Urban Art Festival Amsterdam is back for its 6th edition with a diverse programme of exhibitions and side events that showcase the best of street/urban art today. From canvas paintings and sculptures, to mural paintings and live paintings, the public is invited to explore the political and ideological aspects of urban art as reflected through the work of more than 50 international and local urban contemporary artists.
Since its inception back in 2010 by Urban Art Now and R.U.A (Reflexo on Urban Art) two Amsterdam based non-profit organizations, Urban Art Festival Amsterdam has developed into the largest urban contemporary and street art festival in Amsterdam. Every year an eclectic selection of the best globally emerging and established urban artists come to Amsterdam in order to introduce socially relevant thematic subjects and new art forms into the country. Artists and audience become part of a creative dialogue and reflection about themselves and the perception of the world around them.
From the 18th of October until the beginning of December, Amsterdam transforms into an urban/street art hub with various events spread throughout the city. With exhibitions, masterclasses, street art tours, expert panels and their famous street art market (with free entrance for the most) Urban Art Festival offers many choices for those interested to dive into the world of street art.
I had the great pleasure to attend the exhibition ‘’The Art of Painting’’ (official part of the famous Amsterdam Dance Event) currently on view at the monumental warehouse space of Van Gendthallen, at the Eastern part of Amsterdam, and I share this experience with you.
Reaching the main exhibition space, I found myself standing among colourful street art artworks of different dimensions. If you haven’t visited Van Gendthallen in Amsterdam, it is not easy to understand the atmosphere it creates when you are inside it. A historical warehouse, with light spreading throughout its interior via its glass roof and walls covered with graffiti art, canvas and mural paintings.
Artists from the Netherlands, Italy, Russia, France, Denmark, Brazil, Spain, United Kingdom and more, most of them with academic education in classical painting, merge classical techniques, processes and mediums such as research, modelling, sketching, oil and acrylics. The exhibition is a study on how contemporary urban artists engage classical painting techniques into their work process. Some of these artists are Cranio, Gomad, Klaas Lageweg, Ottograph, Skount, Kram, Roby Marciano, Karski, Ard Doko, Bazinato and Artez.
To my great surprise, five Greek artists (Kez, Pupet, Apset, Sive and Taxis) were among the artists on display and I had the opportunity to have a small talk with one of them Yiorgos Kez (Kez) who shared with me some information behind his work and the importance of being part of Urban Art Festival 2017.
Can you share with us some information about your background? Studies? Where you were born? First artistic encounters?
I was born and I live in Athens. I started to work with graffiti in 1997. For around five years I had to stop though, because I left Athens for studies. In Kavala where I was studying, I made my first mural painting along with some friends at the Technological Institute of Kavala, as part of an annual cultural festival that takes place there.
Following this event I did the transition from graffiti art to mural paintings and urban art. When I returned to Athens in 2008 I participated for the first time on a three-floor mural painting, helping the street artist Woozy in the Gyzi area of Athens. Thankfully this painting is still there, very well maintained. It is a great feeling to see that after so many years your artwork is still respected and didn’t get destroyed or altered by someone.
Are there any similarities or differences that you identify between Greek and other international urban contemporary artists?
In general, I would say that artists are influenced by their local culture, the natural environment around them and everyday life. So for example in the case of many Greek artists, their work has references from ancient Greek art and culture, from folk art and older Greek painters. There are other artists though that are affected by the urban environment, the economic war and national socio-political issues. The same applies to artists from other countries.
Once a wise man said: The more national you are, the more international you become. I totally agree!
Urban Art Festival 2017. How you came to be part of this year’s edition? How important is this for you? Your personal opinion about this annual festival?
A couple of months ago, I participated in Urban Art Ventures 2 in Volos, Greece, a mural art festival, featuring artists from Greece, Serbia, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. Among the participants was Markus Hinger from Urban Art Now and one of the organizers of the Urban Art Festival, who chose some members of the Greek team and brought our work to Urban Art Festival in Amsterdam.
