Mysteries of Utrecht #2: who is graffiti hero KBTR?

When I’m leaving Utrecht by train I always look around (well, only when I’m not looking at my phone) and I notice the graffiti on the walls. Every time, there is one image that caught my eye and I always wonder what it means – an image of a sort of gnome. And it’s not just one artwork, there are a lot more of them. I found out that this ‘graffiti hero’ is called KBTR and that it’s part of Utrecht, just like the Dom.

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KBTR in the streets of Utrecht. Photo: Instagram @dekbtr

Who is KBTR?

Ok, maybe a bit different than the Dom, but it seems like KBTR is an initiative of an artist from Utrecht and that there’s a whole history to it. The name of the cartoon is KBTR, which stands for the Dutch word ‘kabouter’, but then only the consonants. On the website of KBTR (yes, there’s a whole website!) they explain the name: “KBTR is based on a type of gnome typical for the Netherlands that looks like garden gnomes.” Just a typical gnome, but then, eh, a bit different.

It was around 2004 when KBTR appeared on the streets of Utrecht. First, the gnome was only part of graffiti artworks, but later he also appeared solo. That didn’t go unnoticed. People took pictures of the graffiti hero and posted them on the internet. His appearance has also changed through the years. In the beginning, it was just a simple drawing, but the gnome became more complex and also expresses a certain thought or message.

Now, KBTR has its own Facebook page and Instagram account where you can see all sorts of artworks of the gnome: from artistic to political, and from a bit weird (sorry, my opinion) to really explicit and sexual.

KBTR as Donald Trump. Photo: Facebook KBTR

Not only in Utrecht

KBTR became so famous that he didn’t stay within the borders of our beautiful Utrecht. You can also spot him in different cities, such as Rotterdam, The Hague and Leiden. In 2012, there even appeared a book about the graffiti gnome, a collaboration between the anonymous artist of KBTR and Dutch visual artist Remko Koopman.

Did you already spotted one of the graffiti gnomes?

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