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Startt gallery: Behind The Scenes with Puncheur – the Belgian street art collective

Is it street art? Graffiti? Or just another way to express a love of bike racing and for bike racers?

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It started at night on the backroads of Belgium. A loosely formed band of street artists calling themselves Puncheur wanted to honor some of their favorite champions by painting their faces on the roads of the great northern classics. But they also understood that their working methods, inspired by Banksy or other street artists, may be misunderstood by the local inhabitants or authorities.

This time the results were not only more successful but longer-lasting. And, quite literally, Puncheur was born as this cycling street art collective and attracted attention as the Boonen portrait slapped on the road at the tops of the Koppenberg, Eikenberg, Paterberb, and Taaienberg was seen throughout the race

“The next week we went over to France to paint a couple of sections of the upcoming Paris-Roubaix,” remembers Stefaan Temmerman, a documentary photographer and another founding member. “We found this spot on the main road just after the long section. But the police were making regular rounds and they soon stopped.”

While the local authorities were troubled that the group was working without proper authorization, Temmerman also remembers that they were sympathetic to this burgeoning creative cause. “They took the time to look at what we were doing and finally they just said, ‘Well it looks like you have put a lot of work into this so go ahead. It’s cool.’”

Once completed, they then went to the end of the legendary Arenberg section of cobbles to do another work at the end. Once again they fell upon sympathetic eyes as the security guards already on hand actually turned their car around and turned on their headlights so that the group could work better. “The guy actually said that he had seen the Boonen portraits in Flanders the week before so he was only too happy to help.”

If Puncheur met with so much initial success it was perhaps because it was immediately evident that their project was quite time-intensive. Each work, in fact, took dozens of hours to produce. First, they had to conceive, design and cut out several large-scale cut-out cardboard stencils. Then, once created, they had to go on-site and start the painting process. Each site and each silhouette were constructed by layering several stencils upon each other. The stencil cutouts were applied in layers, with the largest board being applied first. Once dry, a second, third, and fourth stencil were applied.

“People were always surprised just how long it took to produce one stencil. Our Bradley Wiggins one took nearly 50 hours just to do all of the cutouts,” explained Daem. “There were maybe five layers to it. It’s quite detailed.”

“Our paintings faded into the roads over time, kind of like the cyclists who faded in our memories over time.”

“I have always loved stencils,” Daem continued “I love that with just two colors you can create a really cool abstract picture. I was always doing them in school and then when we started Puncheur I was spreading them out in the kitchen.

Today the town of Aalst, about 30 minutes east of Ghent, provided the group with a spacious workspace downtown. And while they have grown, their working methods are in many ways similar to when they first started.

In the space of little more than five years, Puncheur created a distinctive name for themselves, and today, their stencils simply are part of the classics landscape as they are strategically placed and are often highlighted in helicopter shots.

Over time Puncheur has generated increased interest and has received commissions in bike shops or at events like the 2021 world championships, in Belgium.

But clearly, the collective spirit remained strong and their main focus was simply to celebrate cycling in a unique way.