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Graffiti and Wall Art in Athens

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Travelers to Athens can't help but notice the amount of graffiti in the city. Any surface that can be sprayed upon is covered with a maddening number of signatures and designs. Beautifully restored neo-classic houses from the late 19th Century usually have a few days or weeks before they are covered in graffiti and owners find themselves in a war that they eventually lose and surrender to the kids.

Grafitti during the Greek Civil WarGraffiti in Athens is as old as the city itself. In ancient times graffiti was carved into buildings, in fact the word comes from the Greek graphi which means to write. During the Nazi occupation, the Civil War and the 1967 Junta political graffiti was common in Athens and served a purpose. These days it is mostly the work of frustrated kids whose signatures all over the city seem like a cry for help to a world that does not notice that they exist. But there is also a large amount of graffiti that is good art and walking around Athens looking for it is as fun a way to spend a day as any. The best is probably on the ILPAP Building where the park-ified bottom of Ermou Street meets Pireos Street in front of the Gazi, the city's former gas works and now a center of arts and entertainment. This is the building that houses the city trolley buses and the graffiti was painted by a group of well known international graffiti artists. It has not been kept up and could use some restoration but is impressive for its size, design and colors. Other areas popular with graffiti artists are the Plaka, Gazi, Psiri and Exarchion neighborhoods as well as along the lines of the Pireaus metro.

grafitti on a restored neoclassical house in Plaka, AthensThe most disturbing aspect of the graffiti besides the volume of it, is the way some of the kids whose artistic ability begins and ends with their names (tags), have defaced some of the real works of art. It seems that for those who feel compelled to put their 'tag' all over the city that nothing is sacred, not even the works of the graffiti artists, much less a newly restored neo-classical building or an ancient stone in the agora. So what can the city do about these kids who deface every surface in sight? I have an answer. Send them to art school. You can't stop them so why not train them to be artists and let them express themselves that way instead of the mindless 'tags' that are all over the city? I am sure a kid feels proud having his name spread from Ano Lliosa to Pireaus but what if he was doing it artfully, making graffiti that people actually admired? It would be something he could be proud of ten years down the road instead of something he will one day be ashamed of like a bad tattoo. Rather than be an eyesore Athens could be known for its beautiful graffiti.

Exarchia GraffitiI suppose I am dreaming. These kids have no desire to make art and the city has no desire to make them artists. But for those true graffiti artists this exhibition is for you. I may not have agreed with all of the canvas used but it was some of the coolest artwork I have ever seen. And for those of you who dislike graffiti and see no difference between wall art and the insane tagging that makes Athens look more like a Los Angeles ghetto than one of the great cities of the world, I invite you to look through the galleries below and I am sure you will find something that you will have to admit is art. And when you finish looking at these photos be sure to read about the Street Art walking tour of Athens below.

Gallery 1

Gallery 2

Gallery 3

Gallery 4

Gallery 5 ILPAP

Private Athens Street Art Walking Tour
Shed light on the philosophy behind political & social graffiti

Exarchia Graffiti, AthensDid you know that Athens is a mecca for street art, making it a very attractive playground for artists from around the world?

Of course you did. 

Did you also know that the word "graffiti" comes from a Greek word?

Yes, you knew that too.

What you may not have known about is the Athens Graffiti and Street Art Tour. We will take you through the streets of non-touristic Athenian neighborhoods and we will shed light on the philosophy behind the political and social graffiti.

The tour is led by a real street artist! Click here for more information

Comments? E-mail Matt.

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