Graffiti: Crucial to the capital?s aesthetic, or just plain vandalism?

For decades, the decrepit walls of downtown Athens have been sprayed, splattered and scrawled upon at the hands of its youth. Its mottled demeanor, whose motifs range from childish obscenities and soccer team slogans to spectacularly elaborate and expressive pieces of work, has become ingrained within the minds of those who visit and is today seen as part of the city. As a place of both intense beauty and at the same time supreme ugliness, Athens?s imbalance and visual dissonance are what make it the perfect tableau upon which graffiti artists thrive.

Its anarchic connotations are rooted in the fact that all graffiti art is fundamentally illegal. There are occasions, so-called ?legals,? whereby a space or wall will be donated to an artist; this is however generally frowned upon by the majority of graffiti crews and the community in general as they consider the risk factor of ?bombing,? or illegal graffiti, an imperative aspect of their projects. When asked whether the total legalization of graffiti would better the artists and ?writers? and generally broaden the appreciation of the practice, well-respected artist OPEK stated: ?I don?t believe that the writers would improve if it was legalized. I also don?t care whether the public would appreciate it more just because it?s legal. I respect the members of the public that approve of it even though it?s illegal.?

There is an intriguing split between the notion of graffiti as an art form or, as it is most commonly viewed, a rebellious tool through which statements and opinions of a sociopolitical nature are expressed. With Athens being as distressed and angst-ridden as it is due to the current economic climate, graffiti is everywhere and a significant percentage of it reflects the public?s view on the political system. With abrasive phrases spray-painted in monumental locations such as Syntagma Square and in front of the University of Athens, vitriolic statements such as ?Burn Parliament? and ?Torch the polling booths? can be seen defacing the marble. This take on graffiti is what brands its practitioners vandals, as their strident political statements coupled with football slang and crowned with a looming ?A? of anarchism tend to evoke an air of hostility and animosity. This makes it rather difficult to differentiate the ?artists? from the hooligans. ?My personal opinion is that in every facet of life there are two sides of the coin concerning whether something is vandalism or art,? states local graffiti artist INTSI when asked for his perspective. ?The most important aspect of graffiti is how you view it yourself as an artist when you do it… Even within the worst and most ugly tags, throw-ups or bombs there may be something to be found artistically and it would be very narrow-minded of me to categorize things so rigidly.?

The street art scene in general has started to become all the more prominent in Athens as artists from abroad have also taken a keen interest in donating pieces of their work to the city?s urban gallery. Some of the most notable works can be seen where Ermou Street meets Pireos Street: There a collective of international artists have creative a fantastic mural on the outer wall of a trolley bus warehouse, which is a true testament to how graffiti can improve a location?s aesthetic and make it more memorable and interesting. There is also a collection of Greek artists whose graffiti is distinguishable and heavily customized. Some of these include Alexandros Vasmoulakis, Dimitris Taxis, Vaggelis Hoursoglou, Animouz and Noir, among others, who prefer their anonymity. Their style is notably distinguishable around the center and certainly captures and embellishes the place?s bohemian atmosphere with its urban and tattooed permanence. It seems there is a very fine line indeed threaded around what graffiti means for Athens and its citizens, the undeniable truth, however, is that it is everywhere for a reason and the place would feel rather barren without its presence.

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