Every opportunity to show my work beyond the Greek borders is very important. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to attend the festival, but if I judge from the entries that I saw online, there is a great level of participants.
You decided to present four pieces from your work during Urban Art Festival (Natural Mystic 1 and 2, Unlimited and Point Zero). Why did you make these choices?
I wanted to present two artworks from each of the two main categories that I am currently working on. One concerns deeper and more spiritual issues, where I explore the invisible world of imagination and emotions, searching for the inner light of entities. This category includes Point Zero and Unlimited.
On the other theme, I explore the external world that we perceive through our senses, what is visible to the human eye. This includes Natural Mystic 1 and 2.
Which do you think is the role of street/urban art in modern societies? What it means to be a street/urban artist today in general and especially in Greece?
Using the public space as the canvas of you art is something unique which comes at the same time with great responsibility. You work has direct contact with so many people that pass in front of it daily, thus your art can affect them in unexpected ways, in ways that you might not have intended or imagined yourself.
Personally, I really enjoy the lyrics of poems and slogans that are often written on the walls in the center of Athens and especially in the area of Exarchia.
Overall, I strongly believe that when societies are faced with great difficulties and changes, it is the role and duty of art and artists to take action and give solutions. Street art should not just be used to highlight specific issues; it has the power to bring awareness and change mindsets.
Greek street art scene. Your opinion? Any influences? Do you consider it an important part of modern Greek culture?
I believe that while there isn’t an organized market around urban art in Greece, there are many exceptional artists out there and I constantly discover new ones. As for influences, I couldn’t escape talking about my big brother and mentor Woozy, who has offered a lot the Greek street art scene from its beginning till today. Moreover, I personally distinguish also the great work of the street art crews GPO, OFK, HIT. These are truly very good and timeless artworks. Respect!
Which are the main themes/ideas that you explore through your work? Any specific sources of inspiration?
My work is divided into two main categories. One deals with the inner/invisible world and the other with the external/visible one. Previously I used painting psychotherapeutically and I was very happy with the results of this process. I consider art, creativity and the freedom of expression crucial elements for well-being .
Creation = Life
Compared to the past, now I try to make my projects as ‘’easy’’ and fast as possible. Just with two moves if that’s even possible….. I spend most of the time observing the place where I am going to create my art but I want the implementation of it to be quick and “easy”.
When I work on the streets is different from when I work in my atelier. Different materials, different space and time. I choose very carefully the surface, the wall and I try to exploit as much of what it has to offer me from textures and colours, whether this is moisture or broken pieces, I try to incorporate them into my final work. I usually work without a plan, but by following the flow of the creative process.
From a technical point of view I have ended up working with a mixture of engraving and graffiti art, I have no academic studies in Fine arts, thus I work mainly with instinct.
Any hopes, wishes for the future? Where would you like to be in 5 years from now? Do you think of staying in Greece or living somewhere else?
I do not have a specific plan in life. I prefer to follow the flow of life as smooth as possible and see what comes my way.
The truth is that there is a certain kind of light that Greece offers which you cannot find easily somewhere else. Greece is still a great country thanks to the ancient Greeks.
If we look back at the history of mankind, we will see that history repeats itself. Wars for power, injustice, exploitation of humans, social inequality, money, disasters. We experience the same things in a more modern version. What has only changed is technology, the ways and the methods.
Only if each person works with himself internally through a long-term self-analysis there can be change. The global system is designed in a way of not allowing us to do so, but that’s where we should embrace virtue and courage for freedom.
You think that you do not have time … don’t you?
You say that you can’t… can’t you?
You say that you are not responsible… aren’t you?
I wish that at some point soon we will all take responsibility for what we have created through our individual actions, that’s the only way towards a brighter future.
Content and Images by Dranganas Constantine
Images from the exhibition ” The Art of Painting ”