Mickey Mouse, Tweety, dollar signs.

Dennis Klapschus’ dream world begins in a courtyard in Essen. Residential blocks with plain plastered walls, windows onto the car park, and on his mailbox, the message: “Only advertising and promotional material allowed! Official letters from the tax office and the city of Essen forbidden.” Graffiti adorns a stone wall: Mickey Mouse, Tweety, dollar signs, dazzling multicoloured diamonds. Next to it, large and garish, he has sprayed one of his worldly dreams onto Essen’s reality: “Good Vibez”. An almost life-sized orange rhinoceros still stands in the courtyard. “It doesn’t have any special meaning,” says the pop-art artist. “I just thought it was really cool. Maybe I’ll paint it pink sometime.”

Klapschus (36) wears a salmon-coloured jacket, black-and-gold framed glasses, an expensive watch, jeans, sneakers. He beckons his visitors into his studio and takes a seat at a small bistro table. A sky of plastic plants floats above him, lamps hanging in it like glowing starfish, two neon letters glimmering.

Neon colours, paint pens, heat guns: The tools the artist uses to imaginatively create his colourful comic worlds.

Coffee break with an explosion of colour: Even old spray cans mutate into colourful, desirable art pieces in the glowing neon box.

Imagination is out in force.

The former bricklayer and architecture student, the artist with the black-blonde undercut, who has now made it to the top, asks if anyone would like a drink. Energy drink, coffee, champagne? “Just help yourselves.” He gestures towards the refrigerator standing in the room. Glowing Plexiglas boxes hang up above, melting spray cans, illuminations of melting ice cream cones, and comic icons.

His comic-like inner worlds have long since burst out of their shell. The works lean against the walls of the studio, hang under a bicycle, decorate bumper cars, handbags, sneakers, and even reinterpret heaters as fantasy objects. Klapschus paints, sprays, brushes and glues almost everything. Plastered on a radiator in crazy colours: “Dream so big they call you crazy”. Another is emblazoned with a motto from rapper Tupac Shakur: “Reality is wrong. Dreams are for real.” Imagination is out in force in this fun-filled, colourful, overflowing, comic Elysium.

Klapschus’ fantasies.

Dennis Klapschus’ life has now morphed into a kind of candy store come true. It took less than four years to scale new heights. Klapschus sometimes can’t believe it himself: “When I used to hear artists talk, I thought they sounded crazy. Today I’m right in the thick of it.”

A nail-polish-pink crocodile lurks on the ground. On the walls: painted canvases, Disney heroes on Disney worlds, covered in colourful streaks and flying dollar bills. Pop art, whitewashed, sprayed over and daubed. Klapschus’ fantasies transform even the consumer world into a comic sphere. 

Painted champagne bottles, designer bags, shirts and fairground vending machines. Almost all the works in the studio are already sold: “If I put something on Instagram, it’s gone within minutes.” In addition to all the colour and figurine fandom, his clientèle seems most enthusiastic about his credo: Have courage. Don’t give up. Live your childhood dreams and believe in good times. That’s his message.

It’s worked for Dennis Klapschus – without him ever planning it. After completing a bricklayer apprenticeship and studying architecture, he built models and designed furniture for kindergartens. Art? “No, I would never even have dreamt of it at the time.” He married early and soon had two daughters to support.

Magic from head to toe: Dennis Klapschus in his studio, where even his shadow appears in pink on the wall.

Childhood interest in comics.

One day he painted his sister-in-law a portrait for her birthday. A garishly spray-painted collage. He uploaded the picture to Instagram, setting the wheels in motion – completely out of the blue. Enquiries came from acquaintances; a man in Frankfurt wanted five of the pop portraits. TV channels also got interested: “They were all still small pictures,” says Klapschus. “But all of a sudden, I was making €5,000 in just one weekend.”

Then he got the idea to turn his childhood interest in comics into art and exaggerate it. “I am driven by my childhood dreams,” he explains. And it is going well: reminding people of their own dreams by allowing them to post them colourfully and oversized in their living rooms.

His second dream come true.

Today, his works hang in the homes of stars and starlets, or they end up in Ibiza or Dubai. He has a showroom on Mallorca and has already painted luxury cars and handbags that he says “were so expensive that I almost dropped my pen when I heard the price.”

This was followed by spray-art parties in Düsseldorf, an exhibition at Art Basel in Miami, a request to decorate a private jet … and now he was heading for the stars. The name for this dream journey: dekLart.

Klapschus finishes his espresso and briefly leaves the studio as his wife Shabnam (36) and his two daughters come in. Chanel and Soraya are 12 and 14 years old and are often his creative sparring partners when coming up with new ideas. The two are sitting on the rhino in the courtyard when their father comes round the corner. Not in anything colourful and flashy this time, but in a big black vehicle.

This is his second dream come true. As with his art, he came across this completely by surprise. An S 500 long, built in 1997, eight-cylinder, 320 hp. Klapschus has just taken his S-Class out of the garage and is parking it in the yard. The shiny black car is parked in front of the studio. The story of this Mercedes-Benz sounds almost as fantastic as his artwork looks: before him, the car belonged to a “tinkerer” in Essen, until he sold it to someone in Bavaria. A young man who runs a Greek restaurant in Munich bought it and drove it for a few years. Until he saw Dennis Klapschus’ art. He called the graffiti artist and asked if he could buy a piece or two. He then asked, in passing, if Klapschus happened to know of anyone who might want to buy his car. A dream? A coincidence? A Mercedes that wanted to go back home to Essen? “I’ll take it!” decided Klapschus, and the two quickly agreed. The price: a couple of Klapschus originals for an undisclosed price.

A man, not a dream: “Do what makes you happy!” His life motto has taken Klapschus from bricklayer to star sprayer.

Like on the day it rolled out of the factory.

“I don’t know much about cars,” the artist says. “But I didn’t need to think twice here. A Mercedes is a Mercedes, that’s all that needs to be said.”

He liked the model straight away: a saloon with insulating glass windows and an impressive range of equipment. Klapschus strokes the car. “The quality is really something else.” He indicates the electric rear window blind; the automatic seats, revolutionary for the time; the fold-out tray in the backrest of the front passenger seat. “The instrument panel,” he says, “the full package.” PARKTRONIC system, cruise control, remote boot-lid unlocking. “Everything still works like it did on the day it rolled out of the factory. And it’s difficult to know which is the sweeter sound – the stereo or that perfect clunk when you pull the door shut.”

“I’ll do anything else – but not my Mercedes!”

Then he and his family get in. Together they cruise through Essen. They pass “Villa Hügel”, the former home and landmark building of the legendary Krupp industrialist family, the university, the botanical garden, until Klapschus steers the gleaming S 500 across the grounds of the Zollverein Coal Mine. A pearl of the old Ruhr area and Unesco World Heritage Site.

Here, you can see disused blast furnaces, shafts, conveyor belts, as well as trendy designer shops, pubs and galleries in the midst of it all. A new stage in front of a harsh industrial backdrop has been created here. Dennis Klapschus gets out, stands next to his S-Class. Amidst the old, reinvented factory backdrop, you can sense that the star sprayer might just be drawing some inspiration. Transforming his 24-year-old car into a moving work of art, maybe. Garishly spray-painting his 140 – like pretty much everything else in his crazy dream worlds. Klapschus mulls over this bold thought for the briefest moment. Then he says firmly: “I’ll do anything else – but not my Mercedes!”

Showstopper: The 500 steals the show on the grounds of the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex: Classic car meets world heritage!