Thessaloniki is a true street art and graffiti paradise. The streets, walls and houses are all over paved with scriptures, shapes and color. Of course, that includes a lot of smears and ugly stuff, but also a lot of high quality works. And in between, the huge and unbelievably good murals are shining on the facades of entire blocks of flats tower over the rooftops. One of the creators of these extensive city monuments is Stelios, better known by his artist name APSET. We met the creative guy for an interesting interview.
Our conversation took place at the Colors Urban Hotel on Tzimski Street 13, where APSET artistically designed the Garden Bar on the ground floor and various rooms. APSET was born in 1984 and has been active in the art scene since 1998. First it was about spraying and tagging in the streets, everyone starts small. Over time, however, a tagging friend clique has become a stable street art crew, the skills have developed further, the styles have been expanded and the results became qualitatively better and better. Linear lettering became filled letters, words and bombings. Finally, more and more graphic elements were added, characters, faces and figures. The wall pieces were expanded to complete sceneries and over the years, the size increased immensely up to murals. True to the motto: The bigger the picture, the bigger the art, the crew and the artist.
There is no limit to the creativity and inspiration of APSET, he is constantly developing himself and is not settled in any branch. Rather, he constantly tinkers on his inspiration and the whole art machine APSET. He is throughout learning new skills, constantly trying other techniques and giving his work a steady growth of competence. At the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki he studied graphic design, comic drawing and visual art at the School of Fine Arts. APSET has been actively involved in the cityscape of Thessaloniki for many years and helped to embellish and transform the face of the surrounding. The all-around artist also worked as a sculptor and designed concepts for theme parks throughout Greece.
Currently APSET operates as an independent artist and serves a wide range of fields. He regularly holds exhibitions in one of his two studios in and around Thessaloniki and is busy with commissioned work in the private sector, but above all in the public sector. These include decorations of hotels and buildings, illustrations on shop fronts and artistic redesign of the interiors of offices and businesses.
APSET can now live from his work. But he succeeds through the diverse coverage of various fields of activity and the continuous training and development. Nevertheless, the favorite activities are painting in the open air on the large walls and creating the amazing mega-murals, which in Greece cover wonderfully whole prefabricated buildings and factory complexes. Some skyscrapers are already booked for the next months. APSET is also a member of the SAF, the Street Art Festival Thessaloniki.
In an interview, APSET told us about his artistic career, the street art scene in Thessaloniki and which projects are still pending in the future. In the following, most of the interview is written down for the readers.
When did you start with your art?
I began like around 1998. Like about more than 20 years ago. But it´s half of my life and more. I am often making graffiti. I began with like street bombing and street art, or tagging and stuff like that. I started with small things. We were like a crew here in Thessaloniki around the center and we were all around. Like walking around and making tags. I was hanging around with the friends and we started like doing the tagging in the streets everywhere. We tried to have our names on every spot in Thessaloniki. And then it became bigger and bigger and then there came different styles, like graffiti styles and lettering. And the lettering got bigger and bigger. And as bigger we were getting our graffitis were getting bigger as well. Now we do murals and we paint big buildings.
Meanwhile you study art as well at the University of Thessaloniki, you just started to develop and add things to your graffiti. When did you start doing that and why?
I started to add more artistic stuff. I wanted to do a lot of things for which I was too young. So I went to graffiti and it is like freedom for me. But when I was becoming older the style became a 3D-Style, a 3D-lettering. So I wanted to make some shades and some lights and such stuff. It was really interesting for me to evolve about my art. So I was becoming to do more 3D and stuff like that. And the characters and the faces became more common to me. And I was trying to make different things and to express myself more and my styles. So as well that more people can understand my art in the way I want to express. Then I was in the graphic design like in 2005. So it was another thing. I was doing the lettering and the characters and everything like mixed together. And then I had the graphic. So it was evolving and the years were passing. So I realized the characters are more common to me. More good to me, the girls, the faces, the movement and how there were the reactions in the environment. There were more people talking to me, so that´s why I went for comic. I did some comics, just to be better in my character style. And then the comic teacher told me to go to the finals. So I did it one time, I went to the finals. But this is like a game, a never ending game.
So it is always something new, you are always adding some more parts.
Yeah, yes. And when I grew bigger, I added that and that. And that is the art. And then you must move some stuff, go back to the beginning and do art and then again. But the thing is, I don´t want to be stucked in just one style for me.
So you always want to reinvent yourself, do something new and not to stay too long at the same place.
Yes, that´s my freedom in the art.
How was it for you starting to do the huge murals? I mean that size, it is a complete different thing.
Yes. The one thing was, we were thinking, the more bigger we paint, the more bigger we become. But it is very different. You cannot just manage it to step back and have a look and check what you have done. You are up, and you have to go downstairs, like half an hour or from the 10th floor of a building, then go outside to the road. There you can check how it looks and what to do, then back up again. So you have to be prepared, I get a lot prepared before I go there to work. I have a very good sketch, I organize my colors, I organize everything. I have to be there, to be like practical when I am I at the building or in the hydraulic ramp. So the first time I was thinking: “Oh no, I was going to big! How would I go to do that?” But it was like a experience. And more experience and experience, bigger and bigger and bigger. And so it is how it went. We have the biggest mural in Greece in Pirias, it is like 15 meters high. This was a big step. It was huge, it was never ending. But I had the whole freedom there. It was dropped in your hand to express yourself like in a different reflection to check about the whole sketch and all. It´s just different stuff.
