The Crystal Ship ‘Carnival of Life’ Festival: Oostende’s Streets Inspired by Artist James Ensor

The streets of Oostende have become an open-air museum once again as the annual arts festival, The Crystal Ship, wraps up its 9th edition (8th year) from 25 March to 6 April 2024.

This year, the festival boasted a lineup of 14 international artists who transformed the city under the festival’s theme, ‘Carnival of Life’, which drew inspiration from Belgian artist James Ensor, who painted life through the lens of the carnival, creating unsettling and often satirical works. 

Bjørn Van Pouke curated the festival with Carlo McCormick, and selected artists were chosen for their link, subtle or otherwise, with the painter’s work, or at least with the theme. The works they create may also be carnivalesque, festive, and rock ‘n’ roll, with social, socially critical quips also appreciated.

The festival’s full line-up for this year includes Case Maclaim (DE), KMG (UK), Dulk (ES), En Plein Public (BE), Hoxxoh (USA), Hera (DE), Katie Green (CA), Marina Capdevilla (ES), Pixel Pancho (IT), Wayne Horse (DE), Motel7 (ZA), Carlos Sugliano (AR), Jaune (BE), and Ilke Cop (BE)

James Ensor

A famous Belgian artist who had an important influence on expressionism and surrealism lived in Oostende for most of his life.

Born in Oostende in 1860, James Ensor was a Belgian artist known for his unique and often surrealistic art, which features masks, skeletons, and other grotesque or fantastical elements. He initially painted conventional seascapes and interior scenes, but his work took a turn when he began using masks from his mother’s shop to depict masked figures mixed with skulls, clowns, and portraits of his family and public figures.

His work was often labelled as “outsider art” due to its unconventional style and subject matter. Ensor’s art was deeply influenced by his troubled experiences growing up in Belgium and during political and social upheaval. He was fascinated by the carnival traditions and the masks worn during the festivities, which he saw as a way to subvert social norms and express hidden desires.

Ensor also drew inspiration from the work of other artists such as Francisco Goya, Edgar Allan Poe, and Honoré Daumier, whose satirical and critical depictions of society he admired. Despite receiving classical training at the Academy in Brussels, Ensor struggled to gain recognition during his lifetime, and the establishment often criticised his work. However, his work was rediscovered and celebrated in the early 20th century by avant-garde artists such as the Surrealists and Expressionists. Today, he is considered one of the most important Belgian artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Street Art Murals Influenced by Ensor



Taboralaan 7

Carlos Sugliano is an artist who lives in Pinamar, a municipality in the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina, which includes the hamlet of Ostende. The Crystal Ship Festival discovered him through his expressive portraits and local art talent. The festival has a good relationship with the real Ostend, so they searched for local talent in Pinamar.

The artist Caco painted a portrait of James Ensor, drawing inspiration from the 100 Belgian Franc banknote, which featured the renowned Belgian painter. The National Bank of Belgium issued this banknote in 1995 and withdrew it from circulation in 2002.

Caco, The Crystal Ship 2024. Image Copyright GraffitiStreet


Case Maclaim

Ensor Institute Blauwkasteelstraat

German artist Case Maclaim, renowned for his hyperrealistic murals, has recently paid homage to the famous “Self Portrait in the Mask” by Ensor, which is currently at the Menard Art Museum in Komaki, Japan.

“Self Portrait in the Mask” was painted when Ensor was 39 years old and is reminiscent of the works of his great predecessor, Rubens. In the painting, Ensor is depicted alone and surrounded by carnival masks that convey a sense of malice and deceit. His isolated appearance, emphasised by the flashy hat adorned with floral decoration, appears to symbolise his unwavering dedication to his art and its place in the art world of his time. This masterpiece, which incorporates the early influence of French Impressionism, is characterised by its unusual use of red and represents the pinnacle of Ensor’s career.

Case Maclaim’s mural was painted at the Ensor Institute. The artist’s unique touch of highlighting the masks surrounding Ensor adds an extra dimension to his mural, making it stand out even more when captured with a camera. Case Maclaim also adds the white partly completed clown mask seen in his previous murals, such as “Carnival Is Cancelled” in Aalborg.

Case Maclaim, The Crystal Ship 2024. Image Copyright GraffitiStreet



Station Oostende

Dulk is a Spanish artist whose work has been turned into Ravensburger puzzles. He is known for his colourful creations that feature imaginative twists on fauna and flora, often with an underlying ecological message. Dulk’s murals and sculptures are highly imaginative and impactful, and now, a huge Dulk sculpture welcomes you into the Oostende train station.

