Urban Calligraphy / Simon Silaidis

Interview @ Enspire Mag Hungary

This is ART with the Help of the Nature”

Greek artist Simon Silaidis has given another dimension to calligraphy with his project called Urban Calligraphy. He’s left the studio and gone outside to explore secluded areas that constantly provide him with spots to work at. I’ve asked Simon about art, calligraphy and design.

How and when did you get first in contact with typography, calligraphy and design in general?

I started back in 1998 after visiting a graffiti festival in Athens. After that, and until 2001 I was experimenting with a variety of graffiti styles. I stopped at least six years in between because graphic design came into my life at the end of 2001 and changed it forever. I travelled a lot as a designer, but I finally came back to Greece in 2007 and got involved again.

Why and when did you decide to start Urban Calligraphy?

All started when I felt that a piece of paper couldn’t host my art as it happens to many other people involved with calligraphy. Urban Calligraphy is calligraphy under rural, urban and suburban surroundings that escapes from the ink into the paper and the boring surroundings of a calligraphy lab and exposes itself in public places, abandoned buildings, the streets and all sorts of surfaces focusing on the atmosphere of the wall.

Why calligraphy?

I don’t know the exact reason. The only thing I know is that I wanted to somehow express my inner self. Art, after all, is all about expressions. For me this happened while observing the flow of the brush. The stability you need for calligraphy is something that has grabbed me.

You create in public places, abandoned buildings, the streets and all sorts of surfaces. Based on what do you choose places? I suppose there are several sites you can choose from.

The place usually chooses me and not the other way around. What I mean is that I try to find special spots where I intend to express the atmosphere of the surrounding through my art. I always liked the idea of exploring, and I spend most of my free time on mountains trying to track down hidden jewels of places. The older the place I choose to „decorate”, the crazier I get while on it.

Do you host workshops or give lectures for professionals and/or non-professionals by any chance?

It is not my style to do that. Even that I’ve had various invitations to do it, I do calligraphy for my own soul and focusing mostly on that. Someday maybe yes, I will tell my story in front of a crowd.

How do you start, develop and work on a project?

I explore lost places and I try to express the feeling of the place where I work. I use a variety of brushes; my favourite colour is black because it remains a neutral expression to the viewer while maintaining a strict character. I try to keep all my works as sharp as possible and this means that it can take quite some time before reaching the result I want. I also prefer to work on the natural environment of a wall because I firmly believe that „time” is the best background for every piece. That way it blends 100% and creates a better physical appearance. When I return back after some time, I can see parts of the wall destroyed. This is ART with the help of the nature.

Your style is recognizable but still unique and in a sense very educational as you mix Arabic, Asian and European elements, which might – and actually should – inspire others to consider the world greatly diverse but united at the same time. Have you consciously developed your style or has it happened rather spontaneously and unaware?

I have developed my style from my travel destinations I have had in the last 14 years. Of course, every artist starts with a baseline and later tries to evolve it to something better but all choose their own way. For me development comes from many aspects. One of the aspects is the place I choose for my art, which inevitable makes me face „new problems” meaning dangerous paths in the nature, weather conditions, etc. Also doing murals with a brush is harder than a SprayCan because the paint needs special control to reach the best results.

On your Behance profile you label your work as street art, which according to Tristan Manco – and probably to many others – is equal to post-graffiti, neo-graffiti. He also mentions in his book Street Logos that the drawing inspiration comes from bio-technical forms, calligraphy, ethnic patterns, retro fashions and fine arts. How much impact does graffiti have on your work? What are the differences between graffiti and neo-graffiti?

Labelling my work, for me, it is not important, and I feel it would only narrow it down. What I do is influenced by Arabic calligraphy with a combination of Western calligraphy, and it is a deeply spiritual process. My work communicates with street art and graffiti-oriented people, though the materials and the techniques I use are not those of a regular street artist. Graffiti is graffiti, street art is street art, neo-graffiti is not an applicable term for me. For me art is one thing and refers directly to the spectators souls regardless of the medium used.

I assume that you don’t only want to provide new experiences with Urban Calligraphy but to talk to people in an indirect way without any mediators such as curators, institutions. Don’t you think it’s a bit paradoxical that you do exhibitions despite the fact that you’ve decided to explore unknown or less known urban public surroundings to bring about new approaches concerning calligraphy and art?

As I mentioned earlier my work is located in secluded environments. By doing exhibitions selectively and under my terms, I give my audience a chance to see my work live and feel my vibe in person instead of just looking a good photo. So no, performing in exhibitions is not paradoxical. I always practise my art without money expectations or constraints.

What is your opinion on what has happened to Banksy’s works, namely it is claimed that those belong to the owners of the walls, and he or she can sell them if they want without contacting or giving any money to the artist himself? How ethical is this? What would you do if someone did this to your work?

Works that are done in public spaces belong to public spaces, in other words, to everybody. I think that someone who happens to own a wall and just wants to make money out of Banksy’s work is just selfish, greedy and does not respect art. This kind of thing is difficult to happen to me as I work in secluded and abandoned areas mostly focusing on the vibe and the tranquillity of the surrounding; public exposure is something that does not concern my work or me. In other words, the spots where I work do not belong to anybody, and therefore if someone tried to exploit it, he or she would face legal consequences.

I’m quite convinced that people are – at least to a certain extent – manipulated by so-called art trends and tendencies on the account that art is closely tied with business and money. Sooner or later every special and new but yet marginalized art form becomes part of the system. Could art and artists exist without business nowadays?

If you choose art as a professional career, surely you have to exist, depend on and endure in the system that you describe in the question. However, you can choose to work in another field – which is my case – and practise art without financial expectations or constraints. All this depends on the circumstances and the choices one makes in his/her life.

You have been working as a graphic designer for more than ten years but you are also an artist. Your profession requires you to both follow rules and please your clients. As an artist you have more freedom but calligraphy still demands calligraphers to be aware of some rules, however, you don’t necessarily have to please anyone, only yourself. How can you balance between your two selves?

Balance is my first rule in life. If I don’t have balance, I cannot do anything. In a same way all aspects of design need a balance. No matter you are a traditional artist or a designer. I am always involved in many aspects around design that I really cannot name you. I’ve been running my own creative studio in the last 10 years and this really absorbs me, it consumes much time and energy. But calligraphy plays the role of making me a better person, not exactly in design but it makes me forget all the problems that surround me. So in other words, by having inner peace that comes from calligraphy I can be more creative in my design carrier.

What are you working on right now?

Exactly one year ago today I released the SKYFALL movie that brought me a lot worldwide appreciation. So what about now? A new film called Lucid Dreams is coming, which is probably the most atmospherical calligraphic film ever. Get ready!

All contents © Urban Calligraphy Simon Silaidis
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