The Extraordinary World of Street Art in Athens, Greece
Great design doesn’t just happen on paper, which is why street art kicks ass in Athens. The Greek capital is a vibrant cultural hotspot as a result of the financial crisis. Some are calling it “The New Berlin” as the next generation of artists and designers are turning to the streets to express social messages.
Milos Bicanski/Getty Images
The street art scene in Athens is comical, graphic and riddled with storytelling – far more than just tags. Yes, it’s political, as you might expect. Downtown, a lot of Angela Merkel-inspired Euro art, as well as cheeky slogans like “Athens is Not Berlin” says one, while “GREED” says another. It’s no surprise the Athens School of Fine Arts offers courses in street painting. Key players in the street art scene prefer to keep their real identities anonymous.
Beyond the financial crisis, there is hope. With a tour from the local art collective “Lathos” (meaning “Wrong” in Greek) who run the street art gallery Sarri 12, the only street art gallery in Athens, there are wooden cut-outs of golden trees, poetic catch phrases, coins by Greek artist Achilles and paper paste-ups by STMTS. French street artist Goin has made a splash with punk murals, while Greek street artist Bleeps has created portraits in old, abandoned windows, peering down on passers-by. There are tags on subway trains and cartoon faces on tree stumps. The freshness of this creative scene is reminiscent of the graffiti of the New York in the 1970s.
Sarri 12 Gallery
In the outskirts of the city, there are abandoned factories that have closed due to the crisis, which have become ripe stomping grounds for street artists who have taken over the spaces to paint. One artist shoots cans of spraypaint that explode in color, a tribute to William S. Burroughs, while another paints fake dollar bills with TV-headed president. Downtown, a lot of cartoons fill the street, from chained figures to sombre portraits of the elderly. A key figure painted in the streets is Euro Disney Merkel.
Cacao Rocks, who has been working as a street artist since 2007, is a master of headlines, conjuring up cheeky slogans like “This is Not Berlin.” It might have been a response to an article in German newspaper Die Zeit which called Athens “the new Berlin.” “We’re tired of it,” said Cacao Rocks, referring to artists talking about politics in interviews. He sees the Athenian Berlin city comparison as cultural hype. “This is not Berlin, its Athens,” he said. “This piece is political criticism because the EU and Germany decides what Athens will do, we don’t really have democracy – they act like Greece is Germany. Merkel is deciding what we do in Greece, how much tax we’ll pay.”
Works by Cacao Rocks:
It is not just a boy’s club; female street artists are also active in Athens. Cleo43 got her name from her grandmother, a strong female role model, and at 13-years-old, she touched a spray can for the first time. “I love to paint, I love to create, this type of expression graffiti gives you is great, as you don’t have to be serious, you just have fun,” said Cleo43. “Being a woman in this male-dominated art scene is hard but I love seeing the work of women artists.” A few other female street artists in Athens include Lebanese Blonde, IRIS and Simone Fontana. The challenge is on the streets. “You have to know the place you’re going and what to bring with you,” she added. “Athens is a complicated place.”
N_Grams, an artist with Sarri 12, has painted a variety of work in the neighborhood of the gallery. From abstract works painted on garage doors to pasted paper works on second-storey levels, one main character he paints is his TV-headed man. He has also helped paint a memorial to a hero dog which died from the gassing at Syntagma Square protests. His work is also science-inspired and critical of financial systems. “I think capitalism is wrong, it comes from the wrong place,” he said. “They don’t give a shit about the people; it’s only for the profit.”
Artists have used the streets to express their opinions on the financial crisis. But now it seems like they’re moving on from the Euro symbol and into the future. As one artist Nikos Papadopoulos said: “What’s happening in my country has deprived people of their hope, their optimism and their smile, which is three things that are interwoven in Greek people. I feel that there is no dignity or pride in my country, no independence or justice.”
Art could finally change that.