Simon Silaidis is the artist behind the Urban Calligraphy movement. He was born in Athens in 1984 and his love for calligraphy was the ticket to travel in the most incredible places in the world, study and experiment on this art. Highlights on his trip so far are his choice by the worldwide known designer Philippe Starck to decorate one of his most innovative buildings, Le Nuage, in Montepillier, France, as well as his selection as the main person in charge of Adam Opel’s global campaign, where the artist using the calligraphy art turns the new Opel Corsa into a brush.
How does your relationship with visual arts begins and which are your most essential influences?
The opportunity to begin my journey to calligraphy was my love for graphic design! This love, combined with various influences I had over the years, led me to deal with different art genres and eventually find out what really expresses me, urban calligraphy. Main elements that have contributed in structuring the artistic style I have today are definitely all those images and stories I’ve heard and seen, the different cultures and peoples’ ways of expressing themselves from all over the world. Sharing the traditions and the culture of a place is definitely an inexhaustible source of inspiration for every kind of art. It’s the combination of all those that I’m trying to transmit through art so that it also influences other people.
Do you remember your first artwork in public space? How has your work changed since then?
It all started in 1998, along with my first project. The positive thing is that it still stands there, alive, reminding me the exact starting point. It may not have a direct connection with the art of calligraphy, but it has been and continues to be a reference point in my entire artistic career until today.
Clearly, after so many years, it’s only logical that art has evolved, as we ourselves are evolving. All that we create in life, especially in its initial stages, doesn’t in any way betray the result they’ll have later on. Perhaps we can’t even imagine where they’re going to lead us. There are many times, unfortunately, that we abandon our efforts to create, based on a ‘failure’. But like in my own case of evolution, I think the key is to keep cultivating your talents even thought you can’t see the 100% you seek yet . As the years pass by your job will be getting better and the results will justify you. Practice makes perfect!
How do you choose the spots you’re going to paint? Is there any relation between the visual artwork and the surrounding environment?
Spot selection is a process that requires lot of thinking. I spend hours wandering between places, looking for the place that will speak to my consciousness. There is an absolute connection between the visual artwork and the surrounding area. My desire is for the artworks to be found only in places that hide a story and not in a central point easily accessible to the eyes of the world. The more remote a place is, the more attractive it is to decorate it with my art. This is the vibe I try to create. I always work on the natural surface of the wall, but also on the alterations it may have, caused by the surrounding environment. I think “time” is the best filter for every project. After a long time I like to visit the places hosting each project again and see how nature has embraced it.
You call the entirety of your artwork urban calligraphy, tell us a bit about that.
The name “Urban Calligraphy” was given due to the nature of the calligraphy I serve. It’s none other than the calligraphy you’ll meet in the urban environment. It overcomes a simple piece of paper, escapes and emerges on a larger urban canvas, like a wall in an abandoned building.
You split your time between Greece and Japan. Is it a decision you’d have taken anyway because of the kind of work you produce or things in Greece got complicated by the circumstances in the recent years?
I have been visiting the country of Japan for several years even before the economic and national problems that our country faces take such dimension. The projects I’m working on aren’t just about my calligraphy but my main job as a developer. This country is clearly a MECCA of calligraphy. Whenever I am there, I live and experiment in different forms of art, surrounded by the most talented people of the genre. Talented people and at the same time anonymous, whose main purpose is simply to serve with all their dedication the art of calligraphy. Only the magnitude of the inspiration you can get from these artists makes such a long journey worth it! They are so committed to perfecting art, which for me makes Japan the ideal destination and environment for my personal development.
You have important collaborations abroad such as one of the Opel’s campaigns and your collaboration with designer Philippe Starck. How did they come up and what kind of things you may find to be different in comparison to those in Greece?
The truth is that different proposals come from time to time, others are bigger and others are smaller, but I try to be as selective as possible when it comes to the projects I am going to participate in. This is because I want every choice I make to represent the art I serve to the fullest!
