Learn to read the mural painting of the Greek Capital! Inspired by street art tours in Plovdiv and Galway, I’ve recently explored the street art in Athens using just 4 online sources. The individual tour helped me to understand why creativity and crisis in the Greek capital are tightly interwoven.
Colourful Expressions of Crisis
Athens street art covers any surface, from shabby walls and shop windows to drinking bowls for stray animals.
Many cities that are famous for their street art quarters have a bohemian atmosphere there, highlighted by hippie shops and restaurants. It’s not the case for Athens where artists have left colourful marks all over the city not only in special places. Street art in the Greek capital had lost a monopoly on art and has become an expression of everyday mood.
Athens’s colourful walls are loud political statements that reflect social unrest and a long-lasting crisis that began in the 1980s. The themes, such as homelessness, anti-racism, and anti-authority, highlight the public concerns and the impotence of the government.
Starting with Online Art Lessons
To enjoy the rich street art in Athens (the first European Capital of Culture), I visited the city off-season, in winter, when the weather is comfortable and allows for long walks. I comprised my guide of 4 online resources that complement each other or can also be used separately.
First, let’s learn some theory. The quickest way is to watch a 4-minute video on study.com (registration required), short but very comprehensive. It covers the history and types of street painting.
For those who want a deeper exposure to the topic, there’s an incredible article by Sondra Barharach in a British Journal of Aesthetics. After reading it, you’ll never again call street art all the images depicted on the urban surfaces. The author explains the key differences between public art and street art using clear examples.
Public art is commissioned and protected by the government. Street art is always made without the permission of the property owner and used to criticize or challenge the local authority. Publicly sanctioned street art is a hybrid form of both forms. It’s the art that is made without consent, but the community has eventually accepted its ideas and aesthetic features.
Mapping Street Art in Athens
The website Greek Street Art Map of Athens helps easily find the location of mural painting. The central area of the city is divided into 4 parts and each is marked with a different colour: Exarchia – black, Psyri – Monastiraki – yellow, Metaxourgeio – Keramikos – Botanikos – orange, and Acropolis – blue.
Hovering over the points, you can see how the picture looks like, select the most interesting ones and draw up a plan of the tour. Overall, there are 80 pieces of street images on the map, the most notable ones. But in reality, they’re more mural paintings in those areas.
The most comprehensive book about notable street artworks is Artists in Athens – City of Crisis by Georg Eichinger and Heiner Legewie. It’s an 88-page exhibition catalog with 14 interviews with Greek artists and social studies.
There’s just one article devoted to street art in the Greek capital but the authors provide a lot of useful information on its roots and the conditions across the country. For many artists, the walls became the last opportunity for free expression considering the bias in media coverage and the decrease in the funding for and income from art.
Now, street art in Athens is also becoming a popular advertising form, different local businesses commission mural paintings. Like a series of drawings below made for the dance school TangoFix in the city centre.