfurt, but in and around the area. Here we are talking about Bad Homburg and we are talking about Offenbach, so that’s what we’re referring to. And that also includes the neighboring towns and the Taunus district. So that’s an really exciting story.
It’s actually the whole Rhein Main area, or a large part of it. Because it’s all connected. It’s a network, because peoplefrom here go there for painting and vice versa. So the scene is much further than just Frankfurt.
Yes, exactly. And that’s why we also talked to people from Aschaffenburg, Mainz or Wiesbaden. But we’re leaving that out for the time being, because we really want to concentrate on Frankfurt and the neighboring towns, communities or cities. There’s already enough to do.
Corona has now delayed all this a bit, but what do you think so roughly? How’s your plan there? Can you tell if it will still be released this year?
Unfortunately, I can’t say exactly yet. Because now the situation with Corona is difficult again and everything has shut down. This is blocking us again. At the moment we’re hanging in the 90s thematically. Or in the early 90s. But now all the people are coming into the interviews that shaped the 90s and 2000s. And we’re missing a whole swing there. Of course we can also write from our own memories, but we want it to be coherent. And not that the information comes only from us, but through the interviews. That means we’re still missing a lot. And we just can’t make any progress, because if we start again, we’ll be slowed down again. That means we do another one or two interviews and then we have to stop again. It’s really difficult at the moment.
Well, good things sometimes take time. Before releasing it fast and under pressure, it’s better to take your time and do it precisely. It’s supposed to be really cool and then should be THE Graffiti Book for Frankfurt.
Yes, and that’s why it’s important to us that nobody thinks they’re gossips and they announced something and made a big fuss, but nothing happens. So it’s not like that. We would have liked to have delivered long ago, but in some cases our hands are really tied. So we can’t make an appointment with a printer or walk around somewhere and look at something in a relaxed manner. Unfortunately, a lot of things just don’t work at the moment.
The ‘Dirty Dozen’ event series has been running since 2017 and you are constantly developing it further. You also want to broaden this and there are ideas that other artists will get involved in the future. So maybe even sculptures could be exhibited at such an event. So you’re very open to new ideas.
Yes absolutely! It’s also the case that I always try to bring people with different styles together. In 2021, for example, DER KUNSTWERKER was there. He does a lot with a brush and he does very cool things. It doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to the spray can. So someone can also paint with a brush or someone can paint by hand if they want. You can combine that in any way. I would just like to have a little more in the supporting program, maybe other artists who make jewelry or T-shirts, for example. It doesn’t necessarily have to be related to graffiti, but to art. We make this art, they make the other art. And maybe they don’t have many opportunities to present their art in any way or to bring it to the people because they can’t find any space or because nobody is interested to give them places. They can then set up their stand with us and show their things there and offer them for sale. That would be the plan.
At the youth center in Bonames, so this morning I took around 100 photos or more. So I just photographed everything again, because I also thought that if more was to be demolished, then the great things would have to be saved on photos. It’s also such a great place where you can paint on the walls, but there are also different areas in between. Inside the yard you can also do breakdance and make music. So what you are missing are areas or places where you can do something like that. But you also need sponsors who support these events and help you.
Yes indeed. That’s good mentioning it. So sponsorship. The thing is almost a one man show and also non-profit. So we don’t take any entrance fees, nothing sticks with me. That’s not what I’m about. But there is a lot to be done and you can help us with material sponsorship, for example with support of spray cans or food or overnight stays and travel expenses. There are a lot of things needed and to cover. And it is great if you can give something back to the artists. I always think it’s awesome that so many people come to the events and pay for everything out of their own pockets. They make the journey on their own and they also pay for the hotel themselves. But if there is someone who says I think the project is cool and I would like to support it as a sponsor, then of course we are absolutely grateful! Sure, of course! He’s banging on open doors.
Well, I mean, the artists come here and give the city a work of art as a present, so to speak. Wonderful works of art in vain and for free. They simply beautify the city. Now we came to the end. That’s it from our show x-wie-raus on Radio X. Thanks for your visit! At last tell us again about the website and how to find you.
Well, on the one hand, there is the website www.dasdreckedutzend.org about the events. And on the other hand there is the website www.farbschicht.org. There you will find all current information and also a lot of material and photos of past events. There it is explained what this all is about and you can find information on planning and events or upcoming appointments.
Artist: AMBER – AMBER 197 – NICLAS HATWIG
Event Organisator: DDD – DD12 – DAS DRECKIGE DUTZEND
Das Dreckige Dutzend Collection: https://vagabundler.com/germany/streetart-map-frankfurt/das-dreckige-dutzend
Art Society: IG FARBSCHICHT
Graffiti Book: FRANKFURT GRAFFITI BUCH