Greece might be the best place in the world to be a graffiti artist

The World
graffiti near parthenon

There is spray paint on almost every building in Athens.

"In Greece, and especially in Athens, you can find graffiti everywhere. It is really amazing how much freedom you've got in the public space. Nowadays it is difficult to find a clean place to put a mark," said George Gounezos, who created the documentary Alive in the Concrete about graffiti in Greece.

freedom in public space
Graffiti artists speak about their work in Athens.George Gounezos

And it is everywhere: in every neighborhood, in every part of the city and in the surrounding subrubs. There layers upon layers of spray paint and even house paint on almost every surface imaginable. "You can find graffiti on trains, on trucks, on rooftops, on billboards. Only the buildings that have a historical character and the banks are clean," said Gounezos.

In the US, graffiti has historically been associated with crime, and policed as part of broken windows theory. In Greece that's not the case. Graffiti is technically illegal, but artists say you have to be fairly unlucky to get in trouble. As one artist in the documentary, Senor, said: "The Greek Police are not so interested about graffiti because they have a lot more serious things to deal with."

This means that graffiti is an art form readily available to the public. "Public space in Greece is like a notice board that anyone could post their ideas on," said Gounezos. "Generally, most of graffiti are names, political slogans, and characters. There are also a lot of huge murals that some public or private organizations support the artists to do. As well you can find graffiti for political parties or football teams." 

love graffiti
"Shut up and kiss me" demands graffiti in Pangratti, Athens.Moira Lavelle

In recent years, the graffiti has become especially political. Walls decry the neo-Nazi political party Golden Dawn, or wonder about the future of the euro in Greece. "As soon as the crisis hit the Greek people, they started expressing themselves more often and with all the possible ways," explained Gounezos. "As a result we have this beautiful canvas of ideas. I think that freedom of speech is a fundamental right."

Alive in the Concrete features several of the artists pushing the boundaries of art and political discourse on the city walls. "I tried to speak with different kind of artists, so the viewer can create a proper outlook of the situation," said Gounezos. "So I filmed a team that are political activists that support the antifascist movement with their art, called ANTIFA LAB."

ANTIFA LAB is incredibly prolific, with slogans and anti-fascist writing all over Athens.

Antifa lab
Graffiti in Athens by the antifascist group ANTIFA LAB.Moira Lavelle

But Greek artists are also concerned with craft. Artists are pioneering new methods of mural painting, while sometimes on the same wall looking back at old calligraphic styles. One group interviewed in the film specializes in speed work — painting on trains. Often the only commonality between artists is the secrecy needed to create their art, crossing paths at night with paint and supplies.

classic graffiti
Layers of graffiti near Monastiraki, Athens.Moira Lavelle

"In an imaginary city, people wouldn't have any problem with anything and they could coexist harmoniously, there graffiti would not exist," said Gounezos. "I think that graffiti is a result of the political situation in combination with the human nature."

"But speaking literally nowadays a city without graffiti is like a miserable city. Is a city without energy. Is a city without a critical way of thinking."

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