Mashup—Pop Art Inspires and Informs

There wasn’t much graffiti on the buildings in Rock Rapids, Iowa, where Nick Van Berkum grew up, but he“always loved the style of street artists.”

2015-mashup-surfboardNow an artist himself, the Iowa State College of Design grad enjoys creating large pop art using spray  paint and hand-cut stencils based on his original drawings. You won’t find his art on exterior walls around Ames, Iowa, where he now lives and works as communications specialist for sociology and anthropology. Instead, some of his art, in the form of department event posters, hangs on the walls in East Hall on Iowa State campus. Off campus his preferred canvases are large found objects – not as large as the exterior walls of buildings on campus – they have to fit into his garage studio.

“I like painting on a cool, found piece—something that relates to the subject of the art,” says Van Berkum.

The objects inspire him to create stenciled images based on popular movies he watched growing up in the 1980s and ‘90s. An old locker door he found on Craigslist inspired him to paint with images based on the movie Breakfast Club (1985). The movie is about five high school students who endure one Saturday in detention together.

A friend brought him an old surfboard for inspiration. It reminded him of the movie Point Break (1991), a cult classic about a string of bank robberies possibly being committed by surfers. The surfboard, now pop art bearing Van Berkum’s painted images of Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, hangs in his friend’s living room.

When Van Berkum replaced the front door on his house, the old door became a canvas on which he painted the DeLorean time machine from the classic movie Back to the Future (1985).

His art is influenced by past pop artists, such as Keith Haring who painted his public art in subways, and current artists like Banksy, an English graffiti artist who combines dark humor with his political opinions to create provocative, stenciled street art.

Van Berkum says, “If you look at street artists, a lot of them do political art or it will just be a funny mashup of images.
I lean toward the comical.”

He explains that a mashup is art combing two or more disparate elements. His comical mashups include a painting of R2-D2, the iconic Star Wars robot, as if it was a karaoke machine. “C-3PO is singing a Journey song into the microphone. I don’t know why; it’s just a fun image to me,” says Van Berkum.

Van Berkum’s sense of humor and drawing skills have been a winning combination for bringing in freelance work as a graphic artist for small business owners, bands and comedians. Though time for such projects was curtailed when his son, Rosco, was born two years ago, he still makes time for a few regular clients such as Three Chicks Bakery and comedian Mike Birbiglia.

Iowa State’s sociology and anthropology departments also benefit from his creativity. For the departments, he does “all the web work, news releases, the alumni newsletter, brochures, photography, video work and event posters – anything and everything,” says Van Berkum.


Van Berkum takes every opportunity to demonstrate his creativity from scholarship announcements to holiday party invites.

The favorite part of his job, of course, is graphic design. A winter holiday party advertised on an image of an ugly Christmas sweater and scholarships announced across a pinball machine are two of his posters you might have enjoyed if you were in East Hall this past winter.

His plans for the future?

“I want to do more spray paintings. I think it would be cool if someday my son would find some of the things I’ve created—posters from a comedian or something else that I did. And he would know I made them when he was growing up and think it was pretty cool,” says Van Berkum.