Athens is covered in graffiti. Every available or accessible surface seems to bear the mark of someone with a marker or can of spray in hand.
It is illegal and to many it’s nothing short of vandalism.
To me, there are two kinds of graffiti: simple “tagging” which I regard as visual pollution…
… and “street art” which can be good or bad, as all art.
I have to admit that I hate seeing a beautiful historic building covered in graffiti, especially of the uglier kind.
On the other hand, I don’t mind so much if the graffiti covers a blank wall, an overpass or an ugly piece of architecture. And if the graffiti is a work of art rather than some illegible scrawl I don’t mind a bit – instead, I find myself reaching for my camera.
Most graffiti artists start with only a marker and some simple initials.
Gradually, they move on to spray and more demanding lines. The lettering is extremely important: essentially each artist creates his own logo and the more original, unique and complicated it is, the more “points” he gets among other graffiti artists.
Even more points are awarded for marking a hard-to reach or guarded spot that has not been touched before.
The apex of graffiti is large “pieces” demanding considerable skill.
Often people (especially from the USA) ask me if the graffiti is the result of gangs marking their territory. The answer is no. That phenomenon has yet to reach Greek soil. Greek graffiti has more to do with youths seeking status among their peers or wanting to leave their mark.
If asked, they have the perfect justification:
The politically minded, find that graffiti is a cheap and effective way of spreading their message to a great number of people.
The more young people become disaffected with the status quo and convinced their views will not be represented in politics or mainstream media, the more political graffiti proliferates. The past few years have seen an explosion of it, all over the country.
The walls read like a running commentary of Greek politics. Although politicians are their favorite target…
…”writers” will not hesitate to attack others too, including the clergy:
Stencils allow for the message to be applied quickly so that the writer may disappear avoiding potential trouble by the police or political opponents.
The “Crisis” spawned another explosion of political graffiti, mostly aimed against the government, the IMF and the European Union:
Others comment on global issues:
There are of course those who couldn’t care less about politics. Football (soccer) is a very popular subject…
…while others use the walls to express matters closer to their hearts:
Some graffiti are nothing short of artwork – good or bad, that is a matter of personal opinion.
Some combine art with a social or political message:
People who have spent endless hours (and buckets of paint) erasing from their shops or homes graffiti which soon re-appears, are beginning to understand that the only thing “writers” respect, is a peer’s work, especially if it’s not a tag but a “piece”. People have begun asking graffiti artists to decorate their property, resulting in a proliferation of good quality graffiti all around.
As the medium becomes mainstream, schools sometimes hire artists to decorate their walls.
City councils do the same in an effort to improve the bleak look of apartment buildings. The results are debatable.
Where do I find them?
Generally speaking, the less policed a neighborhood, the more graffiti one finds there. Police stations and banks usually boast spotless walls, whereas commercial districts (which are practically empty at night) or run-down quarters are full of graffiti.
Areas next to universities, or those that have a lot of artists, intellectuals or young people usually have the greatest concentration of graffiti. Places where young people tend to hang out, like the areas of Plaka or Psyrri, are virtual open-air galleries.
And whereas some people are disgusted with graffiti and go to great lengths to erase them, others celebrate them for their artistic value or political message.
What is your opinion?