How do you think did the graffiti develop in Thessaloniki over the years? Do the people understand a bit better and appreciate the murals or when it is nice then more, or not, or how is it?
Look, in the late 90s I was around in the center of Thessaloniki and I had some legal wall. Around 1998 or something like that. So we had this legal wall where we were painting. And nine of then people were calling the cops. Even if it was legal. They could not understand what we were doing. They thought we were painting and destroying the city. Even it was allowed. But it was fresh and new to them. We tried a lot over the years to get common with the people with this idea. It also helped us very much and we were talking to the people who were passing by. It was the extreme behavior of the oldest and the very young. Because the kids were like: “Wow, there is graffiti!” And the older were like: “Hey, what are you doing there!” So, anyway during the years, like some years ago nine out of ten were calling the cops, even if it was legal. So now it changed, and even two say: “Ah, I like this part, and maybe you could do this better like this.” It is a lot more common in a way. Because it is now also distraction because the city is full with tagging and writing and stuff like this. Like writing from everyone. When you write something, they have to clean it and cannot understand it or read it. So now we are very good with that and the better artworks like murals and they as well want to embrace that.
On a lot of stores there is graffiti on the front door like commission work. It looks nicer and if it is painted with a cool artwork normally nobody else starts tagging or painting on it.
Yes, I had like ten works last year only for stores. They said, yeah, it is just blank, and I don´t want it to get damaged. Can you come and paint something on it. But the thing is in Greece the commission is not paying enough. It´s not, like we have crisis, and it´s not like you can take bad paint, you need some good materials. So it is quite expensive for a lot of people. But there are a lot of people who really like and really friend of art and graffiti and street art. So they can take it inside the houses, inside their stores, inside their things. It´s now very much in common in these days.
Is it possible to make your living with your art? Do you have enough when you are finish to say, this is my job?
It is very difficult in Greece. It is very difficult. Some artists, some like me, I am very glad that I am one of them. I work with my art. But I can, I must do several things. I must do murals, canvases, exhibitions, or hotel interior. This was very good because Christina Drakopoulou left me a lot of freedom, I good do whatever I wanted. The graffiti room and as well the other ones. She said I like your work and you can do whatever you want inside on the themes and what attracts you. But normally it is very hard, because mostly they see you like a painter. Like somebody who paints the walls. It is very difficult to live on this because it cannot pay proper like it should be paid. But if you are a worker, you want to work and you are good and you work, you might have a success and get some stuff and you keep going. But for me it is, I am working outside. I am travelling around Europe. I am also studying here at the fine art university. I make some graphics. I make everything. I make a lot of things.
If you want to be independent as an artist you have to be as well your own manager. Like you have to do all the networking, you have to be flexible and do part of the job which aren´t art.
Yeah, for me the best thing is to have a manager who tells me, you do this and that´s your job. I had a manager or I had managers over the times. But nobody can send you out and get the picture out except you. So for the bigger thing. You must be your manager, because you know how to take the picture for Instagram. Or how to talk about your art. Nobody knows better, because it´s your time, it´s your thing. For me, the best thing was only to be like the artist. Just to go there, they tell me, and I go there and paint whatever. So the best for me is just to be an artist. Not a manager, not a blogger, not everything. But you must do everything. You must be communicative. You must be artistic. You must be all around. You must talk with the client. You must talk with the people. You must talk with the grand-grandmother who is coming to the building. And you have to talk with them how they think about the murals. But this is the socializing about the graffiti so that it get the common graffiti.
On the one hand all the other jobs around your art take some time away, but do you think it helped you developing your art as well?
In the end of the day I think it has a positive effect. Because you are getting more used to yourself. More communicative. So you must be more active. That is why I work in the studio also. If you want to be only with yourself, then you can have some time there. I can shut everything out. And you go to you and your soul. We have a studio for that, I have there the canvases. I have as well exhibitions when I am becoming my degrees. So I go inside with me and myself and my soul. And nothing else. And If I don´t want, I can take it outside, I do it for myself.
So you have a gallery or a studio? Are only you working there or is it with others?
I have one studio in my hometown outside of Thessaloniki in Basilika and I have a studio at the University of Fine Arts. I am working there with other guys, but have one place. They have a bigger room. And I am working there since all the seven years of my indoor activities.
Is there any new project coming up?
I have some festivals abroad. I am waiting for some answers. And now I left everything about the new stuff for this month, because in the end of the month I am heading for the exams of my diploma. I have to finish all the sketches and canvases and stuff like that. But the sun is shining, spring is starting. I booked as well some buildings to do some murals. So I will focus on that after the degree. And what I am going to do, I want to bring the art as well to Athens. So I am going to make the degree and then I will do in Athens as well an exhibition.
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/ApSet98/
Facebook Profile: https://www.facebook.com/ap.set.1
I Support Streetart: http://www.isupportstreetart.com/artist/apset/
Youth Thessaloniki Interview: https://www.youththessaloniki.com/blog/street-art-thessaloniki-youth_thesaloniki-x-apset
Street Art Festival Thessaloniki: https://de-de.facebook.com/streetartfestivalthessaloniki/
Colors Hotel: https://www.colorshotel.gr/en/
Article about the Colors Hotel at Vagabundler: http://vagabundler.com/greece/colors-hotel/
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