More specifically, the project with Opel was a great challenge, since we’re dealing with something incredibly demanding with a high dose of adrenaline. The challenge was to turn the new Opel Corsa into a ‘brush’, using various moves to showcase its potential. I think it was very original and it was definitely one of the reasons that won me over immediately. I love the challenges that put you in unknown and remarkable paths. I’ll never forget the last day of filming we had to overcome every single thing that came up. Returning to the hotel, I walked covered in mud. I was literally leaving a footprint on each step on the floor!
As for Starck, he is a very big name and also a great example in the field of art and design. He trusted me the interior decoration of a 5-storey building in Montpellier, France.
It’s a building that looks like a huge inflatable cloud. The joke is that it really puff up! Thus its name “Le Nuage”, which in French means “cloud”. In particular, 80 meters of calligraphy were created, 3 large ceilings Included. Running the project lasted about 12 days, working from morning until very late at night. We were the last ones to leave the building almost at dawn, while all the other crews had already stopped.
I have to admit that in both of these collaborations there was a common element: Vision. The vision that required you to know the limits of your creation and to overcome yourself. Unfortunately, in Greece it’s very difficult to carry out a similar project with these characteristics. The challenges are limited as the country isn’t totally prepared to go beyond what the public considers as facts.
While most Street artists are trying to find places in the historic center of Athens to create because of the projection that their work gets, you seem to be distant. Is that a conscious choice? How does the way Greek scene is shaped feels to you, is there any interest from abroad?
It’s definitely a conscious choice since I have rejected similar proposals several times. Certainly what you mentioned is true and that’s how an artwork will meet the eyes of a wider crowd. In my case the nature and the atmosphere of a spot where an art piece will be has an essential role. If there’s such a place in the center of Athens that fits my philosophy I’ll think about it. Personally, I’m delighted even if only one person finds my work. In this way I’ll know that the place where he saw it had attracted him. Ιf you think about it after all , art is expression and communication and that’s why I try to create in the most ideal and atmospheric location according to my own thoughts.
The Greek scene is undoubtedly very strong and has a significant presence abroad. This fact makes me particularly happy as I see many Greeks representing us globally next to equally talented names of the international stage.
How easy is it to create a large-scale project like yours and how long does it take? Do you make your living out of calligraphy?
I usually need at least 3 days to complete a large fresco. At the moment of creation I isolate all my thoughts and focus only on painting. Absolute alignment between body and spirit is required, so that the hand has all the strength and know exactly what moves are needed for the perfect touch.
I work on the natural surface of the wall without any preparation in terms of texture. At the same time, I must be very careful to avoid any mistakes, since there is no room for it. Sometimes they happen, because being on a ladder all the time isn’t the easiest thing to do. It requires great balance and stability. Hand movement is limited in contrast to a paper where the hand can roll across the width of the surface. So I have to invent different moves to design everything. Sometimes movements are in the opposite direction of a canvas or a paper.
As I’ve mentioned before, calligraphy isn’t my main occupation. Nevertheless what I do in this field is with extreme respect and love. In no way can I say that calligraphy is just a profession or a hobby. I never looked at it like that. It wasn’t a driving force in my mind what I would gain in terms of material goods and that’s why I think it works well. The experience and the journey that I make through art are extraordinary and absolutely important acquisitions that I could never get in any other way.
Design wars, who are the members of the team and what is your goal?
Design wars is a non-profit organization of people who love art. One of the founding members of the group is DAN, one of the oldest graffiti artists in Greece.
The purpose is to transmit inspiration and emotion through art.
From time to time we organize events such as frescoes and seminars, which aim to give the opportunity to other people who also love art to express through it. The fan page of the organization on Facebook has a very large global audience (more than 800,000 fans), which confirms that the organization’s action is essential. Lately, because of various obligations, there isn’t enough time and so action is more limited than we’d like.
In ten years from now?
Ten years may be a long time, compared to the closest future I can think of, which is tomorrow. Every day that comes I try to become better and to evolve through the art I serve. There are a lot of people who are depended on me and started on the occasion of what I do and I wouldn’t like to disappoint them. So I’m in a continuous mission until I feel that there is nothing more to offer.