New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Walking the streets of New York on the lookout for either renegade or commissioned graffiti, also called “street art”, doesn’t yield a lot these days, but Athens has so much that street art tours are a new attraction.
8th century BC graffiti found in Athens includes lists and pictures, commercial notations, dedications, inscriptions, marks of ownership, Christian messages–and amusingly, insults–but in Athens today a new generation of politically-minded artists are painting graffiti that shout out feelings about Greece’s six-year economic crisis and its effects: economic hardship, racism, violence, immigration, social alienation, and environmental concerns. Every painting style and size, up to the monumental is represented in street art. A real talent for political and social satire is reminiscent of the theatrical επιθεώρηση or satire, so popular in 1960’s Greece.
Curated by Connie Mourtoupalas, the NHM’s President of Cultural Affairs, the exhibition presents street art by more than 10 artists. A statement about the exhibition from the National Hellenic Museum makes the point that the 6-year economic crisis has been a source of artistic inspiration for street art in Greece.
This could apply to all the artistic disciplines being explored in Greece.
Anger and disillusionment coupled with an almost innate resilience, sense of hope, and humor, have found the most unlikely spokespeople: a thriving community of graffiti or street artists, who have e transformed Greece into an “international cradle of street art”.
“The economic crisis has been an opportunity for the street artists to reinvent their art, says the NHM, “In doing so, they have also provided an outlet for the often raw emotions of the people, especially the young, helping them navigate their own reactions and views and inspiring a flurry of creative activity and initiatives to improve their surroundings and lives.”
The developing visual sophistication of Greek street art is a cultural phenomenon of the times. Although street art was generally frowned upon as a defacement and devaluation of property in recent decades, the concepts and artistic ability of some artists and the relevance of their representations have elevated street art to considerable status as a 21st century international art form.
This may have been gradual, but Athens street art is in flower and gaining acceptability. “Although it’s still illegal in many cases street art in Greece is undergoing a transition from being mostly an illegal underground activity to being accepted, and even encouraged, as a means of beautifying the city”, says Chris Helms, Assistant Curator of Collections and Exhibitions at the National Hellenic Museum.
“It is amazing how they have taken art to the streets, where it can engage people and break that impression that art is only for the few,” says Connie Mourtoupalas, the NHM’s President of Cultural Affairs and curator of “The Street Is My Gallery”. “They have opened a dialogue with the person on the street.”
Ms. Mourtoupalas said that her goal was to present an exhibition that navigates the impact of the economic crisis on the people of Greece, especially the young, and shows the broad range of emotions that have prevailed over the past few years, not only as the country suffers the consequences of the harsh austerity measures, but as Greek society reassesses and reevaluates its past and future.
“Street art seemed like the perfect vehicle to do this,” said Mourtoalas, “The work we are exhibiting shows not only the broad range of emotions and reactions to the economic reality; it also shows that people, artists in this case, are concerned with many other social issues, such as immigration, racism, education, etc. It also expresses young people’s need to be heard, to communicate, and also entices people to take their fate in their own hands, if you will.”
For that reason Ms. Mourtoupalas chose works that express anger or despair; but then there are others that express hope and urge a sense of humor.
The selection process was extensive. “We looked over hundreds if not thousands of images from all sorts of areas and neighborhoods in Athens; we picked works we felt were the strongest artistically and emotionally. It was difficult to choose, as there was such amazing work in abundance. Several artists emerged and spoke to us not only as Greeks who feel for what our fellow Greeks are going through, but also as universal beings who are also concerned or are confronted with social issues like crime, racism, illegal immigration, violence, and other social ills that everyone around the world is confronting.”
Bleeps.gr, STMTS, Wild Drawing, iNO, Cacaco Rocks, Dimitri Taxis, Mapet, and Dreyk the Pirate, are just a few of the names that stand out in the exhibition, she said, “These artists have created a revolution in art. We were able to trace and communicate with several of them either through Facebook or other websites. Some sent us high resolution images of their works; others we got from photographers we also tracked down from various websites. One artist in particular, STMTS, who is particularly concerned with young immigrant children, also sent us original works, which we are exhibiting right next to his street image.”
For a deeper understanding of what is behind Greek street art, Mourtoupalas obliged the GN’s request for descriptions of the exhibition’s artists and their works, beginning with DIMITRIS TAXIS, a Diaspora Greek from Poland living in Athens, who highlights the social injustices he perceives. His street art depicts sad, confused and frightened individuals, especially children and young people. The locations he chooses, as well as the messages of his work, clearly indicate that he empathizes with those living in areas worst hit by the crisis. With his art, he attempts to ‘dress’ buildings with imagery of what the residents themselves must be feeling or experiencing. The work of Dimitris Taxis is both visually stunning and intellectually complex.
