Athens: Art or Graffiti?

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Pretty much everywhere you go in Athens it seems a graffiti artist got there first.  I actually quite like graffiti, although when I see a lot of it like this it makes me worry how safe a city is; if someone has been able to spray-paint a wall without getting noticed then presumably they wouldn’t be noticed snatching my bag either.

The difference is that the police in Athens don’t bother graffiti artists, or that’s what we were told anyway. So the prevalence of graffiti everywhere is no reflection on the safety of the city.  I went on an organized walk with a graffiti artist with the tag RTM, who took us around the Monastiraki area of Athens looking at the street art.

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But is it street art though, or is it graffiti? Well luckily we ran into graffiti-ist Senor, who was able to clear that up for us.  Apparently it is graffiti.  Street art is for the likes of Banksy and others, who view it as a commercial enterprise, and what we were looking at was most definitely graffiti, he told us.

He also alluded to the difference that graffiti artists spray their names or ‘tags’, following on the tradition started in New York in the 1970s.  Street art is murals, pictures and commissioned pieces.  Certainly, in my mind, street art implies a certain legality about it, whereas graffiti brings to mind images of teenagers furtively spraying their names on the wall whilst their mate keeps a look out for the police. 2014-10-22 09.28.08

Senor said he had been spray painting walls since the age of twelve and had left his mark in various locations around Europe.

Some of Senor's work

Some of Senor’s work

We also visited the graffiti shop in Melanthiou Street where many of the artists come to buy their supplies.

Stairs down to the shop

Stairs down to the shop

Inside 'the Graffiti shop' surrounded by the spray paints and markers.  I can't say I wasn't tempted to buy some and spraypaint my hotel room

Inside ‘the Graffiti shop’ surrounded by the spray paints and markers. I can’t say I wasn’t tempted to buy some and spraypaint my hotel room

Categories: Greece

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19 replies »

  1. I think the question of when street paintings are “art” and when they’re graffiti is an interesting one. For me the distinction is if there are more than one colors and if the “composition” is more complicated than a linear tag. If it’s just a name in one color: not art. It’s a complicated question though, since for the owner of the building (or utility box or whatever) ANY painting (even a Bansky) could be considered defacement of property. Thanks for the cool post!

    • well this guy was adamant that his work was graffiti because it consisted of names. I do think it has a lot to do with legality/illegality and graffiti implies illegality, but you’re right that when there is some degree of composition then we think it’s art. That’s why street art, whatever you call it, is interesting.
      Thanks for taking time to comment!

  2. Really enjoyed this piece- quite thought provoking. An interesting aspect of Greece. Thanks for sharing!
    ps – should have done your hotel room.

  3. You got some great pictures! We’re also recovering from TBEX – nice to have met so many like-minded others! Happy Travels.

  4. Graffiti caries a lot of preconception…but it also creates dialog and dialog is the key to knowledge and breaking down social boundaries…people fear the unknown…then they get mislead and their imaginations tainted…Athens looks like the inside of an artist studio and this is great for some an eyesore for others but this creates dialog and dialog creates democracy…this also creates a unique city just like every other european city some are clean some are artistic some are basking on the treasures of others…a little creativity with some spray paint isn’t harming nobody…as for the tag it is the basis of graffiti it is like knowing 1+1=2 for maths without it you not gonna get very far. I don’t think that because of graffiti someone will seal you bag in Greece but there is a possibility that someone will seal you bag because of poverty which has been created (see EU, IMF, past and present Greek governments) and that is real vandalism and far worse than inscribing you name on a wall or changing the colour of it…

    • Yes what I was trying to say was that the perception of a city with a lot of graffiti is that it is unsafe, because people think that if someone has been able to paint a wall without police attention then they could do anything. If I see somewhere with a lot of graffiti in a part of London it suggests that there is no CCTV or little police presence, so maybe it isn’t so safe to walk there at night.
      But that is London and Athens is a different case, and that’s something valuable that I learnt by taking this tour.
      I really enjoyed looking at all the different designs (whether graffiti or street art). I enjoy that it’s free and there for everyone to appreciate, rather than tucked away in a gallery somewhere.
      Thanks for your comments!.

  5. I like this post.

    There is saying that goes something like, “If it takes you longer than 5 minutes, it’s not graffiti.” I forgot who said that.

    Actually shops in Taiwan hire artists to paint on their walls. There is amazing street art in Taipei because of it. Mad talent.

    • haha, yes I like the sound of that.
      I really love Graffiti; I think it takes real dedication to paint something when you don’t know how long it’s going to stay there, maybe just a few days.

  6. I recently went to Athens and when I saw all the street art/graffiti I actually asked myself the question. Thanks for this interesting article!

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