Dulk, The Crystal Ship 2024. Image Copyright GraffitiStreet


En Plein Public

Various locations

Frederik Lizen, an Antwerp resident who goes by the moniker “En Plein Public” (French for “in the public eye”), doesn’t consider himself a street artist. Nevertheless, he’s become well-known for “plastering” non-spaces in public with his paintbrush, often using humour and an idiosyncratic approach to the environment and art history. His work has even caught the attention of the modern arts center M HKA, which asked him to paint its facade. locations Sint-Sebastiaansstraat 30, Ooststraat 2, Dekenijstraat 9 and Kapucijnenstraat 54.

En Plein Public, The Crystal Ship 2024. Image Copyright Jules Cesure


Falko Fantastic

Torhoutsesteenweg 440

Vrouwenraad (Women’s Council) wants to ban violence against women and girls, expose stereotyping and sexism, and support the transition to a carefree society. To help achieve these goals, The Crystal Ship set up a community project called Beeldspraak with the organisation and 20 women from the Rwandan, Burundian, and Congolese diaspora. Together, a theme, a style, and an artist, the South African street artist Falko Fantastic, was chosen with the following goal: to create a mural that pays tribute to their diaspora.

Falko Fantastic, The Crystal Ship 2024. Image Copyright GraffitiStreet



Generaal Jungblutlaan 4

Hera is a German artist who is part of the Herakut duo. She is known for her fairy-tale scenes featuring children and animals, often accompanied by a strong message. Her art is figurative, with a realistic focus on the eyes of her protagonists, who appear to look directly at the viewer.

“Some Masks Disguise.

Other Brings Out the Best of Us.”

For the festival and a nod to Ensor’s masks, Hera was in the process of painting Fox Girl, a cunning mask maker with a sharp mind. Meanwhile, a turtle had expressed a desire to wear the Cheetah mask in an attempt to emulate the speed of the cheetah, which he lacked as a slow-moving creature. However, Fox Girl, with her wisdom and perceptiveness, recognised the beauty inherent in the turtle’s unique characteristics. She then proceeded to gift him a flower instead, which symbolised his inherent beauty and brought out the best in him.

Hera, The Crystal Ship 2024. Image Copyright GraffitiStreet




Hoxxoh, also known as Douglas Hoekzema, is an American artist known for using bright colours and geometric shapes, which he constantly experiments with. Over the past thirty years, his painting technique has evolved, and his work is now surprising, virtuoso, and stunning.

Hoxxoh, The Crystal Ship 2024. Image Copyright GraffitiStreet


Ilke Cop

Dokter Verhaeghestraat 126

The Crystal Ship annually sends a contemporary artist on a street art course to create their first mural in the streets of Ostend, bridging the gap between contemporary art and street art.

This year’s artist is Ilke Cop, a Brussels-based painter who recently won the prestigious Gaverprijs. Cop started her career as a fashion designer, and her work reflects that, but her paintings are also headstrong, uninhibited, and feminist. Ilke Cop started her mural with a Doodle grid and then sketched the design in green, inspired by the ocean and Ensor.

Ilke Cop, The Crystal Ship 2024. Image Copyright GraffitiStreet



Various Locations

Jaune is a Brussels-based street artist who has been a regular at The Crystal Ship Festival since its inception in 2016. He is known for his eye-catching stencil work featuring funny garbage collectors, which can be found all over the city.

For this year, Jaune has decided to take a different approach by putting a modern twist on James Ensor’s masterpiece, “The Baths at Ostend“. To achieve this, he has created thirty unique bathing personas, each inspired by the locals, all dressed in a manner reminiscent of the characters in Ensor’s painting.

Jaune, The Crystal Ship 2024. Image Copyright GraffitiStreet


Katie Green

Lijndraaiersstraat 60

Katie Green loves watercolours because they allow her to paint emotional landscapes and expose feelings that would otherwise remain hidden. Katie assists individuals from diverse backgrounds, including those with disabilities and those struggling with addictions.

Katie’s ‘Behind the Mask’ project involves a collaborative effort that utilises handmade masks to promote a sense of community, facilitate healing, and delve into various aspects of oneself. Participants are encouraged to conceive and wear a mask that embodies an internal, alternate, or imaginary part of themselves, offering a secure and anonymous platform to express their feelings to the world.

