The Mechelen Hundred

Portraits of a city's people, today

Nestled between Brussels and Antwerp, Mechelen has often been overshadowed by its larger neighbours. Yet teaming up with the City of Mechelen, our line-up of 100 of the city’s most prominent people, places and projects proves the extent of its potential. From artists and creatives to critical thinkers and fighters, these are the powerhouses driving Mechelen forward one step at a time.

Gijs Vanhee

Gijs Vanhee

Former official city mural painter, freelance artists and illustrator (1982)

Can you describe what you do?

I am a freelance artist and illustrator. I paint murals, draw on paper and almost everything else I can get my hands on, I try to make a living out of that. My ‘base’ is Mechelen, but I often travel around Europe living out of a self-built home on wheels called Jules Verde, a 40-year-old Mercedes.

How do you perceive Mechelen? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?

Mechelen is and will always feel like home to me. Most of my friends and family live in this area. It’s always good to be in the city, but I find it imperative to get away from time to time as well. Although Mechelen has changed a lot (and still continues to do so every day), it still resembles the cosy, warm and friendly town it used to be, with a vibe that’s a little more relaxed than bigger cities in the vicinity. In fact, the centre feels more like a small village in my opinion. It is hard to compare Mechelen to any other cities of similar size.

What would you say is Mechelen’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?

The historical buildings make it look like Bruges, but Mechelen still feels alive and moving. It is worth spending more than one day here. Our city can easily get under one’s skin once you get familiar with it.

How has Mechelen contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

As a teenager I found Mechelen to be dead at night. That may sound sad, but in fact this condition has been at the root of what I do now. It was easy to make friends and start projects together. I spent a lot of years doing work on the walls of the city and getting involved in a lot of social-cultural projects, and in 2013 I was asked by the local government of Mechelen to represent the city as a resident and artist. This put my work in a totally different perspective.

I also started the project ‘Mechelen Muurt’, a public exhibition of 10 wall paintings by different artists that was put up in the historical center. The project ran for two years, and I learned a lot from it.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

I see a lot of interesting projects starting nowadays, and a lot of those are at a grass root level which makes them even more interesting. But I still have the feeling that the city council could do more to support these initiatives. I think it is crucial to invest more in cultural and social projects, otherwise people with great ideas and a lot of engagement might end up leaving the city or turning against it.

To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Mechelen?

Go for a beer and start conversations with the people you meet, that’s the best way to find out what’s going on. Just walk around and see what you encounter.