Athens Graffiti

“People who want to make me stop make me laugh”

I saw this painted on a wall along the Athens metro line out to the airport.

I could read it because it was in English, in Roman and not Cyrillic alphabet. Lots of graffiti in Athens is written in English, there is very little written in Greek, apart from a few political slogans.

Taggers in Athens use English words for their tags. Graffiti has become an international style with very little regional differences.

I am currently in Greece on holiday but I am trying to write and research about art and culture for this blog as I travel. I have been looking at a lot of classical art and architecture in Greece but I have also been looking at the graffiti and street art.

There is graffiti everywhere in Athens, apart from metro stations and on the ancient monuments where only scratched graffiti survives. This antique graffiti raises different issues about history and conservation than the contemporary graffiti; some of it is already in the museums. It records the interest of 19th and 20th century visitors in these ancient sites, like the temple of Aphaia on Aegina. To remove this antique graffiti would be to further damage the ancient stone and it would also damage the historic record of use of the site. And in understanding that there is antique graffiti of historic value raises questions about the way that contemporary graffiti is buffed, conserved or left to fate to decide on its preservation.

Back to the contemporary graffiti in Athens. With the economic collapse and the riots this year and last year in Athens it doesn’t look like anyone can afford to buff, or paint over, any of the graffiti. Anarchy symbols, tags, bombs and other marks cover every second building, it is all along the metro lines and on the metro cars (although the metro stations themselves remain untouched).

“Even cops die.” The graffiti writers are clearly frustrated with the political developments but I wonder what the point of writing political slogans in a foreign language.

Most Greek graffiti writers are not the experienced crews making masterpieces in aerosol, as in other cities; although I did see a few good pieces on the way to Piresas. The Greek graffiti writers will try anything, pens, paint brushes, paint rollers, stencils (only one colour) – it is a fun but amateurish mix of styles and techniques.

There is a lot of graffiti on the buildings and laneways around the ruins of the Roman agora. “Bicycle revolution now.” reads one slogan. The old buildings in Athens with their accretions of architecture now have a new layer of paint on them. If Athens is an example of how bad and ugly as unrestrained graffiti can get in a city then graffiti, even in its most basic form, is not a disaster for a city it is a fact of urban life and will be with us as long as there are cities. Athens graffiti shows that without draconian legal restrictions on graffiti writers, like canning in Singapore or jail in Melbourne, there are more tags, more political slogans, less quality work by professional street artists and more strange experiments.

About Mark Holsworth

Arts administrator, artist, musician, philosopher and writer. Writes Black Mark - Melbourne Art and Culture Critic. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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