“I FOUGHT THE FASCISTS SO MY GRANDKIDS CAN BRING THEM BACK!” MAPET is especially concerned with the rise of the neo-Nazi party in Greece and all over Europe. This dentist by day uses his dental drill to create intricate stencils, which he installs late at light.
BLEEPS.GR or BLEEPS, who forged the phrase “social diary in public display” highlights the impact of the crisis on the individual, mostly of those in the lower middle class, both in Greece and around the world. Incorporating elements of folk art, his street work leans heavily towards conceptual art, in which ideas clearly take precedence over traditional aesthetics.
SONKE began drawing on the streets of Athens in 1995, at the age of eleven. He studied illustration and is currently teaching cartoon design and animation in Athens. Sonke attributes the melancholy in his work to the economic crisis, the sadness of his fellow Athenians, and the cityscape of Athens itself. He also admits to a more personal matter, a failed romance and separation, after which he began painting his sad princesses and teary-eyed girls. http://www.sonke.gr/
Dreyk the Pirate was born in Athens, where he currently lives and free-lances as an illustrator/character designer. He began painting in the streets of Athens in his early teens. He eventually developed his characteristic sea-themed style, a theme he chose because of the deep love all Greeks have for the sea and for travel. People began calling him “pirate”, when he painted his first pirate on a wall many years ago. This designation has helped him forge his own distinct identity in street art. His studies in design, amongst other things, have also helped his art evolve into a more clean-cut, thick stroke style. www.facebook.com/pages/Dreyk-the-Pirate/199502943464451
The street artist b. was born in Athens in 1982, and has a degree in architecture from the University of Thessaly. He began graffiti writing in 1996, and has participated in numerous exhibitions and graffiti festivals. He has also produced commissioned work. His yellow and black mermaids, girls with anchor-tattoos on their arms, humanlike octopuses and other odd images make up the world of artist b. This world comes to life on, and incorporates the frayed walls and broken windows of abandoned houses and other buildings; an art brand virus taking over the urban landscape with colorful perseverance and cheerful mood.
Cacao Rocks considers street art a means of communication, and the “least he can do to help change the world”. He has a minimalistic style and a kaleidoscopic sense of coloring and patterning. http://cacaorocks.blogspot.com/
iNO has been creating public art since the year 2000. He was born in Athens and is a graduate of the Athens School of Fine Arts. While calling himself a graffiti artist, he is better known for his large murals, which most often remark on contemporary reality in Greece. His mural “Access Control”, located on central Pireos Avenue in Athens, has been featured in The New York Times and many other media around the world. iNO has also created many pieces in other countries, including the U.S., Germany and the UK. http://www.ino.net/
SCAR ONE, “Master of the street style and an expert on sprays,” Scar One demonstrates his futuristic landscapes in unique ways, both on walls and on canvas.
Dimitris Ntokos – dmsntok. Beetles (scarabs) are the staple of Dimitri Ntokos’s work. In ancient Egypt, scarabs were symbols for the sun’s creative power, and rebirth in the afterlife, conveying ideas of transformation, renewal, and resurrection. Ntokos, who was born in 1984, draws his beetles all over Athens, combining patterns, geometrical forms, symbols and illusions, through a perspective that flirts with a sharply imaginative and often surreal element. http://dimitrisntokos.com/
BROKEN WINGS by WD (WILD DRAWING). WD depicts the darker underbelly of society, observing and portraying social and political developments, and their impact on the Greek people. With more than 50% unemployment among the young, Broken Wings depicts the hopeless outlook shared by Greek youth. About his signature character, a disheveled puppet-like character, WD says it’s a symbol of simultaneous innocence and violence. While his style varies, WD’s work often has a highly detailed photo-realistic technique and is influenced by graphic novels.
DON’T UNDERESTIMATE HUNGER – JNOR – highlights the impact of harsh economic measures on the elderly, the hardest hit most vulnerable segment of society.
I LOVE LIFE by STMTS has attracted the attention of major international media, including The New York Times, London Times, The Guardian and others. A student at the Athens School of Fine Arts, STMTS is especially sensitive to the challenges faced by immigrant children in Greece, which nonetheless represent the country’s future, given the extremely low birth rate of native Greeks.
Yiakou is a younger painter/street artist from Athens with a more poetic approach. Yiakou usually draws beautiful and gossamer-like images of women. He is a poet, as well, and his poems are accompanied by images of romantic creatures that seem to float. Many of his creations are found throughout Athens, giving the city and everyday life a touch of beauty.