Katie, the brain behind this initiative, views masks as a symbol of mystique, much like James Ensor. Masks serve as a bridge that connects our external perceptions to the enigma that lies beneath them. In Ensor’s art, his masks are unpredictable, allowing us to tap into our imagination and ponder the hidden subjects. In this project, masks serve as an extension of oneself, leading each participant through a customised process that aids in exploring their inner landscape. Photoshoots give participants the opportunity to wear and embody their masks, exploring aspects of self in front of the camera. This often results in wheatpaste murals that are as intimate as they are immense.

Katie Green, The Crystal Ship 2024. Image Copyright Jules Cesure



Dokter Edouard Moreauxlaan + Kaïrostraat

KMG started as an illustrator – which is fairly evident from looking at her body of work – but the Scottish artist also already tackled several walls with her colourful, subversive and often sarcastic creations. She says she combines youthful enthusiasm with unrestrained cynicism, which invariably results in striking yet always very accessible murals. KMG painted four murals this year, three in the same quarter.

The KMG murals draw inspiration from Ensor’s expressionistic masterpiece ‘The Fight’ from 1925, infusing it with a contemporary flair that reflects the inherent struggles of a community.

KMG, The Crystal Ship 2024. Image Copyright GraffitiStreet


Marina Capdevila

Prinses Stefanieplein 63

Marina Capdevila paints older people who exude beauty and zest for life. Inspired by her grandmother, Capdevila uses caricature to create remarkable and distinct art. Through her murals, she highlights the importance of female empowerment at any stage of life and gives older individuals the recognition they deserve. Her message is clear: life is meant to be lived to the fullest.

Marina Capdevila, The Crystal Ship 2024. Image Copyright GraffitiStreet



Golvenstraat 10

Motel7 is a South African artist who started in the Cape Town graffiti scene at a young age. While still working with letters, she has since moved into painting and creating street art with her signature female characters that feature red noses. Her work is characterised by positivity, humour, and manga influences, but there is also a darkly surreal element that includes sadness.

In Ostend, we can observe the grotesque depiction of a Choux à la Crème (cream puff) that reads Qui a Pourri (rotted) in the eccentric style of Ensor, accompanied by two subjects with clown masks holding the cream pouffes in their hands, evocative of the classic clown gag of throwing a cream pie in the face.

Motel, The Crystal Ship 2024. Image Copyright GraffitiStreet


Pixel Pancho

Werkzaamheidstraat 32

Pixel Pancho is an Italian street artist who incorporates robots into his work and infuses it with heart. His art depicts a utopian future where machines are present, but the world is more human than the present. In his signature robotic style, Pixel Pancho honours Ensor and draws inspiration from the house plants on the front of the building to create paintings of flowers and vines.

Pixel Pancho, The Crystal Ship 2024. Image Copyright GraffitiStreet


Wayne Horse

Nieuwpoortsesteenweg 110

Wayne Horse (né Willehad Eilers) is no street artist … anymore. In the 1990s, the German painter started his career in the graffiti scene before moving to the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam and moving fully into painting, video and installation art. But his style, as crude as it is grotesque, is so closely related to James Ensor’s oeuvre that the crystal ship team did not have to ask him twice if he wanted to take on another wall in Ostend. For old times’ sake. In fact, they got two murals!

The murals depart from the artist’s characteristic black-and-white palette and challenge conventional notions of beauty. Under the motto “No beauty, No ugliness,” the artist delves into the paradoxical attraction and rejection inherent in the human experience, seeking to explore them in depth.

Wayne Horse, The Crystal Ship 2024. Image Copyright GraffitiStreet

Carlo McCormick


For the first time in the festival’s history, The Crystal Ship has added a co-curator, Carlo McCormick, who was part of the New York art and music scene in the ’70s and ’80s and has just recently curated ‘The Wildstyle Exhibition’ in New York City, which paid tribute to the iconic film’s 40th anniversary.

McCormick’s last visit to Belgium was when he was 14 years old. He convinced his parents to take him there because of his immense admiration for James Ensor. Many years later, he returned to Belgium with his son to curate the 9th edition of The Crystal Ship, which is dedicated to Ensor.

StreetArtOostende App

This year’s Crystal Ship festival was a grand celebration of Ensor’s art, and the massive tribute from the invited street artists was incredible. As you walk around the neighbourhoods, you can’t help but notice the pride the locals have in their new artworks, and the old murals are still as charming as ever. It’s been a fantastic festival, and we enjoyed our time. It’s definitely worth experiencing! Download the free app ‘StreetArtOostende’ and discover the route using a handy map on your smartphone.

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